Samson House is a Fremantle landmark. Completed in 1888, it was designed by Sir Talbot Hobbs and was home to two generations of the Samson family. Its contents are a fascinating time-capsule traversing two centuries of changing taste in furniture, interiors and even packaging design. Now in the hands of the National Trust, unusual features include an indoor well and a 1950s home cinema with tram benches for seating.
Visit the house with commentary from a National Trust guide. Heritage architect Alan Kelsall will be on hand and a short panel discussion will explore what the house tells us about local history, culture and design.
Then we’ll adjourn for casual drinks and nibbles on the verandah to mark the end of another DesignFreo year. We hope you’ll join us!
Date: Saturday 27 November
Time: 2pm – 4.30pm
Where: Samson House, 61 Ellen Street, Fremantle (cnr Ord Street) map
Tickets: $25 (plus booking fee) including drinks and nibbles. Free entry for children.
20 October 2021 // A special opportunity to visit the IOTA21 exhibition ‘Curiosity and Rituals of the Everyday’ after-hours with the show’s curators.
The inaugural Indian Ocean Craft Triennial (IOTA21) is a festival of contemporary craft practice from countries in the Indian Ocean rim. This exciting new event features an extensive program of over 40 exhibitions and workshops all over the State between September and November.
IOTA21 is anchored by a major exhibition,Curiosity and Rituals of the Everyday, spread across the Fremantle Arts Centre and the John Curtin Gallery. Curiosity and Rituals of the Everyday features work by internationally acclaimed practitioners, many of whom have not shown in this country before. The show is an exploration of traditional skills and craft techniques applied to contemporary artworks. Several are created by designers as an extension to their commercial work.
DesignFreo has been given the opportunity to visit the John Curtin Gallery at a special after-hours opening on Wednesday 20 October from 5pm. Visitors will be treated to drinks and expert commentary by the exhibition curators, Carola Akindele-Obe, Jude van der Merwe and Maggie Baxter. The focus will be on the nexus between craft and design. How do both add meaning and richness to everyday life within different cultural and creative contexts?
This is a wonderful show in a beautiful gallery. The event is free, however please register by 18 October for catering purposes.
Image: Left: YEE I-LANN, Harunan Motol 2021 (Boat’s Ladder), Bajau Sami DiLaut pandanus weave with commercial dyes, 488 x 550cm. Woven by Omadal Island Bajau Sama DiLaut weavers, Sabah, Malaysia. Right: YEE I-LANN, Tinukad Sequence #01 2021 (Ridges at the roof of the mouth), split bamboo pus weave with kayu obol black natural dye, matt sealant, 210 x 303cm. Woven by Keningau Dusun weavers, Sabah, Malaysia. Photo: Sue-Lyn Moyle, John Curtin Gallery. IOTA21: Indian Ocean Craft Triennial.
‘This house feels like a secret world in the suburbs.’ Simon Pendal, architect
Fifteen years ago, Simon Pendal started talking to Jurek and Michele about designing an addition to their workers’ cottage in Beaconsfield. Fast forward to 2021, and the house received the top award for alterations and additions at the WA Architecture Awards.
The existing 1940s cottage was stripped back to its timber frame, jarrah floor and front verandah. With only subtle changes made to the plan, the integrity of this simple structure has been maintained.
In contrast, the new extension to the rear is a series of cave-like chambers made from recycled brick – a skilfully crafted sequence of sculptural spaces.
What was the brief, and how did the project evolve?
What ideas underpin the design, and what does it feel like to live there?
We are privileged to have the opportunity to visit Beaconsfield House and hear Simon, Jurek and Michele in conversation about this unique home.
Whether you’re thinking of building or renovating, or just love great design, this event is sure to inspire.
When: Saturday 9 October Where: the address will be provided when you book Tickets: $20 + booking fee
Have you ever given thought to who creates the prints and patterns on your clothes and home furnishings? Elly Joel of Calypso Print Studio is a local textile designer whose unique designs are sold around the world, gracing everything from dresses in California to her own range of throws and cushions.
