Engaging Perth: Open Doors to Conversations

Ahead of this weekend’s Open House Perth, Ben G Morgan speaks to Carly Barrett and David Weir about the challenges faced by the city and the opportunities provided by this unique program.

The Open House movement consists of not-for-profit groups in cities across the globe — each group programming a weekend of events that open the doors to the unknown, unusual or otherwise inaccessible architecture of our cities. Now in its fifth year, Open House Perth (OHP) has become a significant event on the cultural calendar, working to highlight important discussions around the future of the city.

“Architecture might seem to many like something that’s more for the elite, or for people who have a lot of money,” says OHP Creative Director, Carly Barrett. “By people getting out and about and seeing a lot of different kinds of architecture and different budget ranges, it becomes immediately more accessible.” In the process, the public becomes more engaged, not just in design, but in how a city actually functions—the many layers of history, culture and infrastructure that are often hidden from view.

In this year’s OHP, as with previous years, buildings open to the public range from heritage civic buildings such as The Constitutional Centre of WA and modern additions like the City of Perth Library, to homes such as the North Perth House by Jonathan Lake Architects, and multi-res projects like the SODA Apartments. There is also a program of talks and events to help the public engage with the buildings themselves as well as wider issues—including the ongoing focus on OHP on house sizes and urban sprawl.

“WA has got an average house size of around 245 square metres, which is larger than the average US house size,” Barrett explains. “We see that as a big problem in conjunction with urban sprawl. The great Australian dream of owning your own house on a big block of land needs to be revisited in terms of how we can build smarter and how we can look at the ways our cities function. We try to promote that it’s about the quality of space and not the quantity.” With this focus on the future, buildings from the past take on new significance, informing architecture for the future of the city.

Visitors to the event also get a unique opportunity to speak directly with architects within their buildings. This year’s Architecture Ambassador for OHP is a Contemporary favourite: David Weir of David Weir Architects – also an Ambassador earlier last month for Contemporary Wine In Design. He sees both events as a fantastic opportunity for the public to gain a better understanding of the long history of design in WA. “We’ve got everything from buildings that were completed last year, to those that were completed a hundred years ago. It’s great to show the people of Perth that their city has this history of great architecture. It’s not something that only happened at one time, or that only happened during the gold rush, it’s all around us now.”

Weir is also excited by the opportunities presented to architects: “It’s good exposure, and it’s good if you’re on the ground and have a house open, then you can actually meet with people and chat with them, give them advice and introduce yourself to a public that’s interested in design.”

While Open House programs run in cities throughout the world, each one is unique. In its own city, OHP is excelling. It’s opening new buildings to the public each year, and starting important conversations between the public, government and the design sector. “It’s a massive architecture festival, and before it started, that just didn’t exist,” says Weir. “It’s very large, which shows people are interested in it and that they want it. It’s been really important in just getting architecture back on the calendar and therefore into discussions at many levels, including government.”

For Barrett, Open House Perth provides a unique opportunity to the people of WA to understand more about their Capital, and more about design, in a natural way. “Rather than just talking about [design], if people can see it demonstrated in the built form, then that’s more meaningful for them, because it’s an experience. You don’t have to know exactly what an architect means when they talk about ‘fenestration-this’ or ‘patina-that’, you actually get to see these things and experience them, which has been so rewarding for the visitors.”

Open House Perth will be held this weekend 12—13 November 2016 in locations across the city. Visit the website to plan your weekend destinations.

Open House Perth
openhouseperth.net

Photography by Various (in alphabetical order: SODA Apartments courtesy Gresley Abas; CASA Room House courtesy Peter Bennetts; Cox Architects Studio Courtesy Cox; Casa Nostra courtesy Di Lanzo and Partner; North Perth Bungalow courtesy f22 Photography; Aria Apartments courtesy Hillam Architects; Dolce Lane Residence courtesy KADA; West Leederville Cottage courtesy Dion Robeson).

Words by Ben G Morgan.