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    Design for a new opera house in Perth likened to echidnas and bony fish

    Nathan Johnson

    A $1.2 billion opera house for Perth has been designed by an aspiring Western Australian building designer but is unlikely to reach development stages, says WA premier Colin Barnett.

    The project proposal from Burswood designer Shane O'Riley has been five years in the making and is proposed to utilise 50,000sqm of prime waterfront real estate on Perth’s Elizabeth Quay.

    The design has received mixed review from peers and industry bodies regarding its aesthetics, cost and level of cultural harmony with the rest of Perth.

    In an interview on 720 Mornings, Premier Barnett suggested that although he personally approved of the design’s aesthetic, it was unlikely to receive State government funding.

    “We haven’t got a lazy billion lying around,” he told Geoff Hutchison, ABC Perth Mornings host. “That site at Elizabeth Quay is reserved for an Aboriginal art and cultural area… it’s not something that is going to happen soon. When that is ultimately developed I hope it would be a spectacular building.”

    Named ‘The Arc,’ O’Riley said the main structural objective was to create a building where the exterior structural logic of the building is expressed in the interior.

    “Put simply,” says O’Riley, “as soon as you enter the building, you are greeted with an inspirational architectural landscape, formal, bold, and surreal in its scope and audacity.”

    The design features two interior theatres with seating for 1200 as well as other facilities including a specialist concert hall, art gallery, restaurants and outdoor amphitheatres.

    O’Riley said that his international concert hall design was intended to be a metaphor for "what it feels like to be sculpturally inside music, without the experience of the sound".

    "The living embodiment is you being inside a musical instrument, a sculpture, something that is dynamic and inspirational," he said.

    “I knew there was a parcel of land earmarked for Elizabeth Quay before the public knew, and I researched the Indigenous heritage of the area,” he told the ABC. “The underlying brief was very simple. It needed to compete as an icon against concert halls and opera houses around the world, not just Sydney.”

    O’Riley’s passion for the design sparks from his discontent with what he called the ‘mishmash’ of architecture in Perth that is based around political terms and sporting prowess rather than the facilitation of arts and culture in the city.

    O’Riley’s release of his designs was joined by an insistence that other plans for the adjacent sites, which include a sports stadium and new footbridge, are “a wasted opportunity”.

    Despite his intentions, O’Riley’s plans have received all sorts of analogies. Peers have likened it to an “echidna”, “a bony fish”, “a rack of lamb”, "albino turtles mating", "six nuns in a rugby scrum" and a “middle-aged-man-with-thinning-hair-driving–a convertible"

    Architects and university representatives have also weighed in on the debate, with most expressing concern that the building was trying too hard to be a ‘city-defining building’ like others around the world, listing the Sydney Opera house and New York’s Guggenheim Museum in comparison.

    "Sydney Opera House was never intended to be a city-defining building. They just wanted to build a great opera house," said University of WA dean of architecture Simon Anderson. "It happened to be an opera house and they happened to get a great architect but they didn't say 'we want a great sculptural icon'."

    Pendal & Neille’s co-founder Simon Pendal is also undecided on the O’Reily design and emphasised its troubling affinity with "the Guggenheim effect".

    "Every now and again you get a Guggenheim or a Sydney Opera House, which are truly brilliant, but it's a very rare thing," Pendal said. "My feeling is that it's not a good idea to plan an icon.”

    "Cities evolve over time and if you build it all too fast there's no element of time, there's no growing into it slowly and finding your feet. That particular site would be an excellent one to set up for something but just hold off. It's better to do nothing than to do something half-baked."

    However, O’Riley remains undeterred and hopes the design will start a discussion about how the city should look, pointing out that the combined budgets of the new sports stadium and Elizabeth Quay total $4 billion.

    “No-one cares about making Perth an international city of the future, it’s all about developers,” he said.

    “I am very concerned that, on the foreshore, there is a mishmash of architecture that has the potential to give us slums of the future and degrade the image of Perth. We end up spending good money after bad because no-one is pre-planning the grand vision because I think planning is based around political terms, not visions. It’s always about our sporting prowess, not our cultural prowess, and we need to grow up.”

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