The Victorian government has pledged $20 million to rejuvenate Federation Square, with better connection to Birrarung (Yarra River) and Melbourne’s green spaces a key focus.

The funding announcement on 22 August coincided with the release of a review into Federation Square’s built environment, governance and operational arrangements launched in 2019.

Among the review’s recommendations, accepted by the government, are greater recognition of First Peoples culture and connection to the site and adoption of design principles that ensure future physical changes “must aspire to match the quality of the original,” with a design advisory board overseeing any changes.

Victorian government architect Jill Garner, who co-chaired the review, said the design principles “both acknowledge the heritage status on the place and inform future enhancement.”

Federation Square was added to the Victorian heritage register in 2019 following public outcry over a proposal to raze the Yarra Building to make way for a Foster and Partners-designed Apple shop.

The $20 million upgrade will go towards delivering a new immersive regional experience centre to showcase the state’s food and wine, music and culture, as well as new lighting to improve safety and highlight the architecture at night and new ramps and staircases leading to Birrarung. The Deakin Edge theatre will be upgraded to better support events and improvements will also be made to signage and accessibility at the site.

Donald Bates, whose practice Lab Architecture Studio originally designed Federation Square, told The Age that the ramps and staircases between the square and the river would be valuable but that there should be a more immediate focus on activating the riverfront.

“We designed Federation Square to be a place you can pass through or participate in, before or after your way to the MCG or to the tennis or the rectangular stadium, among many other things,” he told the paper.

“There’s this huge public domain on the south side of Federation Square but no place to stop and get a drink, a coffee or a sandwich, and I think it really needs it.”

Another key outcome of the review is that the management of the square will be transferred to the portfolio of the Minister for Creative Industries, Martin Foley.

Tania Davidge, the convener of the Our City, Our Square campaign, praised the move on social media, noting that the creative industries portfolio was “where it belongs — putting civic, cultural and community front and centre.”

Davidge has previously criticised the governance of the square by the public non-financial corporation Fed Square Pty ltd, writing thatIn recent years the square’s cultural and civic objectives have been marginalized as the focus at the square has shifted. Propelled by the narrative that the square is losing money, more and more “revenue-generating initiatives”3 and promotions have been taking place at the site…”

The review of Federation Square was co-chaired by Jill Garner and governance and financial expert Tim Eddy and including concultation with “community, cultural, tourism, design, planning, hospitality and government stakeholders,” as well as local, interstate and international visitors.


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