Rosie Pow, of Hubble + Duke, is a multidisciplinary designer who has built an award-winning childrenswear business from a converted warehouse studio in Fremantle. With a loyal customer base worldwide, Rosie is passionate about collaborating with artists, ethical manufacturing and modern, classic design.
Join us in conversation with Elly and Rosie as we explore their design stories. We’ll hear about their collaboration on a children’s swimsuit range using innovative fabric made from recycled plastic bottles and how Fremantle-based designers reach international markets.
If you’re interested in how a hand-drawn pattern travels from drawing board to a fabric, or how to create a design-driven business, this is for you.
You’ll be treated to an evening inside a beautiful space above High Street in Fremantle’s West End, thanks to our generous event host, Detail, and your ticket price includes drinks from our good friends at Old Bridge Cellars.
Image of Rosie and Elly by Abby London. Swimsuit image by Tom Sawyer Portraits
“Let’s talk about why we’re here. Our architecture practice received 40 enquires in the first six months of this year, and the majority of those were for projects under $500,000. We loved 90% of the potential clients we spoke to but ended up working with none of them. Why? Architects require between 10% – 20% of the overall budget to deliver a custom-built project and the majority of people we spoke with simply couldn’t afford us. New Resident is our response to this issue. It’s about delivering our best work, to the people who need it, at a price we know they can afford.”
And so began DesignFreo Conversation05, an evening with Kate Fitzgerald, a Fremantle-based architect intent on reshaping the way we think about housing through her architectural studio, Whispering Smith and sustainable development company, New Resident. Warmed with wine from Old Bridge Cellars and party pies from Little Loaf, our audience were primed to hear what Kate had to say.
A report delivered in 2019 suggested that Perth has the longest suburban sprawl in the world, describing it as ‘a design disaster and failure of modern development’. Infill and medium density development are essential to ensuring a more sustainable future for our city, however, many people fear what this means for the character and identity of their suburbs – and with good reason, given the poor quality of much development in Perth.
Kate was frank in her assessment of existing suburban development in Perth, stating that she ‘understands at an economic and planning policy level why housing in Perth sucks’. Using satellite imagery to make her point, Kate showed what happens under current residential planning codes when existing homes are demolished and blocks are sub-divided. Monotonous, villa-style developments replace character, and battle-axe blocks become the norm in a treeless, paved landscape.
‘If we keep going the way we’re going, over 50% of Perth’s tree canopy will be destroyed within 15 years in urban infill areas.’
What might save us from this hellfire? Enter WA’s new Medium Density Policy. Currently in draft form, DesignWA, under the auspices of the State Government, has revamped the Planning Codes to place good design, neighbourliness and sustainability at the heart of all new medium density developments. According to David Caddy, Chair of the WA Planning Commission, the key motivation of the new policy is to improve quality of life for individuals and communities across the state.
Kate used the work of Whispering Smith to demonstrate the potential of the new policy. House A, B and C in Scarborough prove that it’s possible to build sustainable, affordable and beautiful homes within a suburban infill setting. New Resident goes one step further through its mission to ‘upend the WA property market with affordable, sustainable, architect designed house and land packages.’
There were a huge number of take-aways from Kate’s talk, and we know a lot of people have been thinking about it ever since.
First, the soulless streetscape that makes up many of our suburbs is largely driven by the existing residential codes. Kate pointed out that for decades, developers and building designers have not been building homes but designing to numerical tables in a policy document. Fortunately, the Government is addressing the inadequacies current policy with the new DesignWA Medium Density policy.
Second, as individuals, we need to think differently about the sorts of houses we want to live in. The time has come to accept a new language for small to medium sized dwellings – to stop trying to make our homes feel like ‘high-end palaces’ – and instead embrace quality of space, good materials and amenity over size.
We can’t wait to see where Kate takes these ideas next.
If you’re interested in learning how design communicates and build brands, or just how our next-gen creatives see the world, please join us.
