Architect David Hillam, the man shaping Perth's new suburban skylines
MEET the man carrying the blueprints for nearly a dozen of the major apartment buildings set to reshape Perth’s suburban skylines.
Architect David Hillam has been in practice for more than two decades, long enough to remember designing then-controversial nine-storey residential towers in South Perth in the late 1990s.
Now he is back on the peninsula with plans for four apartments more than three times that height: 29 storeys at Lumiere, 31 storeys at 50-52 Melville Parade, 43 storeys at 1-3 Lyall Street and a whopping 50 storeys at 76 Mill Point Road.
“The interesting thing in South Perth is that many of the people objecting to our apartments are those living in the current eight or nine-storey buildings,” Mr Hillam said.
“Their buildings were three times taller than the buildings that stood around them when they were built and that was a change as well. They have forgotten that.”
He is also the creative mind behind the recently and contentiously approved Scarborough twin towers, the under-construction 13-storey Vantage in Rivervale, as well as nearby Parallel apartments in the same suburb, and further high-rises in Joondalup and Applecross.
Height, in Perth, does not come without controversy and resident groups have sprung up across the city concerned with issues such as increased traffic, loss of privacy and overshadowing.
Accordingly, Mr Hillam has become accustomed to watching his buildings, many of which he also finances as one of two directors of development firm Edge Visionary Living, become tied up in the approvals process.
South Perth, in particular, has been a hotbed for local opposition. Residents have challenged Lumiere in the Supreme Court three times already and none of his four designs have obtained building approval.
In December, Mr Hillam was also sent back to the drawing board by the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authorityover his initial design for the $450 million Scarborough twin towers, prepared on behalf of Chinese developer 3 Oceans.
Speaking with The Sunday Times shortly after a slimmed-down version of the 43 and 33-storey towers was rubber-stamped, Mr Hillam said the process had been frustrating but he was pleased with the result.
“It is really important that the public understand that the concern with the original proposal wasn’t the towers, it was more so the amount of bulk in the base of the building. The design review panel was looking for a really significant reduction in the base in exchange for the extra height, which we delivered.”
Mr Hillam said the open-ended brief for the Scarborough site — “design something iconic that can be promoted internationally” — had allowed his team to create a building he predicts will become a major tourism drawcard. “It could have been a very average development on that corner, like any other apartment building sitting in East Perth, and something that people just walk past but don’t interact with,” he said.
“Most developers would have turned the top three floors into penthouses.
“Instead we have an observation facility (which will be open to the public) that is probably going to become a top-five tourist attraction in Perth.
“I’d say literally everybody locally will go there at least once, and every international visitor will go there too.”
Mr Hillam maintains vocal minorities are drowning out majority support for high-rise and the dual requirements of exemplary design quality and community benefit, so often a pre-requisite for bonus height, ensured neighbourhoods were left no worse off.
“Most local authorities in Perth, when contemplating height, want the design to be excellent and that is a challenge for us because the people sitting in judgment have high expectations,” he said.
“That is good because the discussion should always be about the quality of the building and what it is giving back to the community.
“You can have a 12-storey apartment building developed by any developer in town and it won’t give anything back, it will just be a commercial equation. Get in and get out quickly.”
Mr Hillam argues that approach to development — sticking rigidly to planning scheme requirements with design driven only by bottom-line profit — left neighbourhoods with eyesores and would lead to uniform “medium density” in big swathes of the city.
“You can look around Perth and see the worst of outcomes, where people don’t try to challenge the framework,” he said.
“If you drive along Roberts Road (in Subiaco, site of Mr Hillam’s office) there is two-storey development there where there could have been four or six storeys.
“That is an example of a great location being wasted. There are only a limited number of these prime locations and it is almost worse, a greater disservice to the community, to underdevelop or poorly develop a location.”