Yarra Building is self-evidently vital

Earlier last month Melbourne Heritage Action (MHA) sent in an objection to the demolition of part of Federation Square for an Apple store, which we see as having little justification now that the square is heritage listed.

We submitted that it was architecturally self-evident that the Yarra Building is vital to the integrity of Federation Square as a self-contained architectural statement. 

While we acknowledge that the inclusion of the Yarra Building came late in the design process of the square, it does form a cohesive part of the square's design which cannot be seen as an afterthought by any layperson.

The idea that a change in design lessens the integrity of a heritage place is obviously absurd, as we would then need to consider the demolition of such places as Flinders Street Station being acceptable due to changes made to the station during its late design and construction phase, such as the smaller scale of floors, or the change in concourse design.

Furthermore, the proposed Apple store design forms an antithesis to the recognised heritage values of the square’s “decontructavist” style, placing an incongruous minimalist glass box in the middle of a unique “fractal” design. 

We believe any discussion about what the new design might do to “open up” the river or square architecturally is irrelevant, as extra open space is not a criteria on which to judge the effect of the heritage values of a place. We wouldn’t agree to changes to the Treasury Building, for instance, in return for some open space. 

Socially, we need to ask what kind of Federation Square the public of Melbourne has valued for the past 17 years, and indeed the kind the public space Melbournians desired that led to the construction of Federation Square. 

While it is true that parts of the square including the Yarra Building already maintain some commercial uses, these are currently of a hospitality nature, the kind of places that encourage socialisation. They are supporting in nature, rather than being a major corporate presence. 

Despite some corporate posturing about being a universal meeting place, an Apple Flagship Store is at its core simply an exercise in branded advertising space, with a target market of high disposable incomes and fans of a particular product. 

It is not in any sense a community space or a communal city experience, the functions Federation Square was designed to allow.

The outcome of Heritage Victoria’s decision doesn’t just tell use about one small part of Federation Square, but what wider values are held for heritage and public space in our city.

Tristan Davies

Melbourne Heritage Action

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