Melle Branson is a force to be reckoned with – an emerging director, filmmaker and photographer whose raw talent is underpinned by a unique creative sensibility. Through her production company Till Death, Melle documents work, love and life, telling people’s stories with empathy and humour in compelling visual style.
Joseph Dennis is a rising star in communications design. As Creative Lead at Block Branding he uses design to help clients drive business. Through SWIM, his independent type practice, he crafts typefaces, wordmarks and brand identities that are getting noticed on a global stage.
Melle’s and Joseph’s branding for Till Death received a Commendation in the prestigious Communication Arts Awards. Joint projects include the short film The World of Riley, a love letter to community radio station RTRFM featuring presenter Rok Riley. See the film, and join Melle and Joseph as they riff on creative collaboration, flexibility, diversity and growth.
As an extension to Conversation06, Melle and Joseph are taking over the Old Mariners’ Chapel to create ‘PLAYDATE’, an exhibition of creative partnership – be the first to see it!
When: SECOND DATE ADDED Saturday 31 July 2021 Where: The Old Mariners Chapel, 4 High Street, Fremantle Time: 4 – 6pm Tickets: $25 + booking fee – includes drinks and nibbles
If you’re considering sub-division, building or you just love beautiful design, this event is for you.
In-fill and medium density development are essential to ensuring a sustainable future for our city. However, many people fear what this means for the character and identity of their suburbs – and with good reason, given the poor quality of much development. How do we do a better job?
Architect Kate FitzGerald, through her practice Whispering Smith and development company New Resident, is showing the way. Her projects House A and B are prototypes for a different kind of in-fill, throwing out the cookie-cutter in favour of sustainable design that can house all kinds of people.
Join us in conversation as Kate shares her work and explains how the way we sub-divide and build can enrich life in our suburbs.
When: Thursday 17 June Where: Sometimes Gallery, 6 King William Street, South Fremantle, WA, 6162 Time: 6pm – 8pm Tickets: $25 + booking fee – includes drinks and nibbles
Almost a year ago, DesignFreo hosted our inaugural event to discuss the fate of the much-loved Fremantle Traffic Bridge and explore our aspirations for its replacement.
Since then, Main Roads has named the project the Swan River Crossings and presented an unpopular proposal that drew widespread protest from a community demanding greater consultation and a better solution.
In response, Main Roads undertook a series of community forums and sought public input. Main Roads has now released 4 alignment options for public review and feedback.
For DesignFreo Conversation 04, we’ve invited our expert panel back to examine how the 4 options stack up against our original design criteria and fit into the broader regional plan.
Additional panels members will add their voices to this important community conversation.
Join the discussion on this city-shaping project and importantly, be sure to respond to the Main Roads survey that closes the following day, 1 June.
You can familiarise yourself with the 4 alignment options here.
Anthony Deurloo, Director, Fremantle Bridges Alliance
Rebecca Clarkson, Community Development Expert / Better Bridge Campaign
Russell Kingdom, Urban Designer (Manager City Design and Projects, City of Fremantle)
Dr Anthony Duckworth, Research Fellow, Australian Urban Design Research Centre
Ingrid Maher, North Fremantle Community Association
An invitation has been extended to Farley Garlett, Aboriginal Elder who has been consulting on the project. Original panel member Brendan Moore is unable to attend.
The conversation will be facilitated by architect Nic Brunsdon.
Date: Monday 31 May Venue: Tannock Hall of Education, Cliff St, Fremantle Time: 6.00 pm – 8 pm
Tickets are free however registration is essential.
We thank the Fremantle School of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame for supporting this event.
Thank you to Old Bridge Cellars and to our Principal Sponsor:
The Fremantle Traffic Bridge is set to be replaced under Main Roads’ Swan River Crossings Project. As a community, we are concerned about the location and design quality of this critical piece of infrastructure. We are updating this page progressively as the project develops.
