Case Study 5: Council House Perth
Conservation vs. Demolition – Situations where conservation and restoration wins over demolition.
The Council House (also known as ‘T House’) was completed in 1963 after an international design competition in 1960 selected the post-war modernist competition entry designed by Howlett and Bailey Architects as the winning project. At the time of completion, the building was highly regarded as a prestigious structure that would add value to Perth’s built environment. Fast forward to 1993; the building was now considered out of date, an eyesore, and no longer consistent with the needs of its occupants. It was debated whether the building should simply be demolished and replaced with a public garden, but it was eventually preserved, and restorations were carried out and completed in 1999. The debate of conservation vs. demolition is complex; for the Council House a great deal of the argument in favour of demolition neglected the social and historical value of the building and focused on the predominantly physical and aesthetic values of the time.
The social and historical value of Council House could not be seen by many individuals and groups because of its tired and dilapidated state in the early 1990’s. This disregard for modernist buildings built in the post-war era was not uncommon in; many buildings of this time have been lost to demolition and we now see a ‘gap’ in our built heritage here in Perth. The structure was commissioned to add to the built landscape of Perth before the 1962 Commonwealth Games and is an example of ‘minimalist modern’ architecture from the early 1960’s. The heritage value of this building was not fully recognised until 2006 when it was placed on the state register of heritage places.
Over time, the aesthetic and functional expectations of buildings change. The internal comfort of a building becomes paramount to maintaining tenants in an aging building. When the services and amenities became run-down in Council House the building was less desirable to work in, in comparison to a new structure with all the bells and whistles; this was the driving force to have the building demolished and it was proposed a new one would be erected on an alternate site in 1993. The Council House possessed valuable elements making it a prime candidate for restoration. It had good functional spaces, strong and logical circulation cores, and a stable and operational façade. All other elements relating to internal comfort and aesthetics are easily manipulated or refurbished to create a more up-to-date building on both the interior and exterior. The renovation that was undertaken in 1997 involved the updating of essential services such as: replacing the lifts to optimise circulation, an update of internal furnishings and finishes for the tenants comfort, and the restoration of the weathered façade where every tile was painstakingly removed, restored and replaced back on the ‘T’ façade structures. This careful renovation managed to retain the buildings historic integrity while also offering up-to-date internal comfort and functionality on par with its competitors. The council and administration moved back into the new and improved building in 1999.
The renovation of this project proved to be both a more cost effective and environmentally considerate approach in comparison to building a new structure with the overall costs of the refurbishment costing a fraction of the projected value of a new build. An extra floor was added by enclosing a previously open roof space which in turn opened up space on other floors for external tenants to rent out and provided a new avenue to create revenue from the building. The updating of major services including lighting and elevators also reduced running costs in the building long-term and significantly increased the building’s environmental performance. Ultimately, demolishing the existing building and erecting a new structure will be more environmentally effective in comparison to retaining the existing one; the major stand-out comparison is the Council House managed to save a majority of its embodied energy by retaining all of the existing structure and simply adding to it, making it a more carbon-neutral approach to the project.
The Council House was saved from demolition thanks to an array of variables. Its historic and social merit to Perth as a post-war modernist structure was recognised and the restoration carried out was done with great care and consideration of its heritage value. Its functional and aesthetic shortcomings were rectified; the exterior retained its strong and iconic form while the interior was refurbished to bring the internal comfort into the modern-day. The environmental benefits to the restoration were quite significant; the majority of the embodied energy within the existing structure was saved and the building was now functioning with modern amenities and services which saved resources and reduced the running costs. The retention of this now heritage-listed building has allowed Perth to prevent the heritage ’gap’ from increasing any further and preserved a unique building that has relevance and significance to Perth.
Trabucco, Dario, and Paolo Fava. “Confronting The Question of Demolition or Renovation.” CTBUH Journal 1, no. IV (2013).
Heritage Perth. “Council House.” Heritage Perth, January 10, 2018. https://heritageperth.com.au/properties/council-house/.
Heritage Council of Western Australia. Register of Heritage Places – Assessment Documentation: Council House Perth. Perth, WA: Heritage Council of Western Australia, 2006.
Australian Institute of Architects. Nationally Significant 20th Century Architecture. Australian Institute of Architects. Perth, WA: Australian Institute of Architects, 2010. https://repository.architecture.com.au/download/wa-notable-buildings/council-house.pdf.