Case Study 6: Town of Fremantle

The Town of Fremantle

The places and spaces that shape a townscape and how they should be preserved.

The Town of Fremantle plays a significant role in the historic representation of Perth from colonial times right through to the present day. The Swan River Colony established the West End in Fremantle as their capital in 1829 and the subsequent infrastructure that was erected to fulfill this purpose has shaped the townscape we see today. A conservation movement to promote and preserve Fremantle’s townscape lead by the Fremantle Society began in 1971 and the town was subsequently listed on the State Heritage List in 2007. In Fremantle you can sense and absorb its cultural value through places and spaces as you walk through the town centre; you experience this underlying sense of unison which draws parallels between the streetscape, buildings and landmarks, and the vistas linking them together. Although all these elements are not uniform, the strong relationship between them creates a harmonious townscape that offers a strong sense of place to the community and can be felt by individuals visiting this historic town.

The Fremantle Markets with bulky awnings from the 1960’s.

The Fremantle streetscape has changed dramatically from its original historic state. In the mid 1960’s the timber post verandas from the 1910’s were removed and replaced with bulky awnings that were more in line with the time’s aesthetic. This significantly impacted not only the visual repetition and rhythmical aesthetics of the street, it also altered the way people experienced the enclosure and exposure of the street front. With the veranda profile removed individuals walking down the street no longer get the sense of being encapsulated by the shade structure and the security of being enclosed within it. In the case of the Fremantle Markets, a decision was made to reverse the alteration and restore the verandas to their best-known earlier state. The reconstruction was completed out of modern materials which distinguished the old from the new while also revisiting the original streetscape experience of the veranda.


The Fremantle Markets with reinstated veranda structures in 2021. Photo by Charlotte Pyle.

Another major variable that influences the overall townscape of Fremantle is the building typologies of the town and their characteristics. There is uniformity in the building typologies in the West End of Fremantle that is not initially noticeable; it becomes more apparent when the transition between old and new structures is made. When looking at the composition of Fremantle it has varying elements including landmarks, shop fronts and original cottages which are all different but compliment each other through their materiality and physical form. New structures have been added to the existing fabric of Fremantle which sometimes works with the existing typologies and other times work against them. In the 1970’s an infill project was erected on High Street between two two-storey 19th century heritage shop fronts that really missed the mark. A suburban scaled TAB was built significantly set back from the street; the project created an imbalance in the townscape with the scale, setback, and materiality lacking any connectivity to its surrounds which resulted in the building almost disappearing between its two adjacent neighbours. An appreciation and greater consideration of the existing context is required when inserting a new structure into a historic environment that has strong visual ties between elements.

The old 1970’s TAB on High Street with a significantly contrasting building typology to its adjacent neighbours.

The final aspect of a townscape that has a significant impact on the human experience of a place is vistas. The West End was designed with a strong axial arrangement with landmarks taking centre stage at the end nodes or cross-sections of these axes. These axial lines create a visual connection between landmarks and the rest of the town. As you walk west along High Street from the town hall you see the Round House projected on the top of the hill as the focal point of the street. The urban setting of the shop fronts frames the colonial building as you move along the street consolidating its landmark status and defines the space to the individual as having cultural and historic significance to the town. When looking from the Round House back to the Town Hall the vista defines the spire of the hall as the highest point of the arrangement with the unfolding townscape settling below in the visual composition. This particular vista has been emphasised by artist Felice Varini in his work ‘Arcs d’Ellipses’ where he painted yellow ellipses along the buildings on High Street that only aligned when you viewed them from the Round House; it highlighted the variance of the street along with its balanced scale in relation to the human scale within the townscape.

The vista looking down High Street framing the Round House at the focal point. Photo by Charlotte Pyle

The built environment in the West End of Fremantle has a great deal of historical and cultural value to its occupants that can also be sensed and absorbed by its visitors. Its history and significance is engrained in the building typologies from both colonial times and the early 1900’s. The 1970’s TAB is an example of how infill projects that are significantly different in scale, form, function and materiality do look out of place and a more considered contextual approach is favourable. Streetscapes created by these archetypal buildings have become the iconic fabric of Fremantle; but the loss of most veranda structures has notably impacted the individuals experience of the streetscape which is why some buildings like the Fremantle Markets have reverted back to a similar version of their original state. The vistas formed by the fabric of the West End frame and engage with the landmarks of the town assisting with the experience of Fremantle’s history and creating a sense of place. The overall townscape in the West End is an urban cultural and historic precinct that should be maintained and preserved as an ensemble to align with the values associated with the place by both its occupants and its visitors.