Conservation is always an important part of maintaining the integrity of our architecture and public spaces, and authorities believe that including Melbourne’s Federation Square in the Victorian Heritage Register has become imperative.
The Square has been the center of various public events since its opening in 2002, and is a popular icon of art and culture. Covering a 3.2 hectare of land, it was designed by Lab Architecture Studio and Bates Smart above busy railway lines. While it’s not the oldest site (in fact, it is relatively newer in comparison to what is considered true ‘heritage’) the executive director of Heritage Victoria believes that the Square meets five of the most important criteria of Heritage Council’s ‘State Level’ warrants of inclusion.
The council is of the view that the Federation Square is definitely of historical significance as a part of Australia’s Centenary of Federation (1901-2001). It has certainly achieved a landmark status, and is of architectural, cultural, technical, and aesthetic significance of the city of Melbourne.
According to the council, the Federation Square is, “…a notable public square. As a large, open urban space with civic prominence, it has become Melbourne’s pre-eminent mass gathering place…nationally and internationally.”
The Square has a public resonance. It’s a gathering point of sorts where residents converge to celebrate, share their grief, and even protest. Moreover, it’s one of the most awarded projects in the history of the Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian chapter). In addition to holding some of Victoria’s most important arts and cultural institutions (ACMI, Ian Potter Center, & Koorie Heritage Trust), Federation Square’s social significance also has some major historical roots, “…In Melbourne’s case, a desire for a public square…expressed from the 1850’s.”
This is one of the major reasons why the council’s recommendation is acknowledging a special association with Lab Architecture Studio and its directors Peter Davidson and Donald L. Bates. Recognising their “influential contribution” is par for course in underscoring the significance of the intrinsic urban design and their contribution to it. Back in 2003, Davidson described their iteration of the Square to be, “a larger whole.” According to him, the whole concept was about bringing together “independent identities” to represent “coherence and difference.”
Fast forward to August 2018, and the official nomination of the Victorian Branch of the Heritage Trust has managed to raise quite some eyebrows. As the Square is no more than 16 years old, tourism minister John Eren claims that, “…to do so could lead to significant implications for future projects.”
On the other hand, several officials also believe that many precedents have been set already. In fact, the inclusion of the National Gallery of Victoria, which was designed in 1968 was added to the register just 14 years after its completion. Similarly, the Victorian Arts Center was also included on the roster early after its completion.
At the end of the day, it’s actually the significance of certain public projects that can get them truly recognised at this kind of a prestigious State Level. As of now, the official recommendation has been handed in to the Heritage Council of Victoria, who have yet to make a final decision. In the meantime, the public can hand in their written submissions to the Council until the 16th of December.
It’s interesting to note that if the recommendation is approved, all the pending redevelopment proposals subject to the site will automatically be revoked under the Heritage Act 2017, which clearly states that, “…a person must not remove or demolish, damage or despol, develop or alter or excavate, relocate or disturb the position of any part of the registered place or object without approval.”
No one knows yet what this might mean for the proposals of a new Apple store sans demolition of the Yarra building, the Metro Tunnel Entrance, and the refurbishment of the ACMI.