Federation Square

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Federation Square
Federation Square (5399921791).jpg
Type Public space
Location Melbourne, Australia
Coordinates 37°49′04″S 144°58′07″E / 37.817798°S 144.968714°E / -37.817798; 144.968714Coordinates: 37°49′04″S 144°58′07″E / 37.817798°S 144.968714°E / -37.817798; 144.968714
Area 3.2 ha (7.9 acres)
Created 26 October 2002 (2002-10-26)
Designer Lab Architecture Studio
Bates Smart
Operated by Fed Square Pty Ltd (State Trustees Ltd for State of Victoria)
Visitors 80 million
Open All year
Public transit access Flinders Street station

Federation Square is a mixed-use development in the inner city of Melbourne, covering an area of 3.2 ha (7.9 acres) and centred on three major public spaces – St. Paul's Court, The Square, and The Atrium. Built on a concrete deck above busy railway lines, it is located at the intersection of Flinders Street and Swanston Street/St Kilda Road in the city's central business district, adjacent to Flinders Street station.



Melbourne's first public square, an initiative of the Melbourne City Council was the City Square which dates back to 1968, was considered by many to be a planning failure. Its redevelopment in the 1990s failed to address serious flaws in its design as a public space and it was during this decade that the first plans for a new square were hatched by the Victorian state government.

First plans[edit]

The site selected was immediately south of the Hoddle Grid and included the Princes Gate Towers of the former Gas and Fuel Corporation, Jolimont Yard and the Princes Bridge station (which was itself the former site of a 19th-century morgue).[1] The government sought to remove what were considered to be two of Melbourne's great eyesores, demolishing the 1960s Gas and Fuel Corporation buildings which obstructed a vista of heritage buildings along Flinders Steet including St Paul's Cathedral. The project was managed by the Victorian Government's Major Projects Unit, and a use concept was developed that reflected the way Melbourne and Victorian citizens used the city and the north and south banks of the river. [2]

Design competition and controversy[edit]

An architectural design competition was announced by Premier Jeff Kennett in 1997 that received 177 entries from around the world.[3] The design brief was to better connect Flinders Street to the Yarra River, and to enhance and complement the neighbouring heritage buildings including St Paul's Cathedral and Flinders Street station. Several shortlisted designs, which included entries from high-profile architects Denton Corker Marshall and Ashton Raggatt McDougall, were displayed to the public. The winner, however, announced in 1997, was a consortium of Lab Architecture Studio directed by Donald Bates and Peter Davidson from London, Karres en Brands Landscape Architects directed by Sylvia Karres and Bart Brands, and local architects Bates Smart.[4] The original design which was costed at between A$110 and $128 million included several five-storey "shards", two of which were free-standing on the north-western edge of the precinct. These two structures were intended to provide a framed view of St Paul's Cathedral from the St Paul's Court part of the new plaza, accentuating its size in a similar perspective inspired by the piazza of St. Peter's Basilica.[citation needed] A series of interconnected laneways and stairways would connect Flinders Street to the Yarra River with the open square featuring a large viewing screen for public events. These elements were widely supported by the design community and promoted as fulfilling the design criteria whilst also embracing the growing popularity of Melbourne's laneways. However, Lab's design was also source of great controversy and outrage among heritage advocates, primarily due to the positioning of one of the shards.

SBS were announced as an anchor tenant of the office space component of Federation Square. While office space was always intended as a way to fund some of the construction of the square, it was intended that tenants be public or cultural organisations, in line with the philosophy of the public space. ACMI and the National Gallery were announced as other major tenants.


After a change of government during its construction, the incoming Labor administration ordered a significant design revision to appease conservative critics. A later report drawn up by the University of Melbourne's Professor Evan Walker postulated that the westernmost shard would interfere with a so-called "heritage vista", a view of the cathedral from the middle of the tram tracks on Princes Bridge to the south.[5]

Budgets on the project blew out significantly mainly due to the cost of covering the railyard and modifications to the design and there were long delays.[6][7] Among measures taken to cut costs was concreting areas originally designed for paving.

