Fed Square East: Some food for thought (Part One)

A couple of weeks ago Urban Melbourne touched on some design requirements that would define Fed Square East, prior to the release of the Expression of Interest campaign on September 15th.

In a two-part-icle (yes I just invented a new term) piece I jump in a time machine and travel back to my university days to take a look at two different schemes I developed during the course of my studies at RMIT. Each sets out to achieve various objectives based on a number of similar considerations relating to necessary program, sight lines, connections both physical and visual with the Yarra and a few Melbourne landmarks, althoughthe outcomes are hugely different.

The Federation Square East site is bounded by Federation Square/Russell Street to the west, Flinders Street to the north, Batman Avenue to the east and Birrarung Marr to the south and totals 3.3 hectares; 2.3ha above the rail lines and 1ha that is largely used for car parking.

The first concept was part of a design studio entitled FX-TENSION and was run very similar to a design ideas competition so the level of resolution at a micro scale wasn't as critical as the macro planning. The brief was to develop a proposal for a building or series of buildings which would bring together the three schools of architecture (at the time - Monash has since joined) under one roof, as well as an extension to the NGV's Ian Potter Centre housing the Oceania and Asia collections.

Additionally a commercial component was required to facilitate the development of the other areas as well as making the decking over the railyards viable. A theme of camouflage was carried throughout the semester and was to be the basis for any facade strategy employed.

Conceptual Massing Study - Fed Square East.

I mention this as I believe one of the shortcomings of the Flinders Street Station competition was the viability of proposed schemes relative to their commercial components. As much as I love Hassell's scheme the likelihood of it seeing the light of day hinges on its commercial offering; in this case a museum and gallery.

The Government would never be able to deliver such a project on its own (particularly with a $2b price tag) so either a Public Private Partnership comes into play whereby a developer in all likelihood would reconfigure the western end of the station to accommodate a number of high-rises, or in the case of Fed Square East the site is handed over to the private sector to develop as they see fit with a number of criteria to be met before any formal engagement.

This Expression of Interest (EOI) is an opportunity to convey your interest and demonstrate the capability, capacity and innovation necessary to deliver a vibrant and commercially viable mixed use development of exceptional design quality at FSE without a capital contribution or regulatory relaxation by Government.

The Government is seeking Submissions that identify and explain the intended approach to development, design and integration of mixed uses that will fulfil the vision for the FSE Site. This information will be used to identify a short list of Respondents who will be invited to participate in the subsequent Request for Proposal (RFP) stage of this Procurement Process.

Major Projects Victoria

Without having seen the EOI documents for myself (you must register and log in to view them) one critical aspect that should be included in any future scheme is an extended Ian Potter Centre as per the brief we were given at university 6 years ago. Although this is rarely ever mentioned in the same breath as Fed Square East particularly in the media, the NGV had already outgrown its current digs 7 years ago.

Indigenous art was popular with locals and tourists, and the Ian Potter Centre, just five years old, had run out of space. A dedicated indigenous wing would be a "massive drawcard" for Melbourne.

But as a gateway building, such a gallery had to be "highly distinguished, monumental and significant" architecture. "It cannot be done on the cheap," he said. Preliminary costings show that such a building could cost about $150 million.

Dr Vaughan said the NGV's idea for a new wing was in draft form only. It was developed in anticipation that government and business would eventually extend decking over the Jolimont rail yards. He said it was crucial that any such project include a major cultural component. "We would like to book some space on the deck that the government and private sector will build for some other entirely different purpose."

Dr Vaughan said the NGV needed more space for indigenous, Asian and oceanic art. A key attraction for such a gallery would be a large multi-media display of rock paintings from around Australia.

The Age September 22 2007


The existing design for Fed Square has largely future proofed itself by way of the 'Crossbar' structure that begins in the undulating plaza as the offices for SBS, puncturing through the atrium and NGV before poking out on the eastern facade, setting up the future extension of the gallery over the Russell Street extension. So it was with that key objective in mind that I set about designing the complex: an extension for the NGV to house its Asian and Oceanic collections.

This manifested itself in a series of origami eels which were an evolution of Federation Square's 'filaments' that informed the formal and programmatic planning of spaces and buildings. Drawing upon the ideas and inspirations for the Birrarung Wilam (River Camp) artwork that sits within Birrarung Marr I combined these themes with an idea-gram produced earlier in the semester for the site.

