Federation Square is a Melbourne landmark, often described as the ugliest building in Australia, especially after “Virtual Tourist” awarded the title of the ‘World’s Fifth-Ugliest Building’ in 2009. Federation Square hosts more than 2000 events a year from multicultural programs to wine festivals and this is the place Melbournians eat, sing and protest.
Federation Square is also home to The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Australian Centre for the Moving Image and the Melbourne Visitor Centre. Though out of character and against the objectives of the Square, an Apple Global Flagship Store will Open at Federation Square in 2020. The plan includes demolishing the Southern building and replacing it with the Apple Store.
The history of Federation Square
With its only 15 years of existence, there is not much to claim on historical significance of the building, but it will be interesting to know what once stood in its place.
The 1861 painting of Henry Burns shows an exceptionally clear view of the Federation square area. The Square building adjacent to the St Paul’s Church was the Office of the Original City Registry of Births, deaths and marriages.
The Princess Bridge Railway Station was built in 1859 adjacent to it by Melbourne and Suburban Rail Company floated by politician John ‘O’ Shanassy.
The first Melbourne morgue operated here from 1871 as the city grappled with an influx of bodies after the population surge of Gold rush era. The Prince’s Bridge morgue was abandoned by the Coroners in 1883 when the Railway Department required the old building. The Morgue was relocated after 12 years to Cole’s Wharf. But the morgue building remained unused until it was demolished in 1890.
In the 1880’s Princess Bridge Station which was the city terminal for all east bound trains, was expanded swallowing the area which today Federation square occupies. In 1910 Princess Bridge station was connected to Flinders Street Station by an underground tunnel.
In the 1960’s, the Government wanted to free up land in the CBD and modernise the space. In 1964, The original Princess Bridge Station buildings were demolished and replaced with Princes Gate towers aka Gas and Fuel Corporation Towers. The Gas and Fuel Corporation of Victoria was a government-owned monopoly supplier of household gas in the state of Victoria.
The ugly looking Gas and Fuel Corporation Towers were opened in 1967. These gigantic towers overshadowed St Pauls Cathedral and blocked the view of Yarra River and the Gardens. But the arcade and the shops underneath were fairly popular with people. The Centre Station Records at the Arcade attracted large crowds when they hosted music groups.
By the 1980’s Princess Bridge Station was fully incorporated into Flinders Street Station. The federation Square area remained untouched until Jeff Kennett was sworn in as Victoria’s Premier in 1996. Kennett considered the Office Towers as an eyesore and wanted to demolish it and redevelop the area. An international two stage design competition for a new cultural precinct with shops was announced in 1997 by the Kennett Government. The objectives included building a civic and cultural space which includes a commercial hub with an open amphitheatre capable of holding up to 15,000 people to be built over the Jolimont Railway yard.
The design and construction
The Government planned to commemorate the 2001 centennial of the Australian Federation with the construction of a public square that would rival the grandeur of Sydney’s opera house. The land available for construction was around 8.9 acres in size.
The design competition attracted 177 entries from around the world of which 96 were from the state of Victoria, 30 from New South Wales and 41 from overseas.
London based Lab architecture studio produced one of the five short listed designs in the first stage of the selection process. They formed partnership with Bates Smart, a local Melbourne architecture firm and the construction began in 1998. The estimated project cost was $450 Million.
The intention was to create a precinct that satisfies the interactive nature of civic existence by balancing the need for intimacy and security with openness without feeling too empty. It was part of the Jolimont Rail Yard rationalisation project in 1990 that reduced the railway lines running parallel to the Yarra River from a total of 53 lines to 12. The deck over the railway line stands over 3,000 tonnes of steel beams, 1.4 km of concrete ‘crash walls’ and over 4,000 vibration-absorbing spring coils and rubber padding to isolate it from vibration and noise.
The buildings are cladded in three materials; sandstone, zinc, and glass which are arranged in a triangular pinwheel grid. The plan was to complete the project in 2001 for the centenary celebrations of the Federation. But the hiccups it experienced due to change of Government in Victoria delayed the completion and it was opened to public on 26th October 2002.
Today Federation Square also acts as a multicultural hub which hosts cultural programs of various ethnic communities in Melbourne. The huge gatherings at these programs give a big monetary boost to the businesses operating around it. The Square is city’s meeting place. It is also home to restaurants, bars and specialty stores.
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Address: Swanston St & Flinders St, Melbourne VIC 3000