FEDERATION SQUARE – A CASE STUDY IN ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN

In preparing for the 2001 Federation Anniversary celebrations, the Victorian Government held an international design competition in 1997 to establish “one of the great civic, cultural and commercial spaces” in Melbourne1 which linked the central business district (CBD) and the Yarra River, and created a true public square. From more than 170 entries, a consortium comprising Lab Architecture Studio (two London-based architects Peter Davidson and Don Bates) and Melbourne architecture firm Bates Smart was awarded the design contract. The theme of their design was “difference and coherence”, manifesting in the union of distinct elements and activities while maintaining a visual and formal coherence. The Lab/Bates Smart design was regarded as a metaphor for Federation – the bringing together of cultures to create something unique. The project cost $440 million and was completed in October 2002. Federation Square incorporates the Square, the National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV) Gallery of Australian Art, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), television studios, cafes, award winning restaurants and an amphitheatre.

Federation Square – A New Victorian Icon
Although plagued by controversy throughout its development, Federation Square is an undeniable success. In the 12 months since opening, the Square has received overwhelming interest from local and international tourists and designers. The success of Federation Square is reflected in the number and diversity of visitors it has attracted in its short life. Federation Square is Victoria’s second most popular tourist attraction (behind Melbourne’s Crown Casino), and is expected to attract between six and seven million visitors in 20032 – almost double original estimates. The square attracts visitors of all age groups with an even representation of men and women. Federation Square’s visitors are both locals and tourists, with over half of the visitors being Melbournians and 32% from interstate or overseas. Approximately 90% of people surveyed reported liking all, or at least parts, of Federation Square3. Federation Square has been acclaimed by design communities in Australia and overseas, with this recognition coming in the forms of awards and publications. At the 2003 Victorian Architecture Awards, Federation Square received five awards, including the prestigious Victorian Architecture Medal. Federation Square has been the topic of numerous domestic and overseas magazine articles, including Architecture Review (UK), Architectural Record (USA) and Trends Australia, and has been referred to in publications such as that by the eminent international architect, Stephen Jenks.

several thousand soccer fans crowded into the Square in the early hours of a weekday morning in 2003 to watch Australia defeat England in a friendly. Over the life of the design and development. This inclusive approach resulted in many individual design successes. but are drawn by other factors4 (including the public square). The Lab/Bates Smart consortium employed a London-based graphic design and new media firm in the early stages of the project to develop signage that complemented the overall design. delegations and tourists from overseas can be provided with targeted messages – in their language – to effectively communicate relevant. Lab and Bates Smart were committed to collaborating with expert designers in disparate disciplines. The signage at Federation Square is an excellent example of design disciplines working together to deliver a product that meets functional and aesthetic requirements. up-todate information. The LED signage enables real-time information to be unobtrusively communicated to visitors throughout the complex and is able to accurately and cost effectively communicate text in a variety of languages. such as Light Emitting Diode (LED) matrices and plasma television screens. graphic designers. With attendance levels of 1. To date. with its combination of functional purpose – as the site for a number of cultural attractions – and aesthetic boldness. An example of the magnetism that Federation Square is beginning to exert is the attendance of several thousand people to watch the 2002 Melbourne Cup.000 at the Visitor Information Centre. protest groups gather for demonstrations. landscape designers. it is important to note that 40% of visitors do not go to Federation Square for these attractions. while others conduct public religious services. bugles and noise attracted commuters from nearby Flinders Street station to see what the fuss was about. and traditional graphic design to develop an innovative. even though the sound system had not yet been installed. . engineers and others to come together to create an integrated design and resolve the myriad of challenges that emerged throughout the design and development process. its high-profile artwork and the multimedia displays in the NGV. 20 artists have participated in the project with five permanent commissions engaged on projects for Federation Square.8 million at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). The sea of people. The use of art and artists to contribute to the creation of Federation Square was also a key input to its design. acoustic specialists.The foundation of Federation Square’s success has been its appeal to design experts and the general public alike. such as the signage around Federation Square. As a result of this innovation. The Square has become a true public space where all range of activities occur – sports fans gather to watch major events. On another occasion. 800. multi-language. Lab and Bates Smart housed designers and engineers in a single project office adjoining Flinders Street. Collaborations in Design To ensure that the complex met the diverse needs of Victoria and its visitors. The signage design uses technology. visual communications platform. This office enabled groups of architects. The Federation Square Arts Program was established in 1998 “to initiate creative collaborations and produce new public artworks and events”5 specifically for Federation Square.000 at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and the 700.

but also that they provided additional value to gallery visitors. with views across the Yarra or skyline. The current design themes. some of which are enclosed. temporary exhibitions at NGV Australia. and multimedia displays that convey information about the gallery’s architecture. for the breakout spaces. Note: This case study is based on material provided by Booz Allen Hamilton and dandolopartners in October 2003. In combining architecture. The architectural vision for the NGV was to design a space that encouraged people from all walks of life to experience and enjoy the gallery. In the break-out spaces are seating (to relax between galleries). It took many months to complete the multimedia conceptual plan. They are intended to provide a spatial reference to the orientation of the building. exhibition design and technology early in the design process. For example. coloured Kimberley sandstone with various stories and poems positioned throughout the Square – provided the trademark Australian feel critical to the Federation theme. processes and media will support the development and inclusion of new attractions and events long into the future. Persons seeking to rely on this material should make their own enquiries. Lab was able to create a gallery that has appealed to a broad range of visitors. Outlook Federation Square provides individual centres that attract visitors in their own right. Lab had to ensure that not only the positioning and layout of the spaces was right. The result – variegated. the foundations to Federation Square’s current success will also form the foundation for its future development as a living. calmer and darker. The main gallery is complemented by breakout areas. the permanent collection. Others are more open in planning. To make these areas appeal to visitors. within an overall design that forms an effective and attractive public space for local. and group and school tours. and enhanced the overarching concepts of Federation Square. Importantly. Industry and Regional Development nor the State of Victoria warrants the accuracy of the information contained therein. with the result considered a highlight for visitors (both novices and connoisseurs of art) at NGV Australia. Exhibition designers from CDP Media were engaged to help develop the conceptual plan for the innovative use of multimedia throughout the Ian Potter Centre and more specifically.These artworks required significant communication and collaboration between the architectural designers and the artists to ensure pieces are consistent with. Whilst all reasonable care has been taken in the preparation of this material neither the Department of Innovation. Whilst developing the artwork. domestic and international visitors. the piece “nearamnew” developed by Paul Carter had a material impact on the design and subsequent feel of the plaza. and an opportunity for relaxation while showcasing the main gallery exhibits. Paul Carter was located in the project office and worked with the architects and other designers to establish the piece and determine the colours and materials for the plaza. . functional icon. what’s on at the gallery. conservation.

March and April 2003 4 Data supplied by Federation Square Management.1 2 “Pushing the Envelope – Inside the Square” Australian Broadcasting Corporation Source: Federation Square Management 3 Source: Federation Square Visitor Research Program – Visitor Satisfaction Surveys. 5 Federation Square website .

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