Architecture, Travel

Perth’s civic modernism

[Ian Macready]
The Perth Council House from the historic St. George's Terrace

A new library in Perth is due to open at some point this year, designed by Kerry Hill Architects (so it’s a big name project) but this is the first major civic building in the city since the Perth Concert Hall opened over 40 years ago. So long ago (my family left in 1974) that my parents saw Cliff Richard there in the opening season. Designed by local architecture team, Howlett and Bailey, this was their second big commission for the city – the first a decade earlier is the Perth Council House. From 1962 the Council House was to be a symbol of the modern aspirations of the young city as it hosted the VII British Empire and Commonwealth Games (now just called the Commonwealth Games of course) and opened by the Queen the following year. The project was won in a competition judged by Harry Seidler, by the two young architects who were at the time based in Melbourne and this brought them westwards to Perth where they remained. The design was all new for Western Australia with its floor to ceiling glazing and its simple modern detailing including the tiled T-shaped fins that surround the building, it was the match of only a few similar buildings in Australia at that time.

In the 1990s the building was nearly pulled down, and amid some controversy the then heritage minister refused to award the building the correct status for preservation.  Fortunately a feasibility study showed that the building could be economically refurbished and the council decided to stay put. The building was finally given its permanent entry on the Heritage Register in 2008. A couple of years later, 22000 LEDs were applied to the exterior to create its now distinct night time lighting scheme which possibly makes the building a little bit more loved in the city.

A decade later in 1973 and just a few steps away, the new Perth Concert Hall was opened and is a rare example of the Brutalist style in the capital. The hall is raised on a podium and follows a rigid grid of its structural elements, with the public spaces separating the main auditorium from the external walls.

On a much smaller scale, built for AUS$10 million, is the little gem that is the new building from 1979 for the Art Gallery of Western Australia in addition to the original late nineteenth century buildings. Designed by emigre Polish (later British and finally Australian) architect Charles Sierakowski, who had fought in the Warsaw uprising and came to Perth in the 1970s to design the WA Cultural Centre. He had worked in London on the South Bank Centre and the Royal Festival Hall and then spent time in Ghana and working for Sutton Council in south London. These galleries are based on the Anthropological Museum of Mexico City, designed around 120 degree angles to promote visibility between the gallery spaces. The key internal feature is the spiral concrete staircase. There is a competition currently being run with some usual big names in the shortlist from OMA to Fosters and Jean Nouvel to design the next big cultural centre in the city. So maybe this is the start of a new era of big public buildings in Perth?


The Council House is now lit up at night by 22000 LEDs
The side view of the thirteen storey building
The view from the rear with the stairs leading up to the entrance floor
The restored fountains outside the front of the building
Perth Concert Hall as seen from St. George's Terrace
The side view showing the raised podium
One of the concrete structural elements
Ceramic tiled wall mural by Melbourne artist Tom Sanders inside the Concert Hall foyer
In the early evening sun
The neighbouring Duxton Hotel built in 1962 as the State Tax Office
From 1979, the Art Gallery of Western Australia by Charles Sierakowski
The main entrance to the gallery
The interior concrete staircase
Another interior view