Federation Square is a multipurpose open public square located in Melbourne’s Central Business District directly opposite to Flinders Station and St Paul’s Cathedral, and surrounded by Swanston, Flinders, Russell Streets and the Yarra river. It covers an area of 3.2 hectares and houses three significant public buildings: St. Paul’s Court, The Square, and The Atrium. Named in honor of the Australian Federation, this project was designed in order to merge the old central quarter of the metropolis with the Yarra River and park Biarrarung Marr, as well as enhancing and complementing the surrounding historic buildings St Paul’s Cathedral and Flinders Street Station. However, the division created by the railway yards posed a huge challenge for the designers (Fed Square Pty Ltd).

  • Structure and architectural style:

Federation Square is composed of a series of interlocking and cascading spaces, with buildings open at all angles into the city, creating unexpected connections and vistas (Fed Square Pty Ltd). Despite slight variations, the buildings’ façade follows a similar theme: Complex geometrical triangulated patterns (calledpinwheel tiling pattern”) clad in glass, zinc (perforated and solid) and sandstone tiles, which are placed over metal exoskeletal frames. The random layout of the façade allows individual buildings to be differentiated from each other while maintaining an overall coherence (Fed Square Pty Ltd).

To distinguish it from the city pavement, the Square is paved in cobblestones of variegated colored Kimberley sandstone from Western Australia (Fed Square Pty Ltd), invoking images of the Outback. The paving, which rises above the level, is a huge urban artwork called Nearamnew, designed by Paul Carter. It contains several textual pieces inlaid in an undulating surface.

The square is framed by three shards: The eastern, southern and western shards. The first two are entirely clad in metallic surfaces with angular slots, whereas the latter is clad in glass.

The Atrium is one of the biggest public buildings of the square. It is a five-stories high laneway-style building with glazed walls and roof. Located at the river end of The Atrium is the Deakin Edge, a 450-people capacity glass-in amphitheater.


The Alfred Deakin Building contains the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) headquarters. It is divided into two different buildings: The first building is a virtually windowless structure which contains two cinemas, a function room, retail space and a café. The other is a more open building, which houses the ACMI’s gallery (Fed Square Pty Ltd).

Alfred Deakin Building

The Ian Potter Center building contains a gallery of the NGV (National Gallery Victoria) entirely dedicated to Australian art.

Ian Potter Center

Located on the southern edge, the Yarra Building has some terraces towards the river and other vistas to the plaza (Fed Square Pty Ltd).

Yarra Building

Located on the north-west corner of Federation Square, the Melbourne Visitor Centre/ St Pauls Court facilitates the integration of St Paul’s Cathedral into the square, while acting as a signpost for the site and offering tourist information (Fed Square Pty Ltd).

Melbourne Visitor Centre

Finally, adjacent to the southern shard is the Transport hotel and bar, a three-floor hotel.

  • History:

This had been the territory of the Kulin confederacy of Aboriginal peoples for thousands of years (Fed Square Pty Ltd). Furthermore, it had been the site of the first city morgue, which was in use from 1871 until its closure in 1883, due to its unsuitable location. However, the building remained unused until 1890, when it was eventually demolished (Danno 2013). Afterwards the site was incorporated into the railway line (creating the Princes Bridge Station), and housed administrative offices for the railway corporation.

City Morgue
Old Melbourne City Morgue

In 1910, it was connected to the previously separate Flinders Street Station through an underground tunnel (Danno 2013). With the intention to modernize Flinders Street, the Princes Bridge Station was demolished and moved underground, and in 1967, the Prince Gate Towers of the Gas and Fuel Corporation were constructed on the site, along with a shopping arcade and a public square (2013). Nevertheless, the redevelopments were strongly criticized, since the towers blocked the views to the river and overshadowed St Paul’s Cathedral, in addition to their unfortunate architectural design.

Prince Gate Towers
Prince Gate Towers

In response to popular requests, Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett announced the demolition and reconstruction of the site in 1996. This new project would feature “a cultural center, cutting edge office suites, shops and a public space that could be used for a variety of events.” (Danno 2013)

  • Construction:

The location selected for the construction of Federation Square was the area of the prior Princes Gate Towers, Jolimont Yard and the Princes Bridge railway station.

In order to award the design of the square, the Victorian Government held an international, two-stage design competition in 1996, which received 177 designs from high-profile architectural firms from all around the world (Fed Square Pty Ltd). Lab Architecture studio produced one of the five selected designs for the second stage and, in order to proceed further with the competition, formed a partnership with Bates Smart, one of Melbourne’s most renowned architectural bureaus (Fed Square Pty Ltd). Their design was eventually the winner.

