The fight for public space at Federation Square

Propose Building – Apple Global Store |  Image Credit – Courtesy of Federation Square
Propose Building – Apple Global Store | Image Credit – Courtesy of Apple

Recently the Victorian Government announced that the Yarra Building in Federation Square which currently accommodates the Koorie Heritage Trust is set to be demolished to make way for an Apple Global Flagship Store. The public backlash from the community was swift as there was no public consultation or Expression of Interest or due process. The main concern from the public is two-fold, the use of cultural public space that celebrates Australian Federation is set to house a global commercial enterprise and secondly that the proposed building has little reference to existing iconic architecture.

Yarra Building – Existing Building | Image – Google Maps

Federation Square | Image Credit – Flickr Beau GilesThis government announcement has stirred emotional public debate with many decrying the architecture looking like a temple to consumerism placed in public space. Federation Square was designed in the lead up to the Centenary of Federation in 2001, a design competition was held to provide a civic and cultural space. The winning design was controversial at the time for striking architecture and the high cost of the final realised project. However since its opening 2002 however the square has been appropriated by the locals and visitors and is one of the most loved architecture icons of Melbourne. It has been the place of many civic events including concerts, new years celebrations, protests, and much more. It has been embraced by locals and visitors, with over 10 million visitors each year.

Yarra Building | Image Credit – Flickr User Alan & Flora Botting

One of the original architects, Donald Bates has expressed the view that “From the very beginning, we always stated that for a 21st century public space to work, it needs to be an amalgam of civic embrace, cultural destinations and commercial activation. Not just food and beverage offerings, but commercial activities that engage with ideas and impinge on our daily lives.”(reported by Architecture AU) However, this view is not that many in the community hold, many see Federation Square as a cultural space that was primarily funded by the state government.

Some people cannot understand the outcry about the Apple Store as there are restaurants and cafes in the surrounding buildings, however these uses allow for gathering and are part of the culture of Melbournians and are often operated by local companies. The major public debate is that an space that was designed to celebrate Federation of Australia as a cultural public space and is about to become home to a multi-national company with the building to be solely occupied by a commercial retail business. The government should have undertaken community consultation rather than doing backroom deals to demolish a integral part of Federation Square.

There has been a history of multi-nationals lack of cultural awareness relating to cultural and public spaces by opening stores in key cultural icons including Starbucks at the Forbidden City in Beijing and McDonalds opening at the Vatican. I hope that Apple and the government comes to realises that they could spin this is into positive by locating it in a retail environment of befitting Apple Global Flagship Store. Alternatives including Docklands – North Wharf, the multi-storey carpark next to Melbourne Central, the north-east corner of Crown Casino and many more commercial spaces including shopping centres through Melbourne which they already occupy.

The debate will continue on and hopefully they will realise that the uproar is not merely about the demolish of the existing building but the use of cultural space for retail and private gain.

Alternative Locations for the Apple Global Flagship Store

Audi Dealership – Victoria Street (Image – Google Maps)
Carpark – Melbourne Central (Image – Google Maps)
Crown Casino facing Freshwater Place (Image – Google Maps)
QV – Multiple corners and the courtyard (Image – Google Maps)



Article Written by Damian Holmes is the founder and Editor of WLA. He is also a registered Landscape Architect and has over 17 years experience as a landscape architect in Australia, Canada and China. 


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