Birrarung Wilam and origami eels.

The public spaces were also key to the design with an emphasis on good connections to the river via a large cascading series of steps down to the river and an extension of the footbridge through Birrarung Marr over the rail lines to Flinders Street and adjacent to a new north facing public space.

Rather than try and remember and regurgitate everything I did point by point I have decided to include the pages from my final presentation in the slideshow below which are lighter on text but visually (hopefully) quite easy to understand.

Look out for part two tomorrow for an alternate, more ambitious scheme I think befitting of Fed Square East.

City Context Plan.


Aussie Steve's picture

If only I had kept the documentation for the current Fed Sq site, as there was some concept drawings at the time that showed the extension of the crossbar eastwards as well as other existing key elements from the current site.

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Sherrif Bart's picture

Thanks for the article (and the previous one by Mark Baljak) on this important project. I am surprised by the lack of concern generally to the apparent requirement that there be no government contribution required for the development, in particular the decking over the railyards. With an estimated cost of $300m plus for the decking alone and the obvious limitations on height the closer to the Yarra we get, this effectively forces any developer into erecting buildings of massive scale along Flinders Street frontage/Exhibition Street corner just to make the project break-even, let alone profitable. While the land should not be given away, a base cost of $300m plus is huge and the need for public open space, and integration with the Yarra and existing Federation Square dictates that the Government should contribute a significant amount to the decking cost so as to allow developers to deliver a project that is not overwhelmed by bulk form, cookie-cutter apartments/offices. Surely we're not going to repeat the Gas & Fuel mistake here?

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Purple Dawn's picture

"Surely we're not going to repeat the Gas & Fuel mistake here?"

Don't worry, we already have: it's called Abode.

As for this project, the last thing you'd like to see is for TPTB to cock it up. But given what is there now ... it is almost impossible.

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Riccardo's picture

The rail lines should be completely decked - government's job - then gridded and subdivided in the normal way as if just another part of Melbourne's CBD, just as Docklands should have been.

The original sin, so to speak, is the railway. Steam power was no longer needed east of the city from the 1920s, the decision then to underground the lot, and give us more highly sought after CBD land could also have happened at that time. It is crazy, no criminal, to imagine bureaucrats thought low value rail sidings more important than housing or commercial uses in a prime site.

Perhaps the street pattern would have remained rectilinear with the river frontage, which would not fit that geometry, made parkland.

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Bilby's picture

I am pretty much in agreement with you here, Riccardo. Docklands certainly would have been better if simply gridded up and sold off by the lot as happened with Melbourne's original CBD (indigenous rights to compensation notwithstanding). With Fed. Square, however, there might be more of an argument for a broader design approach, though. Wouldn't the decking over the rail yards make the subsequent allotments prohibitively expensive for smaller developers? I like the idea of creating a fine grain, organically developed city precinct on the Yarra, though.

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Riccardo's picture

I think the government should 'take the loss' on the deck, seeing as they, either as the approver of the Melbourne and Brighton Railway, and ultimately
Its purchaser and long time owner of the Victorian Railways, basically caused the situation.

To me the two questions are quite separate. Providing land for development in this case, definitely government role. What subsequent purchasers do, then should be market driven.

It would have been apparent to a 1920s bureaucrat who chose to do their job properly, that the City underground (not loop) taking some traffic around the city, moving suburban car storage to the suburbs, keeping the bare minimum remaining track for suburban trains and a very limited amount of long distance and freight traffic, would have freed up huge amounts of land, land that would have spared suburbs further out from development for a time, and given more people closer access to the city.

Even if it couldn't all be done immediately, plans would have supported this removal, much as Perth is benefitting today from its rail sinking, paid for by government who caused the problem.

The uses of the Jolimont area were entirely departmental, no freight was shipped from there. Sydney adopted a policy of storing most suburban trains in outer depots at Punchbowl, Mortdale Flemington and Hornsby.

Heaven help melbourne if it had been subjected to aerial bombardment in WWII, they could have destroyed the entire suburban train fleet in a single raid, and being wooden fire would have consumed the ones not destroyed by detonation.

I'm not sure the new area would need to have adopted the hoddle grid geometry, maybe a new geometry like the ones that dominate carlton or South Melbourne, leaving the hoddle grid distinct. It might have had trams like to current Swan St and former Batman ave routes.

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