Fed Square and the junction that has you covered for sports, the arts, the commute and prayers (and more)

“Fed Square”, as Federation Square is almost universally called, is a landmark in Melbourne and a great place in which to linger for at least half a morning, afternoon or evening.

Opened in 2001, just in time to celebrate the centenary of Australia’s Federation, it quickly became what it was designed for, a central public square for the city that never had one, and a meeting place for families and friends alike.  With a great location, directly opposite Flinders Street station (to its southwest) and St Paul’s Cathedral (to its north), the open public square at its “back” also opens onto banks of the Yarra River as well as the Birrarung Marr park.

With a distinctive façade that uses a fractal triangular design in the three materials of zinc, glass, and sandstone, “Fed Square” has somehow managed to seamlessly meld the city’s two greatest collective passions – sport and the arts.  You can laze around in front of the giant TV screen and the open seating, and if there happens to be an important match going on, you will get a sense of the city’s sports-madness.

In the complex is Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and NGV Australia (with NGV International only a 10-minute walk away, down St Kilda Road).  Many professionals who work nearby (the well-known actor Hugh Jackman is known to have had an apartment not far from here) enjoy an after-work coffee or a glass of wine.  Fed Square also plays host to cultural events, like the White Night, the Diwali Festival of Light, and has its own “Light in Winter” festival, though the laid-back Saturday second-hand book market is no longer there (it has been moved to Queen Vic market).

In Fed Square Melburnians have found their unofficial town square and a meeting place for young and old, even though it has taken some time for the city’s residents to “warm” to the building’s design.  It is certainly interesting aesthetically and architecturally, with the proportions of the three façade materials combined in different ways for each of the buildings, making them distinct from each other while still maintaining an overall site coherence.  Structurally also, the complex is interesting as some of the densest networks of trains have to pass underneath it, and the deck beneath it is one of the largest expanses of railway decking ever built in Australia with over 4,000 vibration-absorbing springs and rubber padding panels.

Indeed, in this junction between two major thoroughfares, the north-south Swanston Street and the east-west Flinders Street, we find three major buildings: the Edwardian baroque-style Flinders Street station that was built in 1910 (south-west corner), the Gothic revivalist-style St Paul’s Cathedral built in 1891 (northeast corner), and the contemporary confection that is Fed Square (south-east corner).  There is also a mish-mash of trams and trains, while just a few steps south on Flinders Street is Princess Bridge that crosses the Yarra.  You are at the confluence of quite a lot of things in this busy junction!