The final cost of construction was approximately A$467 million (over four times the original estimate) and funding came primarily from the state government with small contributions from the City of Melbourne, federal government, private operators and sponsors.[8]

The square was opened on 26 October 2002.[9] Unlike many Australian landmarks, it was not opened by the reigning monarch, Elizabeth II, nor was she invited to its unveiling; she visited Federation Square in October 2011.[10]

Further expansion[edit]

In 2006, Federation Wharf extended Federation Square to the Yarra River, by redeveloping the vaults under the Princes Bridge into cafes and ferry terminals with elevator access to Federation Square.

Several proposals have been prepared for the area now known as Federation Square East, including covering the remaining area of railyards to the east of the main square. This has included proposals for office towers and, more recently, a combination of open space and a hotel.[11]

In December 2017, the Andrews government confirmed that the Yarra building will be demolished to make way for a new Apple Store. Construction is set to start in 2019 and finish in 2020. However, when the plan announced to the public, it got strong criticism over the commercial use of a cultural space.[12]

Location and layout[edit]

Federation Square occupies roughly a whole urban block bounded by Swanston, Flinders, and Russell Streets and the Yarra River. The open public square is directly opposite Flinders Street station and St Paul's Cathedral. The layout of the precinct is designed to connect the historical central district of the city with the Yarra River and a new park Birrarung Marr.

360° panorama
Night view

Design features[edit]


Main square paving.

The complex of buildings forms a rough U-shape around the main open-air square, oriented to the west. The eastern end of the square is formed by the glazed walls of The Atrium. While bluestone is used for the majority of the paving in the Atrium and St. Paul's Court, matching footpaths elsewhere in central Melbourne, the main square is paved in 470,000 ochre-coloured sandstone blocks from Western Australia[9] and invokes images of the Outback. The paving is designed as a huge urban artwork, called Nearamnew, by Paul Carter and gently rises above street level, containing a number of textual pieces inlaid in its undulating surface.

There are a small number of landscaped sections in the square and plaza which are planted with Eucalyptus trees.

Plaza and giant screen[edit]

The large screen is used for public events. Pictured is a telecast of Kevin Rudd's parliamentary apology to the stolen generations.

A key part of the plaza design is its large and fixed public screen, which has been used to broadcast major sporting events such as the AFL Grand Final and still[when?] continues to do so. During the 2006 FIFA World Cup, thousands of football fans assembled to watch.


Unique sandstone building façades in pinwheel tiling

The interiors and exteriors can be described as being of a deconstructivist style, with modern minimalist shapes interspersed with geometry and angular slots.

While there are slight variations, the main bulk of its buildings follow a similar theme with a complex geometrical design featuring a mix of zinc, perforated zinc, glass and sandstone tiles over a metal exoskeletal frame in a complex geometrical pattern composed entirely of scalene triangles. The aperiodic tiling pattern is based on the pinwheel tiling developed by John Conway and Charles Radin. The triangle is formed with dimensions 1,2, . This "fractal facade" is contrasted with sections featuring use of metal like surfaces including randomly slotted metallic screens and transparent glass walls tinted with a slightly green tinge.[13]


St Paul's Cathedral and the eastern shard.

Three shards frame the square space. The eastern and southern shards are completely clad in metallic surfaces with angular slots, very similar in design to the Jewish Museum Berlin, while the western shard is clad in glass. Adjoined to the southern shard is a hotel which features the wrap around metallic screen and glass louvers.


There are a number of unnamed laneways in the Federation Square complex which connect it to both Flinders Street and the Yarra River via stairways. The stairways between the Western Shard and nearby buildings are also paved in larger flat rectangle sandstone blocks.


The riverfront areas extend south to an elevated pedestrian promenade which was once part of Batman Avenue and is lined with tall established trees of both deciduous exotic species and Australian eucalpyts. More recently, the vaults adjacent to the Princes Bridge have been converted into Federation Wharf, a series of cafes and boat berths. Some of the areas between the stairs and lanes leading to the river are landscaped with shady tree ferns.


Glass walls of the atrium space.

The "atrium" is one of the major public spaces in the precinct. It is a laneway-like space, five stories high with glazed walls and roof. The exposed metal structure and glazing patterns follow the pinwheel tiling pattern used elsewhere in the precinct's building facades.[14]


The "labyrinth" is a passive cooling system sandwiched above the railway lines and below the middle of the square. The concrete structure consists of 1.2 km of interlocking, honeycombed walls. It covers 1600 m2. The walls have a corrugated profile to maximize their surface area, and are spaced 60 cm apart.

