Alexandros Washburn looks over the East Perth redevelopment area. Picture: Guy Magowan/The West Australian

Alexandros Washburn is unequivocal when asked about Perth's waterfront redevelopment, Elizabeth Quay.

"You're making decisions that are going to change your city for centuries, but you have to make them," he said.

"In your case, these are going to be the iconic buildings of your city.

"They're the ones that are going to define for people across the world and across time what Perth is and, perhaps even more importantly, what Perth wants to be."

But the chief urban designer at New York City's Department of City Planning and an architect of the Harlem Piers project warned that high-rise around a quay development had to be well designed.

"That's your densest part of your city, that's the heart of your city, so I certainly think there's scope for density and tall buildings," he said.

"But you just need to be extra careful about the shaping, orientation and character of these buildings.

"Ask yourself what does a building feel like at its first two storeys? It shouldn't necessarily be just a straight, horizontal line. It should have some variety and interest and grab you. And then cross to South Perth and say what does this building look like against the skyline?"

Ahead of his keynote speech to the Planning Institute of Australia State conference on Friday, Mr Washburn said Perth was a lovely city with a spectacular climate and a gorgeous natural setting.

Mr Washburn, who was hired in 2006 to revive New York's urban design division, said the pedestrian experience was king.

"I have a perspective for New York that is a citizen walking down the street," he said.

"So, every decision we make we judge through the eyes of the pedestrian."

With the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks this week, Mr Washburn is emotional when recalling the reconstruction effort in New York and, more recently, in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he has provided advice following its devastating earthquakes.

"It's being able to step back and look at your city in context and in the big picture, and be able to start making decisions again that aren't reacting but instead are positive and looking to the future," he said.

The West Australian

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