UPDATE // 11 May 2021 / Alignment options presented for feedback
In response to community feedback, Main Roads has released 4 alignment options for the new Swan River Crossings traffic and rail bridges. Details on each of these options – pictured below – can be found on the Main Roads website here. An interactive tool allows you to visualise each option from different perspectives.
Main Roads is hosting a series of pop-up and online info sessions where you can ask questions and give feedback – see table below. The last is on May 22, so there is only a small window of opportunity to provide comment.
An online survey is open until June 1. We strongly encourage you to respond, as this is going to inform the decision-making.
The four alignment options are:
Option 1 – between the bridges with 2 rail tracks
Option 2 – between the bridges with 1 rail track track
Option 3 – to the east with 2 rail tracks (as presented last year)
Option 4 – where the current bridge is with 2 x rail tracks
The Main Roads presentation to the invited Community Forum, which DesignFreo attended on May 11, is here. It contains the most recent information on the status of the project and the alignment options.
What we know to date
Since our inaugural event ‘Old Bridge, New Bridge’ almost a year ago, DesignFreo has closely followed the evolution of the Swan River Crossings Project. Our bridge champion, Layla Saleeba, has attended all of Main Roads’ invited Community Forums on behalf of DesignFreo (thank you, Layla!) and her summary is posted below.
We are pleased that Main Roads has responded to the call for more options. We encourage you to have your say on this critical issue for our city and its future.
DesignFreo is seeking a good design solution that respects the river and its health and the Indigenous significance of the waterway and surrounding precinct. We want quality urban design that prioritises pedestrians and cyclists. Layla’s insights below are followed by the summary of our first event – a reminder of the outcomes we are seeking from this project.
We are hosting a follow-up event on Monday 31 May. We are finalising the venue – registration and event details will be uploaded asap!
Summary of the three Forums
The replacement of the Fremantle Traffic Bridge is an extremely complex project that must reconcile technical, environmental, financial and social challenges.
There are multiple competing interests. It is close to homes, local businesses and industry. There are State and Indigenous heritage considerations. The bridges have to integrate multiple modes of transport – cars, bikes, pedestrians, passenger trains, freight trains and boats – and (we hope) serve our community for the next 100 years.
Here are some of the key questions which have been discussed at the three Forums.
What’s wrong with the existing Fremantle Traffic Bridge?
After standing for over 80 years, the existing timber traffic bridge has greatly deteriorated. It has high maintenance costs, multiple marine navigation issues, doesn’t meet current design standards for road lanes and, as we can all attest, has a poor pedestrian / cycle pathway.
Deterioration: There are many issues with the durability and structural capacity of the substructure and the superstructure. Due to deterioration, timber elements of the bridge have, over time, been replaced or strengthened with steel and concrete. Main Roads engineers suggest that ongoing maintenance will not extend the life of the deteriorating timber.
Restoring the timber like-for-like will not meet current bridge design standards and durability requirements. Moreover, the jarrah needed for the piles is difficult to get and not environmentally sustainable.
Maintenance Costs: Main Roads stated that in the last 5 years, $23M has been spent on specific works necessary to strengthen the bridge and $400K per year on routine maintenance.
Navigation: The bridge has the lowest clearance and narrowest navigation spans of all the Swan River bridges up to the Causeway, which limits the size of vessels that can pass beneath it. Additionally, the piers under the rail and road bridges do not align with each other, making navigation difficult and significantly increasing the risk of vessel impact and possible damage.
Pedestrian / PSP (Principal Shared Path): There is currently no PSP and the existing pedestrian path is in poor condition, too narrow and the balustrade is too low.
To Main Roads credit, the explanations given around these issues (see here) have been extensive and detailed. After much discussion and hard questioning from Fremantle community members over multiple Forums, the majority of Forum participants have accepted the need for a new traffic bridge.
Read more the condition of the bridge via the Main Roads Forum Summary here.
What will the new bridges look like and who is designing them?
As yet no designs have been presented. All discussions and presentations to date have been purely around the alignment of the bridges.