During summer nights, cold air is pumped in the combed space, cooling down the concrete, while heat absorbed during the day is pumped out. The following day, cold air is pumped from the labyrinth out into the atrium through floor vents. This process can keep the atrium up to 12 °C cooler than outside. This is comparable to conventional air conditioning, but using one-tenth the energy and producing one-tenth the carbon dioxide.

During winter, the process is reversed, storing warm daytime air in the Labyrinth overnight, and pumping it back into the atrium during the day.

The system can also partly cool the ACMI building when the power is not required by the atrium.

Facilities and tenants[edit]

In addition to a number of shops, bars, cafés and restaurants, Federation Square's cultural facilities include:

Melbourne Visitor Centre[edit]

Flinders Street Station and the stunted glass Eastern Shard, entry to the Melbourne Visitor Centre.

The Melbourne Visitor Centre is located underground, with its entrance at the main corner shard directly opposite Flinders Street Station and St Pauls Cathedral and its exit at the opposite shard. The entrance and exit shards feature interactive news tickers in colour LEDs and small screens promoting current activities. The Visitor Centre was intended to replace a facility which was previously located at the turn of the 19th-century town hall administration buildings on Swanston Street.

The Edge[edit]

The Edge Theatre seating.

The Edge theatre is a 450-seat space designed to have views of the Yarra River and across to the spire of The Arts Centre. The theatre is lined in wood veneer in similar geometrical patterns to other interiors in the complex. The Edge was named "The BMW Edge" until May 2013, when a new sponsorship deal with Deakin University caused it to be renamed "The Deakin Edge".

Zinc, an event centre[edit]

Zinc is a premiere event and function center located next to The Edge theatre. It is primarily popular with corporate events, weddings and ceremonies.

National Gallery of Victoria[edit]

Ian Potter Centre entry.

The Ian Potter Centre houses the Australian part of the art collection of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), and is located at Federation Square (international works are displayed at the NGV International on St Kilda Rd). There are over 20,000 Australian artworks, including paintings, sculpture, photography, fashion and textiles, and the collection is the oldest and most well known in the country.

Well-known works at the Ian Potter Centre include Frederick McCubbin's Pioneers (1904) and Tom Roberts' Shearing the Rams (1890). Also featured are works from Sidney Nolan, John Perceval, Margaret Preston and Fred Williams. Indigenous art includes works by William Barak and Emily Kngwarreye.

The National Gallery at Federation Square also features the NGV Kids Corner, which is an interactive education section aimed at small children and families, and the NGV Studio.

ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image)[edit]

Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image has two cinemas that are equipped to play every film, video and digital video format, with attention to high-quality acoustics. The screen gallery, built along the entire length of what was previously a train station platform, is a subterranean gallery for experimentation with the moving image. Video art, installations, interactives, sound art and net art are all regularly exhibited in this space. Additional venues within ACMI allow computer-based public education, and other interactive presentations.

In 2003, ACMI commissioned SelectParks to produce an interactive game-based, site-specific installation called AcmiPark, which replicates and abstracts the real-world architecture of Federation Square. It also houses highly innovative mechanisms for interactive, multi-player sound and musical composition.

Transport Hotel Bar[edit]

Transport hotel and bar is a three-level hotel complex adjacent to the southern shard on the south western corner of the square. It has a ground-floor public bar, restaurant and cocktail lounge on the rooftop.

SBS Television and Radio headquarters[edit]

SBS headquarters.

The Melbourne television and radio headquarters of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), one of Australia's two publicly funded national broadcasters is in one of the office buildings along Flinders Street.

Melbourne Festival headquarters[edit]

The headquarters of Melbourne Festival (formerly Melbourne International Arts Festival) are located on Level 2 of the Yarra Building.

Beer awards[edit]

Federation Square has recently become home to several beer award shows, and tastings, including the Australian International Beer Awards trade and public shows, as well as other similar events such as showcases of local and other Australian breweries. These events have been held in the square's indoor outdoor area the Atrium and usually require an entry fee in exchange for a set number of tastings.

