Melbourne’s Federation Square granted heritage status for historical, social significance

Melbourne’s controversial Federation Square building has been granted heritage status, protecting the space for its “historical, aesthetic, technological and social significance” and making future changes more difficult.

Key points:

  • The Heritage Council of Victoria found the site is “Melbourne’s preeminent public square”
  • Heritage status was granted after heated debate surrounding a proposed Apple store
  • An overwhelming number of public submissions supported the decision

The public square, opposite the busy Flinders Street Station and St Paul’s Cathedral, was finished in 2002 and is a popular gathering place for Melburnians.

The site, which was the result of an international design competition, has long divided public opinion.

When it was built it was seen by many as cutting-edge architecture, but derided by others as “a horror” and “appalling”.

The Heritage Council of Victoria found “Federation Square is of cultural heritage significance to the State of Victoria and should be included in the register for its historical, aesthetic, technological and social significance”.

The space joins about 2,400 other places and objects on the state’s heritage register.

“Federation Square is significant as a notable example of a public square. It is highly intact and its size, civic prominence and design illustrate the principal characteristics of a public square,” the council said in its decision.

It was nominated for heritage listing last year during a divisive debate about plans to demolish a building to make way for an Apple store in the square.

An aerial view of Federation Square highlighting the position of the new Apple shop.

Part of the inspiration for the “flagship” store was a desire to boost revenue for Federation Square, which has struggled financially in recent years.

The plans were ultimately rejected when Heritage Victoria blocked construction, saying it would “adversely” affect the cultural heritage of the space.

The Heritage Council said it received 754 public submissions in response to the nomination, and only three were opposed to the square being included in the register.

“Federation Square is socially significant as Melbourne’s preeminent public square. It has provided a place for mass gatherings, events and protests,” the council said.

“This is supplemented by its popularity as a place for people to gather informally and to engage with a range of cultural institutions and activities. It continues to be an important place for the people of Victoria.”

The official heritage listing would not stop developments, but means all works must be approved by Heritage Victoria under a permits process.

It also makes the area eligible for financial assistance under heritage incentive schemes.

The Apple debate opened up a broader discussion about the function of the space, with some arguing the southern buildings blocked the view of the Yarra River.

The Opposition’s planning and heritage spokesman, Tim Smith, said although he had reservations about the store proposal, he hoped the new protections would not stymie future development.

“I do think that having Federation Square closed off from the river is not necessarily the best outcome,” he said.

People gathered in front of a screen in Federation Square.

PHOTO: Screens in the square are used for public viewings of sporting events, memorials and art. (ABC News: Jacqui Peake)


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