The Sunday Times Magazine

Unconventional architect Jean-mic Perrine. Jennie Fitzhardinge talks to the larger-than-life thinker.

Jennie Fitzhardinge – January 28, 2007

The sign in the lobby says Perrine Architecture, Level 1. 

Step out of the lift and it’s not clear where to go next. Directly opposite is a trendy office furniture showroom and to the left, down the corridor is a simple, frosted glass door devoid of any clue as to what is behind it. Try the door and you finda typically stylish, minimalistic architects’ studio. The lack of signage is not a yet-to-be-done job.

“Oh, it’s deliberate,” architect Jean-mic Perrine says with a grin. “We don’t want just anyone walking in.”

Perrine is a big man who talks with expansive gestures and loves nothing more than to assemble a group of friends – artists, theatrical people and other movers and shakers – around a lunch table and talk about the world as it could be. When he talks about his own projects he does so with an enthusiasm that is infectious.

So it is surprising that his office – in a new building he designed to sit above the historic property that houses Nine Mary’s restaurant on the corner of Hay and Milligan streets in the city – is so low-ke. But working under the radar is where Perrine appears to be most comfortable. He doesn’t tend to associate with other architects in Perth, and doesn’t enter awards despite designing the kind of striking, innovative projects that usually please judges. He also gets financially involved in his projects – giving him a level of control other architects would envy and a level of risk they may not be prepared to take on.

Perrine is probably best known in Perth for the Box Building, the first truly trendy inner-city apartment complex in the Perth CBD that combined residences with a sophisticated bar and deli at its base. Its signature combination of stainless steel, red feature walls and terrazzo floors has been copied many times since.

He also designed The Colonnade in Subiaco and its founder Wayne Teo’s ultra-modern house in Dalkeith. Perrine now lives in the Box building with his wife, Mercedes, and two children, but his previous house was a factory conversion in Subiaco that anticipated the high-density, small-block living of Subi Centro by about five years. 

On a meagre 180sq m he designed a house that could house four people comfortably in a light, airy environment without resorting to a second storey. He has also designed a residential project in Russia, shopping centers, a mixed-use development in Queensland and a $150 million urban renewal project in Mauritius, where he was born.

Perrine came to Australia with his parents when he was 13, but he has maintained a connection with the island nation. As well as designing and building a holiday house there, his design work for the Ruisseau Creole – the revitalisation of a former fishing village – is particularly close to his heart.

“Ruisseau Creole was a beautiful place but low on opportunity,” Perrine says. “Everything needed to be created – a series of village squares, offices, shops and restaurants. We gave a modern urban landscape to the village, but very low scale and completely sustainable.”

Even with such a portfolio, getting Perrine to talk about any of these past projects, or even himself, is like pulling teeth – he only wants to talk about the future…