Contractors Laing O’Rourke Australia Construction, Arup Australia and WSP Australia were appointed in February to form Alliance with Main Roads to work on the final alignment and to design and construct the bridges.
Main Roads has provided a timeline of the project stating that until June we are still in the ‘Alignment Options Assessment’ phase. ‘Design Development’ will begin in June, with ‘Detailed Design and Pre-Construction’ scheduled from September through to December.
What we do know is that the new traffic bridge will be ‘like for like’ in that it will have 2 lanes in each direction, with the addition of a median strip, and will incorporate a PSP (Principal Shared Path) for walking and riding and a dedicated pedestrian-only path. It will also in some way incorporate Indigenous acknowledgment, Heritage Listing acknowledgment and urban landscaping.
DesignFreo sees this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to design a bridge that demonstrates excellence in design, creates a sense of place and is a memorable gateway experience for road, rail, walking, cycling and boating.
We seek a broader urban design outcome with increased connectivity to the foreshores and uninterrupted connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists.
Why a new rail bridge?
The existing Fremantle Rail Bridge has two rail lines, one travelling south and one travelling north. These are currently shared by passenger and freight services. Passenger services take priority and hence freight is restricted from using the bridge during peak passenger times (6am-9am and 3pm-6.30pm), with a second priority being maintenance that occurs at night.
The restriction limits capacity, yet the State Government has targeted 30% of containers to be handled by freight, to reduce freight vehicles on roads.
To meet this need, the Swan River Crossings Project is incorporating a new passenger rail bridge. This will separate freight and passenger rail lines and accommodate increased future capacity for both.
While a reduction in the number of freight trucks on the roads is welcomed in terms of noise, pollution and congestion (especially for those of us who live and travel around the port, Tydeman Road, Stirling Bridge and up to High St) there were questions around the need for a dedicated freight line given the impending move of the port to Kwinana.
Main Roads, Westport and representatives of the port were adamant that the transition of the port to Kwinana is unlikely to happen until 2045. This being the case, existing rail capacity will be insufficient and the number of trucks on roads will greatly increase.
DesignFreo’s stance on this = we need to all stop consuming so much and buy local!
Read more on the rail line via the Main Roads Community Forum Summary here.
Is Aboriginal heritage being acknowledged?
Main Roads has advised that they have engaged with Noongar Elders to understand the project area’s significant heritage and cultural context, including unique stories of place, so that these can be reflected and acknowledged in the design of the new crossings and landscape.
At the Community Forum on 11 May, Aboriginal Elder Farley Garrett reiterated the importance of the sacred site and an interest in further acknowledging reconciliation and therefore both the European and Aboriginal heritage of the crossing.
In Indigenous culture it is believed that the Waugal, or Rainbow Serpent, travels up and down the river and that the Waugal’s flow is impeded by the multiple pylons of the old timber bridge. As such, removing the existing bridge and ensuring that any new structures have minimal pylons is welcomed.
DesignFreo believes that acknowledgement and interpretation is not just about an artistic gesture. It requires a deep recognition of the river as a living, spiritual thing that we should respect, repair and care for. The health of the river should be a primary design driver.
How is the Heritage Listing of the Old Bridge being acknowledged?
The bridge is on the State Heritage List and the State Register. We are told that Main Roads/ the Alliance is working closely with the Heritage Council of WA and have engaged a heritage consultant.
In the original alignment presented by Main Roads in August last year, and in Alignment Options 1, 2 and 3 released this week, a remnant of approximately 19 m of the old bridge has been retained on the southern side to acknowledge its heritage significance.
Interestingly, we were told at the Forum on May 11 that the Heritage Council deems a new bridge that follows the exact alignment of the existing bridge (ie Option 4) to be a more meaningful acknowledgment of heritage than leaving a remnant.
Several ideas were floated at Forums. The jarrah from the old bridge could be used to create a fishing jetty or a sculpture in the precinct. Perhaps the Heritage-listed Ferry Capstan Base, a rare surviving example of the technology used to haul river vessels in the nineteenth century and currently hidden under vegetation, could be meaningfully presented?
