Is our DNA, more than Ok?

Is Perth more than Ok?

Of course, but it can always be better.

Woods Bagot’s Perth studio.

#Perthisok has long been the tagline accompanying picturesque scenes of Perth beaches and sunsets, splattered across social media and publications.

But why does Perth settle for #Perthisok as the consolation prize for not being part of the Eastern States’ buzz – and what can be done to give the sprawling city a cultural heart?

This was a key talking point at a recent sold-out panel discussion hosted by Woods Bagot in its Perth Studio, part of the first Perth Design Week created by Sandy Anghie and David Smith.

“My hope is that having seen the possibilities and the culture of endless capacity for creation, the public will increasingly demand better projects, outcomes and more human-centred design as we look to the future,” said Smith.

The discussion centered around Perth, its future as a design-oriented city and what the steps forward might be in helping establish an identity that West Australians can relate to, be proud of, and also measure up to others on the world stage.

The discussion was led by Perth Studio Principal Kukame McPierzie, together with Woods Bagot Principal Rosina Di Maria, development director at Fiveight, Brad Martin, and project director for ECU city campus, Sean Henriques.

A keynote presentation by Rosina Di Maria on Woods Bagot’s upcoming Tarrkarri – Centre for First Nations Cultures project in Adelaide, set the scene for a very relevant and necessary conversation, as Rosina led the discussion around deep listening and what it means to truly work collaboratively, both within and outside of your own team.

“Leadership isn’t to lead with strength at all times, it’s to listen and support others to get to where you collectively understand the outcome should be.”

Rosina Di Maria, Principal & Adelaide Studio Chair

Built projects, as she pointed out, have that power and so, how and who we design with is extremely important in dictating the message behind the final built form, as well as the overall identity of the city in which it resides.

As was inevitable, the effects of Covid were discussed and the point was made by Sean Henriques that in terms of activation, Perth is a fragile city.

The post-Covid recovery was not a matter of picking up where we left off, and a large part of that fragility came down to density, or lack thereof.

With the introduction of the Edith Cowan University city campus, an additional 10,000 students and staff are expected to be occupying spaces across the CBD.

As Henriques said, it’s a living breathing eco-system that will feed into the CBD activation once completed, filling in the activation gaps that currently exist.

It is also important to acknowledge that a large part of activation comes down to a lasting social and community benefit. When a community engages with a space and feels part of the fabric of a space, a sense of belonging and consequently, responsibility develops.

This is how neighbourhoods thrive, but you need a catalyst for this activation. Brad Martin spoke to Fiveight being a catalyst for change, yet not solely responsible, as a manner of ensuring multi-generational activation and community engagement.

In terms of the designer’s role in being a catalyst, Rosina described this collaborative process as starting when you bring your whole self to the table. She said if you set down the DNA of a project, it is its own force, and your role is to guide and protect the outcome.

So how are we setting down the (design) DNA of Perth, and how are we guiding the outcome?

(Hint: it’s going to need more than a hashtag)

Left to right: Fiveight Development Director Brad Martin, Woods Bagot Principal Rosina Di Maria, ECU Program Director Sean Henriques, and Woods Bagot Principal Kukame McPierzie.

Our current DNA is that of natural beauty and a rich biodiversity, however as an audience member pointed out during the Q&A, it is not because of our contribution to the city that is exists, and it precedes our involvement entirely.

Our contribution to this city needs to be addressed and it is most likely going to contain the words ‘higher density’.

As a discussion point, Perth’s identity outside of WA seems to be far less considered than we might think, which provides an opportunity for a fresh start.

Collaboration, as noted, is key here, and we might consider what we like and enjoy in other cities, look to them for guidance and, just like the Perth Design Week founders, make it happen, and make it our own.

*Author Reinette Roux was an Architect in Woods Bagot’s Perth office and is now Industry Engagement Lead at the Australian Institute of Architects.


Media enquiries
Martin Kelly
Content and Communications Leader (Australia & New Zealand)

Woods Bagot Principal Kukame McPierzie speaking at Perth Design Week: More than Ok? event.

Latest from the Global Studio