Melbourne Age

City Square, Melbourne

The City Square is a pedestrian plaza located in the Central Business District of Melbourne, Australia. The square is currently bounded by Swanston Street, Collins Street, Flinders Lane and the Westin Hotel. Melbourne Town Hall (1870) and St Paul’s Cathedral (1891) are prominent landmarks to the north and south respectively. The square has been redeveloped several times and associated with a number of controversies over the years.

History and Development

Melbourne was originally planned with a number of large parks around the periphery of its central business district, but lacked a major civic open space in the heart of the city.

Sir Bernard Evans, architect, city councillor and later Lord Mayor of Melbourne, first raised the idea of a city square in 1961, an idea that was not adopted by Melbourne City Council until he raised it again in 1966. Following this, Council began the process of acquiring properties along Swanston Street between the Town Hall and St Paul’s Cathedral. A number of notable buildings were demolished, most notably the Queen Victoria Buildings (1888) and buildings in Regent Place, a source of great regret to many. The Regent Theatre was also intended to be demolished, but was saved by a union ban. Although the saving of the Regent Theatre was a major victory for heritage conservation, the restriction of the site area and the presence of a long blank façade limited any grand visions for the space.

By 1968 a temporary square was installed and finally, in 1976, an architectural competition was launched by Melbourne City Council to design a permanent square which was won by Denton Corker Marshall architects. .

The design, responding to the complex brief, included a giant video screen, restaurants, shops and outdoor cafes, connected by a glazed canopy, a sunken amphitheatre, graffiti wall, reflecting pool, water wall and cascades as well as the open area of the main square. The area was extensively paved with sawn bluestone. The Burke and Wills Statue (1864) by Charles Summers was positioned (somewhat ironically) next to the cascades.

Following its opening by Queen Elizabeth II on May 28, 1980 the new square attracted criticism from the general public. The Melbourne Age newspaper reported “in interviews with newspaper reporters and on talk-back radio, many Melburnians have blasted their long awaited City Square for what they see as its bareness, the noise from its controversial video matrix screen and the starkness of the glazed steel canopy running along the Regent Theatre Wall”. A large yellow steel sculpture titled “Vault” by Ron Robertson-Swann (dubbed the “Yellow Peril”) which was commissioned as a centrepiece for the square was relocated to Batman Park after a few months, following heated public debate.

Current Configuration

In the late 1990s over half the square was sold for the development of the Westin Hotel. and in the period between 1997 and 2000 the remaining area of the square was totally redeveloped with a much simpler plan and granitic gravel was introduced to contrast with more traditional bluestone paving. A long linear water feature and a water wall known as the John Mockridge Fountain were installed.

In 2003 raised grassed areas were added to soften the space and provide informal seating areas.

With the substantial reduction of its area and the opening of the nearby Federation Square in 2002, the civic importance of the City Square is now diminished.


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