The $450 million investment was funded by the Victorian State Government, City of Melbourne, the Commonwealth Government and the private sector through private tenancy agreements and sponsorships (Fed Square Pty Ltd).  Its construction began in 1998, and it was initially expected to be completed before the centenary of the Australian Federation (on January 1 2001). However, due to a change in the government during its construction and the subsequent modifications in the plan, it was not opened until the 26th October 2002 (Danno 2013). Moreover, the budget blew out substantially owing to the costs of covering the railyard, as a result of which some areas originally designed for paving were concreted.

  • Relevance and meaning:

The Square is “the civic and spatial key for the entire precinct, establishing connections with the diverse context of the city and the surrounding urban and riverside landscape.” (Fed Square Pty Ltd) In line with the original plan, the square was heavily influenced by the idea of ‘Federation’, in that it would bring disparate parts together to form a coherent whole (Fed Square Pty Ltd). Therefore, its centenary offered the perfect chance to celebrate ideas of ‘identity’ and ‘place’ through a much needed civic and cultural space (Fed Square Pty Ltd). The designers aimed Federation Square to be recognized internationally as a contemporary world site and Melbourne’s inspirational public square (Fed Square Pty Ltd), and after its costly and controversial construction, the designers have achieved it.

Federation Square is a place of great relevance to the Australian society, as it reflects its diverse and chaotic nature, but at the same time, it demonstrates how these diverse ethnicities can peacefully and thrivingly coexist. Likewise, its avant-garde design shows the boldness of Australia. It is also a public encounter for its citizens, fulfilling its designated role of public square.

As mentioned above, it was constructed with the intention of uniting the old heritage buildings with the Yarra River, which had been an insurmountable obstacle so far due to the division created by the railways. However, this task has been successfully accomplished, and it has rightly blended the old and the new areas.

Additionally, it houses different recreational and cultural venues, such as cafés and restaurants, the ACMI and the Australian part of the NGI; and is host to more than 2,000 cultural events each year (such as the Melbourne Festival and New Year’s Eve celebrations), as well as the broadcast of major sporting events (Culture Victoria). It was here where thousands of people followed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s parliamentary apology to the stolen generations (Danno 2013). Therefore, it can be stated that it is fully representative of the Australian way of life.

Kevin Rudd’a Parliamentary apology to the stolen generation
  • Awards and criticisms:

Since opening in 2002, Federation Square has received more than 100 million local and international visitors, with an average of more than 10 million visits per year (Fed Square Pty Ltd). Moreover, it is currently the second most visited site both from Melbourne and Victoria (Culture Victoria).

On the one hand, it has received five major awards for architectural and design excellence from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) (Fed Square Pty Ltd), and has recently been awarded the 6th Best Public Square of the World (Fed Square Pty Ltd). On the other hand, it has been a source of great controversy and outrage. Some of the reasons for criticisms are its detriment to the patrimonial view and its resemblance to a bombarded wartime bunker on account of its “army camouflage” colors, as well as its unpopular architecture and its successive cost increases and construction delays. In fact, Virtual Tourist considered Federation Square one of the ‘World’s Fifth-Ugliest Building’ in 2009.

  • Conclusion:

Federation Square is a monument of great relevance for Australians which has become one of the symbols of the nation. Even though the square itself has a short history, its location has a long complex and conflicting background, and the designers have successfully given account of the diverse and cosmopolitan Australian culture through its design, irrespective of the impression that its architectural design can make. Therefore, it is a sight worth visiting if one wants to enjoy the Australian experience completely.



Culture Victoria, Federation Square, Culture Victoria, retrieved 11 February 2017,   <http://www.cv.vic.gov.au/stories/built-environment/federation-square/>.

Danno 2013a, ‘Before Federation Square’, Beside the Yarra, weblog post, 21 November 2013, retrieved 11 February 2017, <http://marvmelb.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/before-federation-square.html>.

– – 2013b, The Melbourne Morgue, centre left, circa 1871, photograph, retrieved 11 February 2017, <http://marvmelb.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/before-federation-square.html>.

– – 2013c, The new development, shortly after completion, photograph of the Prince Gate Towers, retrieved 11 February 2017, <http://marvmelb.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/before-federation-square.html>.

Fed Square Pty Ltd n.d.a, About us, Fed Square Pty Ltd, retrieved 11 February 2017, <http://www.fedsquare.com/about>.

– – n.d.b, Federation Square – Design and Architecture, Fed Square Pty Ltd, retrieved 11 February 2017, <https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/assets-fedsquare/uploads/2015/02/Fed-Square-Design-and-Architecture-2014.pdf>.

– – n.d.c, History + Design, Fed Square Pty Ltd, retrieved 11 February 2017, <http://www.fedsquare.com/about>.

Melbourne Daily Photo, 2010, Atrium, photograph, retrieved 11 February 2017, <http://melbournedailyphotodaily.blogspot.com.au/2010/02/blog-post.html>.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s