DesignFreo suggests that we can be much more creative in acknowledging the Heritage listing than retaining a remnant, or ’stump’ as we have nicknamed it!
If a ’stump’ is to be retained, it should be part of an alignment option supporting further activation of N Worrall Park and the public space around East Street Jetty and opposite the Naval Store. Which then begs the question, who will be responsible for its activation and maintenance?
How long will it take to build, and what will the disruption be?
It goes without saying that there will be major disruption during construction regardless of the chosen alignment option.
Certainly, in analysing the options, we need to be aware of the impact that the construction will have on the community. Not only in terms of traffic delays and detours, but the impact on local business, particularly in North Fremantle where business relies on passing traffic.
Sadly, these businesses will be affected to some degree. We need to evaluate the options in terms of the length of disruption, and possible mitigations, during the construction phase.
Options 1 & 2 see the existing traffic bridge reduced to one lane each way then closed entirely for a relatively short period, yet the construction of these options is more complex and longer, with an expected end date in late 2025.
Options 3 & 4 are less complex, with construction ending in late 2024.
Option 4 positions the new traffic bridge exactly in place of the old, requiring the old bridge to be demolished and closed completely. Not ideal for impact on traffic, but it does mean a shorter construction period.
Perhaps there are opportunities to mitigate the impact by specific marketing campaigns promoting North Fremantle as a destination; and equally dedicated campaigns for the city centre of Fremantle. Perhaps during construction, regardless of alignment, there is the opportunity to petition for a ferry service from Fremantle to Perth. Perhaps a barge for pedestrians from the northern foreshore to the southern?
Lastly, something to note:
Option 3 is the original option Main Roads presented last year, with the new traffic bridge to the east of the existing one. It is the option that sparked protest and the Better Bridges ‘Build West’ campaign.
This eastern alignment increases the total footprint of the infrastructure, causing significant loss of green space and connectivity to the river on both the north and south sides. It takes the entry to Fremantle further east, with a rudimentary junction on the southern end butted up to the Naval Store (also Heritage listed).
The eastern alignment also leaves the remnant of the existing bridge (‘the stump’) in between the traffic and the rail bridge, making access and meaningful activation difficult and begging the question, what will be its usability?
‘I think design has the opportunity here to be a lot bolder and if anywhere can do it it should be Fremantle’
Russell Kingdom, DesignFreo Conversation 01, July 30
Below is the summary of the first conversation we had around this project in July last year, which set a framework for community expectations.
DesignFreo Conversation01 / 30 July, Tannock Hall
A big thank you to all who attended DesignFreo Conversation 01: Old Bridge / New Bridge, for what was a lively and insightful discussion. A great panel and engaged audience came together to explore the questions we need to be asking Main Roads to ensure we get a bridge that serves people and place as well as cars.
With numbers limited due to Covid restrictions, the event was sold out and many were disappointed. We’re pleased to provide here a full video for all to view. Please share!
Panel members and time codes:
Meri Fatin, facilitator – introduction (7:10)
Rebecca Clarkson, Community Development Expert and instigator of the change.org campaign to retain the old bridge as a public space (9:36)
Russell Kingdom, Urban Designer (Manager City Design and Projects, City of Fremantle) (14:09)
Brendan Moore, Aboriginal Engagement Officer, City of Fremantle (20:14)
The Honorable Simone McGurk MLA, Member for Fremantle (26.32)
Dr Anthony Duckworth, Research Fellow, Australian Urban Design Research Centre (38.30)
Panel discussion and audience Q&A (46.20)
A summary of Conversation 01
With no information available from Main Roads, the discussion on July 30 at Tannock Hall focused on exploring what would constitute a good design outcome.
Our panel of experts shared their knowledge and perspectives, emphasising the critical role of community consultation as part of the design process. The conversation provided a framework for the questions that need to be asked now that consultation is open.
