Melbourne Wiki

Federation Square (also colloquially known as Fed Square) is a civic centre and cultural precinct in the city of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. It was opened in 2002.

The public space covers an area of 3.2 hectares and is centred around two major public spaces: open squares (St. Paul's Court and The Square) and one covered (The Atrium), built on top of a concrete deck above busy railway lines. It is located at intersection between Flinders Street and Swanston Street/St Kilda Road in Melbourne's Central Business District, and is adjacent to Melbourne's busiest railway station, Flinders Street Station.



Melbourne's first public square, an initiative of the Melbourne City Council was the City Square which dates back to 1968 was considered by many to be a planning failure. Its redevelopment in the 1990s failed to address serious flaws in its design as a public space and it was during this decade that the first plans for a new square were hatched by the Victorian state government.

 First plans

The site selected was immediately south of the Hoddle Grid and included the twin towers of the former Gas and Fuel Corporation, Jolimont Yard and the Princes Bridge railway station (which was itself the former site of a 19th century morgue).The government sought to remove what were considered to be two of Melbourne's great eyesores, demolishing the 1960s Gas and Fuel Corporation buildings which obstructed a vista of heritage buildings along Flinders Street including St Paul's Cathedral.

Design competition and controversy

An architectural design competition was announced by premier Jeff Kennett in 1997 that received 177 entries from around the world. The design brief was to better connect Flinders Street to the Yarra River and to enhance and complement the neighbouring heritage buildings including St Paul's Cathedral and Flinders Street Station. Several shortlisted designs, which included entries from high profile architects Denton Corker Marshall and Ashton Raggatt McDougall, were displayed to the public. The winner, however, announced in 1997 was a consortium of Lab Architecture Studio directed by Donald Bates and Peter Davidson from London and local architects Bates Smart. The original design which was costed at between A$110 and $128 million included several five-storey "shards", two of which were free-standing on the north-western edge of the precinct. These two structures were intended to provide a framed view of St Paul's Cathedral from the St Paul's Court part of the new plaza, accentuating its size in a similar perspective inspired by the piazza of St. Peter's Basilica. A series of interconnected laneways and stairways would connect Flinders Street to the Yarra River with the open square featuring a large viewing screen for public events. These elements were widely supported by the design community and promoted as fulfilling the design criteria whilst also embracing the growing popularity of Melbourne's laneways. However, Lab's design was also source of great controversy causing outrage among heritage advocates, primarily due to the positioning of one of the shards.

SBS were announced as an anchor tenant of the office space component of Federation Square. While office space was always intended as a way to fund some of the construction of the square, it was intended that tenants be public or cultural organisations in line with the philosophy of the public space. ACMI and the National Gallery were announced as other major tenants.


After a change of government during its construction, and the incoming Labor administration ordered a significant design revision to appease conservative critics. A later report drawn up by the University of Melbourne's Professor Evan Walker postulated that the westernmost shard would interfere with a so-called "heritage vista", a view of the cathedral from the middle of the tram tracks on Princes Bridge to the south.

Budgets on the project blew out significantly and with long delays, mainly due to the cost of covering the railyard and modifications to the design and among the cost-cutting measures was the replacing areas originally designed for paving with concrete.

The final cost of construction was approximately A$467 million (over four times the original estimate) and funding came primarily from the state government with small contributions from the City of Melbourne, federal government, private operators and sponsors.

The square was opened on 26 October 2002. Unlike many Australian landmarks, it was not opened by the reigning monarch, Elizabeth II, nor was she invited to its unveiling; she visited Federation Square in October 2011.

Further expansion

In 2006 was Federation Wharf, which extended Federation Square to the Yarra by redeveloping the vaults under the Princes Bridge into cafes and ferry terminals with elevator access to Federation Square.

Several proposals have been prepared for the area now known as Federation Square East, including covering the remaining area of railyards to the east of the main square. This has included proposals for office towers and, more recently, a combination of open space and a hotel.

Location and layout

The Square at night

Federation Square occupies roughly a whole urban block bounded by Swanston, Flinders, and Russell Streets and the Yarra River. The open public square is directly opposite Flinders Street Station and St Paul's Cathedral. The layout of the precinct to connect the historical central district of the city with the Yarra River and a new park Birrarung Marr.

 Design features


The complex of buildings forms a rough U-shape around the main open-air square, oriented to the west. The eastern end of the square is formed by the glazed walls of The Atrium. While bluestone is used for the majority of the paving in the Atrium and St. Paul's Court, matching footpaths elsewhere in central Melbourne, the main square is paved in 470,000 ochre-coloured sandstone blocks from Western Australia and invokes images of the Outback. The paving is designed as a huge urban artwork, called Nearamnew, by Paul Carter and gently rises above street level, containing a number of textual pieces inlaid in its undulating surface.

There are a small number of landscaped sections in the square and plaza which are planted with Eucalyptus trees.

Plaza and giant screen

Big Screen

A key part of the plaza design is its large and fixed public screen, which has been used to broadcast major sporting events such as the AFL Grand Final and still continues to do so. During the 2006 FIFA World Cup, thousands of football fans assembled to watch matches on the screen. The original screen was later enlarged.


