Melbourne’s Federation square was built in 2002, as a critical response to the failures of past developments on the site. Dating back to the 1960s, with the Gas and Fuel Corporation buildings that occupied the site, the redevelopment sought to connect the city to the waterfront, as well as the important Flinders train station. The development was to serve as a mixed-use space for an active public domain.

Melbourne Federation Square used by the public, Australia

Melbourne Federation Square, used by the public.

The development came after a tough architectural competition in 1997, involving some big names in architecture such as ARM architecture and DCM Architecture. The chosen development, by Lab Architecture Studio in partnership with Bates Smart, would create several new five-storey buildings throughout the site, but would also focus on developing the public realm. This, therefore, involved using the new buildings to create alleys and walkways that would reconnect the site to its surroundings.

When finally developed, the final price tag was over four times its original estimated budget, and was also not completed on schedule. This government-funded project did, however, establish something that has helped to create and define Melbourne’s very “interactive” culture thus far.

Federation Square is defined as a building, a set of buildings and as a public space – and it is one development that can truly be called all these things. It manages to create private space where businesses can operate, as well as inviting the public into the heart of the development. Federation Square is where the public goes whenever there is an important event happening in the world; from Formula One racing on a big screen to World Cup matches, the public always comes in thousands to be part of the Melbourne community. With over nine million visitors per year it is clear that if Melbourne, as a city, has a home, it’s Federation Square.

An interesting fact about Federation Square is its sense of openness versus the high infrastructural demands of a city. The design is very bold and creates an unfiltered space to which the community can finally relate to the city scale. This makes the space a “playground” for people and ideas that would not be possible anywhere in the inner central business district of Melbourne.

The Architecture of Melbourne Federation Square

The architecture of Melbourne Federation Square

The Melbourne community therefore has found a place to dwell. From lazy Sunday afternoons where any sort of activity could be found in the Square, to more organised events with thousands in attendance, Federation Square caters to Melbourne’s diverse population.

The success of this project gives me, as a young architect, hope in the ability of architecture to change the aura of the city and create something unique that belongs to the community. In the contemporary world of architecture, designs are heavily focused on maximizing space and reducing cost. Federation Square is unique with its focus on creating “space,” cost be damned. This might be the reason the development cost went from A$128 million to A$467 million.

Are there any recent projects out there that give you a say and have been a success and influence the community positively?

Credits: Data linked to sources. Images by Kunal Matikiti.