The common thread was the importance of a connected public realm that serves more than just cars. Recognising and respecting the significance of the Derbarl Yirragan (the Swan River) and Dwerda Weeardinup (Cantonment Hill) to the Whadjuk Noongar people should inform the design outcome.
Rebecca Clarkson provided a compelling argument for retaining the existing bridge as a public space, in a similar vein to New York’s acclaimed High Line. In a first for WA, the old bridge would become a green space for pedestrians and cyclists, allowing safe movement between north and south and a new way to enjoy the port and river. Rebecca’s campaign to retain the old bridge is on change.org here.
Russell Kingdom confirmed that retaining as much of the existing bridge as possible was the Council’s default position, however the complete lack of data from Main Roads made any assessment of the options impossible. Access to the foreshore needs to be improved as part of the project.
Brendan Moore relayed the significance of the Derbarl Yirragan and Dwerda Weeardinup as Aboriginal sites, recognising the historical distinction between Yellagonga’s north and Midgegooroo’s south. He emphasised that the river is to be enjoyed and cared for, noting the belief that the pylons of the current bridge impede the flow of the Waugal.
Anthony Duckworth-Smith reiterated the importance of the public realm, suggesting that dignity and generosity towards people should be given precedence over vehicles. The existing conditions are hostile to pedestrians and cyclists – a holistic approach to the entire precinct is critical.
‘It doesn’t need to be something heroic – simply to make it incredibly well connected and a dignified experience might be enough, and say Freo more than anything’
Simone McGurk reiterated that the lack of information from Main Roads was inflaming community concern, making any specific discussion around the design impossible. She committed to doing whatever she can to ensure that the community’s voice is heard in the design of the new bridge.
We gratefully acknowledge the time and insights of all panellists and thank Meri Fatin for a great job in facilitating the conversation. Thanks to The School of Arts and Sciences at The University of Notre Dame for the video, and event partners the Fremantle School of Architecture and the Old Bridge Cellars.
The recent ‘Tent City’ crisis at Fremantle’s Pioneer Park brought to attention the acute lack of emergency and long-term housing for the homeless in this State. Long before the story hit the front page of The West, architect Michelle Blakeley set out to address the issue. ‘My Home’ is a philanthropic development company that combines private funding, unused government land and good, sustainable design. Emma Brain sat down in conversation with Michelle to learn more about this ambitious project.
This is a brave thing to take on, Michelle. How did you get involved?
It started with an ArchitectureAU article about Launch Housing getting together to build houses for homeless people on road reserve land in Melbourne. Vic Roads had leased the land at a peppercorn lease. Geoff Harris, the founder of Flight Centre, contributed $5m for construction and the result was 57 houses. I thought it was such a simple, sensible idea. Government has lots of vacant land and it doesn’t involve asking the government for money.
Two hours later, I am walking down William Street, Northbridge, to a meeting in the city and was so aware of the number of homeless people curled up in the doorways of empty shops. I came back from my meeting and sent an email to Geoff Warn, as State Government Architect, asking if we could meet to discuss the idea. I thought he might be helpful in introducing me to government department heads. That was two and a half years ago.
Who will live in the houses once they’re finished?
The houses are for homeless people or those at risk of homelessness. “My Home” is a philanthropic developer. Once we have built the houses, a Community Housing Provider (CHP) takes on the management of the property and the tenants. They select the tenants on a needs’ basis. “My Home” and the CHP work with Housing First principles: if a person has a safe, secure, permanent home then the delivery of support services is much easier, and the person has a much greater chance of regaining independence and an improved quality of life.
Global precedents show that Housing First has an 80% success rate i.e. people don’t regress back to homelessness. Statistics also show that visits to emergency medical centres and other crisis services are dramatically reduced as well as significantly less involvement with the justice system.
The usual practice for placing people into social housing requires them to clean up their act i.e. stop drinking or using drugs and when a house becomes available, they must take it or miss out, regardless of where it is located. With Housing First, there are no pre-conditions, the tenant chooses where they want to live, the homes are in residential areas and there are wrap-round support services which is key to success. The CHP has outreach workers who have ongoing contact with each tenant. The tenants enter a standard rental agreement and the rent is about 25% of their income, which is usually their social security benefit payment.
