A place designed to inspire.
In the lead up to the Centenary of Federation in 2001, the development of Federation Square offered a unique opportunity – the chance to celebrate ideas of ‘identity’ and ‘place’ through a much needed civic and cultural space.
Over the last two hundred years the site had been home to the city morgue, a fish market, corporate offices and rail yards. While planners had long dreamed of linking the CBD with the Yarra River, the divide created by the railway yards had consistently thwarted further development.
In 1996 the Victorian Government held an international, two-stage design competition to redevelop the precinct as the city’s new civic square, opening up the space for public use. As part of the celebrations surrounding the Centenary of Federation, the project had to include cultural and commercial buildings and an open amphitheatre capable of holding up to 15,000 people. It also had to be built above the city’s major transport hub – Jolimont Railway Yards.
Lab architecture studio, based in London at the time, produced one of the five plans shortlisted at the end of the first stage and, in order to proceed further with the competition, it formed a partnership with Bates Smart, one of Melbourne’s most prominent architecture firms.
Construction of Federation Square began in 1998. The $450 million investment was supported by the Victorian State Government, City of Melbourne, the Commonwealth Government and the private sector through private tenancy fit-outs and major sponsorship alliances.
Given its bold architectural form and large aspiration, the project had its share of changes to the brief, controversy over the design and costs, heated debate and skepticism. Since opening on 26 October 2002 however, Federation Square has been embraced by locals and visitors alike, with an average of more than 9 million visits each year.
Although Federation Square’s history is short, it is the site upon which the Kulin confederacy of Aboriginal peoples lived for thousands of years. The Wathaurung, the Bunurong and the Woiworung peoples occupied the land. The Woiworung group comprised a number of clans including the Wurundjeri, who laid claim to the area drained by the Yarra River and its tributaries. In the first years after European settlement, Aboriginal clans still camped at their traditional locations on both sides of the Yarra River, near the MCG and Government House.
Federation Square’s Architecture
Federation Square is the size of a city block or 38,000 square metres (3.8 hectares) and is built on top of a working railway. Unlike traditional public spaces like Venice’s San Marco or New York’s Rockefeller Centre, Fed Square is made up of a series of interlocking and cascading spaces. Buildings open at all angles into the city, creating unexpected connections and vistas. In response to the brief, the design was heavily influenced by the idea of ‘Federation’, of bringing disparate parts together to form a coherent whole.
By 2003, a year after its opening, Federation Square was the most awarded project in the history of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) Victoria, receiving five major awards for architectural and design excellence.
The construction of the deck beneath Federation Square is one of the largest expanses of railway decking ever built in Australia. It took twelve months to complete, with structural work only possible during breaks in the train timetable in the early hours of the morning. The deck is supported by over 3,000 tonnes of steel beams, 1.4 kilometres of concrete ‘crash walls’ and over 4,000 vibration-absorbing spring coils and rubber padding. It is designed to support some of the most sensitive uses imaginable – galleries, cinemas, and radio and television studios – and it needed to isolate them from vibration and noise.
The Fractal Façade
Federation Square’s distinctive façade, utilises new understandings of surface geometries to allow for the individual buildings within Federation Square to be differentiated from each other, whilst maintaining an overall coherence. Three cladding materials: sandstone, zinc (perforated and solid) and glass have been used within a triangular pinwheel grid. This modular system uses five single triangles (all of the same size and proportion) to make up a larger triangular ‘panel’. Following the same geometrical logic, five panels are joined together to create a larger triangular ‘mega panel’, which is then mounted onto the structural frame to form the visible façade.