Past tenants[edit]

Past tenants have included:

  • "Champions" – The Australian Racing Museum & Hall of Fame
  • National Design Centre

Reception and recognition[edit]

A tram on Flinders Street, with the East Shard and the ACMI building in the background.

In 2009, Virtual Tourist awarded Federation Square with the title of the 'World's Fifth-Ugliest Building'.[15] Criticisms of it ranged from its damage to the heritage vista to its similarity to a bombed-out war-time bunker due to its "army camouflage" colours. A judge from Virtual Tourist justified Federation Square's ranking on the ugly list claiming that: "Frenzied and overly complicated, the chaotic feel of the complex is made worse by a web of unsightly wires from which overhead lights dangle."[16] It continues to be a "pet hate" of Melburnians and was recently discussed on ABC's Art Nation[17]

After its opening on 26 October 2002,[9] Federation Square remained controversial among Melburnians due to its unpopular architecture, but also because of its successive cost blowouts and construction delays (as its name suggests, it was to have opened in time for the centenary of Australian Federation on 1 January 2001). The construction manager was Multiplex.[18]

The designers of Federation Square did not get any work for six months after the completion of the A$450 million public space, but did receive hate-mail from people who disliked the design.[15]

The Australian Financial Review later reported that some Melburnians have learned to love the building, citing the record number of people using and visiting it.[19] In 2005 it was included on The Atlantic Cities' 2011 list of "10 Great Central Plazas and Squares".[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fiona Whitlock (9 December 1996). "Demolitions days". The Age. Melbourne: 150.theage.com.au. Retrieved 16 March 2008. 
  2. ^ use concept study team led by Susan Oliver held in State Library of Victoria
  3. ^ "Federation Square: A Future About Shatters". Architecture Australia. www.archmedia.com.au. November–December 1997. Retrieved 16 March 2008. 
  4. ^ Gabriella Coslovich (26 April 2003). "The Square's vicious circle". The Age. Melbourne: www.theage.com.au. Retrieved 16 March 2008. 
  5. ^ "GOVERNMENT ACCEPTS RECOMMENDATION TO SAVE ST PAUL'S VISTA". OFFICE OF THE PREMIER AND TREASURER: Media Release. www.legislation.vic.gov.au. 17 February 2000. Retrieved 16 March 2008. 
  6. ^ Coslovich, Gabriella Federation Square gets $56 million handout Herald Sun 27 April 2002
  7. ^ Coslovich, Gabriella Federation Square captures the heart of a city The Age 11 October 2003
  8. ^ http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/genpdf/chamber/hansards/2002-09-25/0070/hansard_frag.pdf;fileType%3Dapplication/pdf
  9. ^ a b c "FEDERATION SQUARE OPEN TO PUBLIC FROM OCTOBER 26". MINISTER FOR MAJOR PROJECTS Media Release. www.legislation.vic.gov.au. 18 October 2002. Retrieved 16 March 2008. 
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ Johnston, Matt Bold vision for redevelopment of Federation Square East Herald Sun, 25 October 2010
  12. ^ "Backlash over plan to demolish Federation Square building to make way for Apple shop". The AGE. Retrieved 20 December 2017. 
  13. ^ Federation Square: Fun Facts
  14. ^ Brown-May, A and Day, N (2003) Federation Square, South Yarra, Vic: Hardie Grant Books (ISBN 1-74066-002-1)
  15. ^ a b Crawford, Carly. "Federation Square named among world's ugliest buildings on Virtual Tourist website". Herald Sun. 23 November 2009
  16. ^ "Melbourne's Federation Square among world's ugliest buildings". news.com.au. 23 November 2009. 
  17. ^ [2] Art Nation - Good Bad or Ugly - Federation Square, 20 May 2011
  18. ^ Federation Square: Fun Facts Archived 28 August 2007 at Archive.is
  19. ^ Substance trumps style in Federation Square. Australian Financial Review, 10 December 2006
  20. ^ Byrnes, Mark (28 October 2011). "The Best and Worst of the World's Central Plazas and Squares", The Atlantic Cites. Retrieved 14 August 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brown-May, A. and Day, N. (2003). Federation Square, South Yarra, Vic: Hardie Grant Books (ISBN 1-74066-002-1).
  • "Melbourne gets square". Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), 19 October 2002.

External links[edit]