What has been the benefit of having an architect involved in the project from the outset?
Huge benefit! Because we had to build a very cost-efficient house, I brought together the project manager, structural engineer, pre-fabricator and four builders very early in the design process. We had several think-tanks.
The starting point was my designs for small single bedroom houses, and together we arrived at the most cost-efficient model, without reducing the design to a bland box. I was able to determine what was worth retaining for the comfort and joy of the living space. For example, the builders pointed out that we could just about halve the cost of the glazed French doors that I had opening from the living space to the verandah if it was a single glazed door with a side window. I can accept that sort of compromise. There is always compromise in any project.
If the architect is present from the outset, then the architect can manage the compromises and retain the integrity of the design.
Tell us about the houses? What design features have you used to mitigate their modest size?
The houses are 31m2 with a 11m2 verandah across the front facade. There is a living area with kitchen, bedroom and a bathroom with washing machine and dryer. My key design driver was to create a house that the resident would enjoy coming home to, not just because it is safe and secure and protects from the weather, but also because it is a welcoming, joyful and embracing.
The footprint is small, but the house doesn’t feel small. The model we are now working with has a raked ceiling up to 3.2m which gives a much greater sensation of spaciousness, further emphasised because the wall between the living area and bedroom is only to door height so you are seeing much more space above and around you. There is only one internal door, to the bathroom. Circulation space around the bed and in the bathroom and door sizes are to Liveable Homes Gold Standard.
We have built a demonstration house in the yard of Offsite, the pre-fabricator. Invariably, visitors are surprised at how big the house is. We have had several people asking if they can purchase a house for a weekender or holiday home.
The houses are designed and built to Passivhaus principles with timber framing, UPVC windows, double glazing, very good insulation and an air exchange system. There is no air-conditioning, virtually no thermal bridging, the double glazing and insulation also perform as acoustic attenuation, as does the rainwater tank which is always on the side closest to the road or railway.
Solar panels act as the roof for the verandah, they don’t sit on a roof, they are the roof. With each site, we can change the external cladding and colour palette to suit the surrounding houses.
How did you select the sites where the homes will be located? Has there been any pushback from locals?
We have not selected the location of our sites. We asked the WAPC for sites, gave them a brief, and they came with five sites initially. For various reasons, we now have two sites which will proceed, in North Fremantle and Victoria Park. Both are ideal locations for us: close to public transport, in a residential area, close to retail precincts and smallish in size. We don’t want enclaves housing homeless people. We want to integrate the houses into the community, we want people to walk past the houses and think they are private group dwellings.
North Fremantle will have 18 houses which as many as we would want on one lot. Victoria Park is a standard quarter acre block and has five houses. We are also in discussion with the Churches about land around Perth. WAPC has said that once we prove the model on the first site, they will offer more land.
I think we were spoiled having North Fremantle as our first site. There is a strong progressive community spirit in Fremantle. The development was published asking for public comment and we had no objections. Other sites have had push back from the local residents, typically a NIMBY response.
We like to end our interviews at DF by asking three quick questions related to our two favourite subjects, design and Fremantle!
What does the phrase Design Matters mean to you?
Design adds sensuality to an object: visual, audio, aural, touch, smell. Without design there would be no experience of the object. It would just be.
What design object brings you the most joy and why?
A thoughtfully designed functional object. I love that Philippe Starck can transform a citrus juicer into an object of incredible finesse. I love that Jony Ive designed such tactile objects for Apple.
Tell us something that you love about Freo.
I love the steel giraffes stretching above the harbour.
Published 28 January 2021
We acknowledge the traditional owners of Walyalup, the Whadjuk people of the Nyun- gar boodjar, and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to their cultures and to the Elders past, present and emerging. We use the names Walyalup and Fremantle interchangeably across our website.