The interiors and exteriors can be described as being of a deconstructivist style, with modern minimalist shapes interspersed with geometry and angular slots.

While there are slight variations, the main bulk of its buildings follow a similar theme with a complex geometrical design featuring a mix of zinc, perforated zinc, glass and sandstone tiles over a metal exoskeletal frame in a complex geometrical pattern composed entirely of scalene triangles. The aperiodic tiling pattern is based on the pinwheel tiling developed by John Conway and Charles Radin. The triangle is formed with dimensions 1,2, . This "fractal facade" is contrasted with sections featuring use of metal like surfaces including randomly slotted metallic screens and transparent glass walls tinted with a slightly green tinge.


St Puals Cathedral next to Fed Square on the west

Three shards frame the square space. The eastern and southern shards are completely clad in metallic surfaces with angular slots, very similar in design to the Jewish Museum Berlin, while the western shard is clad in glass. Adjoined to the southern shard is a hotel which features the wrap around metallic screen and glass louvers.


There are a number of unnamed laneways in the Federation Square complex which connect it to both Flinders Street and the Yarra River via stairways. The stairways between the Western Shard and nearby buildings are also paved in larger flat rectangle sandstone blocks.


The riverfront areas extend south to an elevated pedestrian promenade which was once part of Batman Avenue and is lined with tall established trees of both deciduous exotic species and Australian eucalpyts. More recently, the vaults adjacent to the Princes Bridge have been converted into Federation Wharf, a series of cafes and boat berths. Some of the areas between the stairs and lanes leading to the river are landscaped with shady tree ferns.


The "atrium" is one of the major public spaces in the precinct. It is a laneway-like space, five-stories high with glazed walls and roof. The exposed metal structure and glazing patterns follow the pinwheel tiling pattern used elsewhere in the precinct's building facades.


The "labyrinth" is a passive cooling system sandwiched above the railway lines and below the middle of the square. The concrete structure consists of 1.2 km of interlocking, honeycombed walls. It covers 1600 m2. The walls have a corrugated profile to maximize their surface area, and are spaced 60 cm apart.

During summer nights, cold air is pumped in the combed space, cooling down the concrete, while heat absorbed during the day is pumped out. The following day, cold air is pumped from the labyrinth out into the atrium through floor vents. This process can keep the atrium up to 12 °C cooler than outside. This is comparable to conventional air conditioning, but using one-tenth the energy and producing one-tenth the carbon dioxide.

During winter, the process is reversed, whereby warm daytime air stored in the Labyrinth overnight, to be pumped back into the atrium during the day.

The system can also partly cool the ACMI building when the power is not required by the atrium.

Facilities and Tenants

In addition to a number of shops, bars, cafés and restaurants, Federation Square's cultural facilities include:

 Melbourne Visitor Centre

Visiter Centre

The Melbourne Visitor Centre is located underground with its entrance at the main corner shard directly opposite Flinders Street Station and St Pauls Cathedral and its exit at the opposite shard. The entrance and exit shards feature interactive news tickers in colour LEDs and small screens promoting current activities. The Visitor Centre was intended to replace a facility which was previously located at the turn of the 19th Century town hall administration buildings on Swanston Street.

Other Facilities and Tenants

  • BMW Edge Amphitheatre: a 450 seat space designed to have views of the Yarra River.
  • Zinc - Function and Event Centre: premiere event and function centre.
  • National Gallery of Victoria
  • Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI): two cinemas that are equipped to play every film, video and digital video format.
  • Transport Hotel Bar
  • SBS Television and Radio Headquarters
  • Melbourne Festival Headquarters
  • Beer Awards: Federation Square has recently become home to several beer award shows, and tastings, including the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA)

 Past Tenants

Past tenants have included:

  • "Champions" – The Australian Racing Museum & Hall of Fame
  • National Design Centre

Reception and Recognition

In 2009, Virtual Tourist awarded Federation Square with the title of the 'World's Fifth Ugliest Building.'Criticisms of it ranged from its damage to the heritage vista to its similarity to a bombed-out war-time bunker due to its "army camouflage" colours. A judge from Virtual Tourist justified Federation Square's ranking on the ugly list claiming that: "Frenzied and overly complicated, the chaotic feel of the complex is made worse by a web of unsightly wires from which overhead lights dangle." It continues to be a "pet hate" of Melburnians and was recently discussed on ABC's Art Nationl

After its opening on 26 October 2002, Federation Square remained controversial among Melburnians due to its unpopular architecture, but also because of its successive cost blow outs and construction delays (as its name suggests, it was to have opened in time for the centenary of Australian Federation on 1 January 2001). The construction manager was Multiplex.

The designers of Federation Square did not get any work for six months after the completion of the A$450 million public space, but did receive hate-mail from people who disliked the design.

Federation Square won five awards in 2003 at the Victorian Architecture Awards, including the Victorian Architecture Medal. The Australian Financial Review later reported that Melburnians have learned to love the building, citing the record number of people using and visiting it. In 2005, the New York-based Project for Public Spaces named it one of "The World's Best Squares", and in 2005 it was included on The Atlantic Cities' 2011 list of "10 Great Central Plazas and Squares".