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  • Olivia Kate

The Changing Face of Subiaco

Updated: Jan 7, 2019

The disintegration of major retail and entertainment drawcards in Subiaco (Pavilion Markets, Subiaco Stadium) has had a snowball effect, resulting in the loss of smaller businesses on the Rokeby Road commercial strip. Observing this historic street over the course of 2018, the mass exodus is reified by an ever-growing number of “For Lease” signs in shopfront windows. The Federation style building at 87-89 Rokeby Road, a recent addition to this list of vacant venues, has been home to the iconic Witch’s Cauldron Restaurant for nearly five decades and is due for a fresh perspective. As Benson Studio has been commissioned to give new life to this historic gem, we look to Subiaco’s rich past to find sustainable solutions for its future.

Heritage Fabric of Subiaco
Subiaco Hotel: Heritage Architecture characteristic of Rokeby Road

A place like Subiaco which is characterised by buildings of moderate to significant heritage value provides a unique opportunity for new architectural endeavours to capitalise on the past and promote sustainable development(1). The truism claiming that “the most sustainable building is the one already built” continues to garner more supporting evidence in the form of statistics around the prodigious environmental damage caused by the construction industry - building construction was responsible for a staggering 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. Architects and other members of the building industry carry a responsibility to combat this figure. The insertion of a new venue into an extant building that has become redundant is one means of achieving this .

But the argument for retaining existing buildings extends beyond economic and environmental considerations to social and cultural reasons. Researchers at Curtin University of Technology argue that

a distinctive local palette, which contributes to a strong sense of place, can engender a correspondingly strong sense of belonging for members of a community.

(Cugley and Green-Armytage, 2015) The retention of 87-89 Rokeby (and others similar) is a means of preserving local memory of place, the form and material palette of this building will be ever reminiscent of the Witch’s Cauldron era and earlier by the physical properties that bridge the gap created by the passing of time. It tells the passer-by at a glance the age and purpose of the building and helps one to place it within its surrounds. At a closer look, one can read at the change of material and floor level, that this venue is the amalgamation of two narrower lots, with a newer addition on top. These stories, as told through the construction, give rise to collective memory and the sense of place described above.

This sense of place can be reinforced by links between a given location and its broader context, to that which lies beyond it. (Cugley and Green-Armytage, 2015) This new venue on Rokeby then, can be enriched by connections to Kings Park which skirts the South-Eastern boundary of Subiaco and the many other smaller patches of greenery scattered throughout the suburb. The incorporation of parks and gardens has historically played a large part in the development of Subiaco, with a tradition for lining streets with trees that continues to give the place its distinctive character today. The inclusion of greenery within a new venue can provide a link through space to the surrounding parks and time to the origins of the suburb. This should be achieved through use of local plant species, celebrating the fact that the South West of WA is home to one on 25 global biodiversity hotspots(2).

Leafy green canopies line Rokeby Road

The ease of access from the train station to the existing buildings along Subiaco’s major pedestrian thoroughfares provides additional environmental benefits to refurbishment proposals by mitigating the need for private cars. Just a short train ride from the city centre and well connected to the outer suburbs, this is an ideal location for attracting people from a range of backgrounds for socialising as well as work-related activity. Good pedestrian accessibility is yet another advantage of Subiaco over other suburban locations. For a new business venture, this means drawing in foot-traffic round the clock.

A study conducted by Griffith University’s Associate Professor Matthew Burke reveals that people are increasingly choosing hubs and shared workplaces as they recognise the importance of sharing knowledge in growing business. (Hinchliffe, 2018) Burke’s study into the walkability of cities shows that business can be stimulated by conducting business activity in non-traditional office environments. (Hinchliffe, 2018) Given this, the ability for employers to work autonomously by researching in a library, meeting a client in a café, or discussing a business proposal over lunch, is indicative of a healthy business model with room for growth. This new approach to business may be a key to reviving Subiaco – if new venues are established from the outset to accommodate dynamic employees in flexible workspaces, it could stimulate the growth of other venues. The vacant venues that currently line Rokeby road could be brought out of their state of torpor if new small start-ups and sole practitioners were to share a shopfront. Co-working spaces have the economic benefit of a lower rent price than a traditional commercial office, but it also has the social benefit of instilling a community spirit among those who share it.

Results from the ABS 2016 survey shows that most Subiaco denizens are educated, single, full-time professionals aged 25-39 who earn significantly more than the average West Australian. This demographic is just the right type to be receptive of new places to start and grow a business venture, especially when coupled with the frustration of watching their home Suburb slowly slip over the last decade since the close of the Pavilion Markets. But a new high school slated to open place of the stadium in 2020, will throw into the mix a new demographic (Hamlyn, 2018) and with it, a demand for new offerings catered to younger age-groups and families.

The insertion of new small businesses in Subiaco in the current climate of decline, provides an opportunity to revive the suburb. Through a celebration of its immediate and more distant history, embracing the diverse landscape that makes it unique, and promotion of pedestrian priority; Subiaco can grow into a new era without losing sight of its past.

  1. At the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987, the United Nations defined Sustainable Development” as: “Development that meets the need of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” (Karol and Brunner, 2009)

  2. A biodiversity hotspot is identified as a place both with many endemic species, and significant environmental threats to their conservation. They have a high diversity of endemic species, unlikely to be found anywhere else in the world. (Department of the Environment and Energy, Biodiversity Hotspots).

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