Wellington Telecom Exchange

June 10, 2020

Address: Wellington St, Perth
Architect: Commonwealth Department of Housing and Construction
Style: Modernist
Type: Commercial
Year: 1978
Author: Andrew McDonald
Heritage Listing: No
Awards: 1978 Architecture Design Award, Australian Institute of Architects

Winning an architecture award, particularly in Perth, is a sure sign that the public already hates your building. I was 15 when the Wellington Telecom Exchange was completed, and I can still remember both the scorn that it was greeted by and a persistent wondering of what it would be like to skateboard that ski jump roof. But what an extraordinary building it was when it was finished in 1978? And how lucky are we to still have this odd tower with its terrifying ramp on top, and exterior, that you have in  your mind is totally blank – but really isn’t. Another classic from the precinct, the Entertainment Centre is now gone.
And how ironic that this glorified telephone exchange next door would have been the antithesis of its former neighbor in the day. While the “Ent. Cent”, hosted various Disneys On Ice, bands, celebrities and events, the banality of Perth telephone calls were chugging away, mostly reliably, next door. But today, how many terabytes of the city’s entertainment now passes through servers inside? These places are the entertainment centres of our world now.
Out of all the buildings in the city, its interior remains utterly mysterious. I’ve never met anyone who has been inside. Maybe that is how it should stay. In my imagination it will forever be carpeted in the burnt-est orange and lime green. Employees choose polyester as the fabric of their trousers, occasionally still flared, and comb-overs matched with sideburns go unremarked.
And seeing photographs of the exchange today, which somehow seems almost invisible from street level, you realise that it does have signs of humanity. The sparse stack of balconies overlook obvious human spaces. Even maybe an out of the wind spot where you can smoke a cigarette and look down on the lukewarm transformation that is Yagan Square.
Good on you Telcom building. Long may you serve.

AH McDonald – artist, comedian and cultural critic.