Tuesday, 10 July 2012

My thoughts on the Kings Square Urban Design Strategy

Exciting times are ahead for Freo's Kings Square with the adoption of an Urban Design Strategy by Council a couple of weeks ago.

Over the past couple of nights, I've sauntered off with a comfy blanket and a good cup of tea to run my eye over the Kings Square Urban Design Strategy. Even though the horse has bolted, I thought that I'd share some of my thoughts on the Kings Square Urban Design Strategy:

What I like...

1. Two squares for the price of one

I like that we're getting two squares for the price of one. The church owned portion of Kings Square will have a more passive green theme. The Council owned portion will have a more urban feel. Nice work.

This approach imbeds a number of options for people to enjoy and hang out in Kings Square. It will also mean a fair degree of flexibility for people (and Council) about how the square will be used over the course of a day, week and a year.

2. Small triangle development facing Myer building

I like the concept of the triangle development in the north-eastern section of the square.

The overall effect of this building reminds me of Federation Square in Melbourne. Over there they adopted a unique approach to the placement of different buildings into the public space. I'm a fan of Federation Square as there are different nooks and crannies to hang out. I get the feeling that this concept can work here in Freo.

The strategy indicates that the triangle development will go hand in hand with reducing the footprint of the building that replaces the current Council offices and library. This means that the majority of the public space will be maintained but in a unique and different way.

A real positive about this approach is that it introduces a range of new ground floor activation opportunities into Kings Square. If these uses are chosen (and managed) well, we'll be getting some new attractions and destinations at Kings Square.

3. Urban Room

The Urban Room idea is certainly out of the box and different to the stock standard stuff we see these days. After a fair degree of thought (and some cups of tea), I'm prepared to run with the concept.

Why? I think that it provides yet another option for people to enjoy and linger in the space. If the design is pulled off well, I feel that the urban room will give Kings Square something different. What a great way of setting Freo's square apart from what else is on offer in Perth. Kings Square will certainly have its point of difference.

I like that chronic sweaters like me who sweat up just thinking about a thirty degree day will have the option of sitting in the urban room during the dog days of summer. It'll be important to ensure that all the right amenities are provided so that this 'room' is comfortable and welcoming for people to use and enjoy.

I was thinking that this type of space also offers opportunities for a dedicated program of events at Kings Square as well as a large public space to gather for special occasions.

What I think needs improving...

1. Ensure night time activation 

For me, one of the most crucial measures of success for this project will be whether or not Kings Square will be active at night after its redevelopment. Thinking about this, I'm conscious that civic and community uses work well to attract people during the day. The problem is that they struggle to activate the space at night.

Cafes, restaurants and small bars are night time attractors. They activate spaces by attracting people to linger and gather during the evening. At night I'm afraid that civic and community uses just can't compete with that kind of drawing power. With this in mind, some tweaks to the strategy to ensure that enough night time ground floor uses are provided around the triangle development and the urban room would represent an improvement.

2. Where is the rooftop garden?

One of my favourite afternoons during my trip to London last year was spent with my wife exploring and hanging out on an awesome rooftop garden on a Richard Branson owned six storey building in Kensington.

It was brilliant. Our London Walk tour around Kensington finished at this building and our guide (an actor from The Bill no less) mentioned that there was a rooftop garden, complete with flamingos...and that it was free. Well, that was enough for my wife, who practically sprinted to the lifts. Seconds later we walked out onto one of the best gardens in London. We ended up having a great experience on that roof and remember it fondly.

Kick ass rooftop garden in London

Two flamengos with their heads in the water on kick ass rooftop garden in London
(Unlike my wife, I soon tired of taking photos of flamingos with their heads in the water and took the opportunity to enjoy a nanna nap.)

Based on our experience that afternoon and the general awesomeness of rooftop gardens in general, I'm thinking that the Kings Square Urban Design Strategy could be improved to incorporate an awesome rooftop garden. Where? For me, I'm thinking that the Urban Room looks like a good bet. Imagine the views! A rooftop garden would add another great attraction and continue Kings Square's point of difference.

(Just quietly, if a rooftop garden proves to be a tad expensive initially, I'd like to see the buildings designed so that having one remains an option into the future.)

3. Why no shared space along Queen Street?

It is generally accepted that a crucial component of the success of public squares is the degree to which they are easily accessible by foot. This kind of thinking fits well with my experiences sampling different squares and piazzas. For me, the best ones were easy to get to.

Maybe I'm pushing a barrel uphill on this one, but I'm thinking that the Kings Square Urban Design Strategy could be improved with the addition of shared space along Queen Street, especially along the portion of the street that runs along the square.

In a similar way to how Le Mans managed to incorporate light rail into its public square, I believe that buses can be made to pass through a shared space. It doesn't have to be an either/or solution. After all, if the long-term vision is for Queen Street as a shopping street, then the street will have to be made more pedestrian friendly anyway.

What I think doesn't work...

1. Newman Court

This has been a tough one for me. I seem to be going against the grain on this one but I can't bring myself to like that the strategy recommends bringing back a road.

I just don't subscribe to the argument that the silver bullet for reinvigorating Kings Square (or Myer) was a road. Instead, I think that Kings Square has been let down by a failure in a range of things. For example, the Myer building itself doesn't do Kings Square any favours. Blank, inactive facades don't do much to foster a place that people are willing to care about. Are there attractions and destinations? What about night time attractors? The answers to these questions are no and no.

So I tend to think that the Urban Design Strategy is actually good enough without needing to introduce a road at Newman Court.

In saying that, designing Newman Court as a shared space is a saving grace of this idea. Shared space does allow for the road to be closed and if designed properly it does provide for pedestrian priority. I'd like to see the parking bays designed so that it allows for parklets to be provided. Removing a bay and providing dedicated cyling bays is another option.


There's a lot to like about this strategy. I like that we're getting two squares for the price of one. I like the innovative ideas such as the triangle development and the urban room. There is also some room for improvement though...where is the rooftop garden?

Overall, I'm a supporter of the Kings Square Urban Design Strategy. Well done to all those involved.

Additional reading

The Kings Square Urban Design Strategy can be viewed at this page on the City's website under 'useful documents'.


  1. I agree with you Michael. I too have a problem with Newman Court as a road and space to park cars and I am both surprised and disappointed about it. A cycle/pedestrian path there would have been better.

    Night time activity and light is something Fremantle does not do well. Even the small High Street mall should have the trees lit up, so it is not the dark hole it is at present. We tend to design for daytime only, and the suggested urban room especially should look stunning at night, or it will become a heaven for anti social elements.

    I think CODA architects did a very good job and hope the City will implement most of the ideas.

    Roel Loopers

  2. Very good thoughts Michael.
    I particularly like the roof garden idea. It increases the green area and adds another feature of interest to the square.
    Well done

  3. Good thoughts on the whole Michael, however I tend to dissagree on a couple of points.

    1st the urban room whilst innovative and could possible have a good outcome, it is more likey knowing the cities past that it will end up being a night time hang out for the less desirable (unless significant effort is put into nightime activation as you mentioned).

    2nd the newman court idea is one that would normally not get a vot in most planning circles if it was just stated that a pedestrain path was being reverted to shared space. however I this case I think that it is a benefit, i believe that it will incease the current poor ledgibility of the area and help activate the area, most people in Perth tend to follow cars to activity not the other way around (unfortunatley). This arguemnt is based on the premise that the shared space is largely aimed at pedestrains with allowance for vehicles.