The Victorian Government has announced plans to demolish Federation Square's Yarra Building for an Apple store.
The Victorian Government has announced plans to demolish Federation Square's Yarra Building for an Apple store.

From Federation Square to Apple Plaza: Melburnians respond

While in discussion for up to two years, the Victorian Government has waited until just days before Christmas to announce Apple’s new store on Federation Square. A lot of Melburnians are not happy.

This week the Victorian Government announced plans to demolish the Yarra Building on Federation Square, to make way for a new flagship Apple store. It is understood that this move has been under consideration for up to two years, however there has been no public consultation on this major change to the city’s principle public square. Furthermore, it seems that the government’s decision to make an announcement in the final days before Christmas 2017 is strategically timed, to minimise public discussion on the impact of this high-profile retail presence within what is otherwise the state’s most important public space.

Given its timing, and the limited information that has been provided by government, Foreground asks a number of key urban thinkers, writers, architects and landscape architects to provide a short comment on this announcement. One of the principle architects of Federation Square, Donald Bates, co-director of Lab Architecture, has since written in support of the forthcoming Apple store.

The Yarra Building
The Yarra Building.

Kirsten Bauer

Without question, Federation Square is the most significant and central of Melbourne’s public spaces. While Federation Square (the space not the buildings) is not zoned as public open space, it is strongly perceived and valued by the public as a significant civic space, and accordingly should be protected and honoured. The proposed insertion of a singular global commercial brand into this major public square rejects all good urban design and community design common sense. It goes against everything that makes Melbourne a great city, and repeats historic mistakes such as the on-going commercialisation and fragmentation of City Square.

The Apple proposal fails to recognise the role of the community (not commercial) values in the production of meaningful public realm and makes a mockery of the notion of Melbourne as one of the world’s most liveable cities. Come to Melbourne to see an Apple store. Wow, we are real leaders.

Kirsten Bauer
Director ASPECT Studios and Adjunct Professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).

Paul Carter

The proposal to raze part of the Federation Square assemblage to accommodate a shopfront for a multinational corporation illustrates again the small value placed on public culture and our peculiar fascination with cargo cult economies. The logical contortions Donald Bates uses to justify the decision mistake lingering design perplexities for the public interest. The identification of public space with an enlarged footprint for private business entirely confuses the public good with consumer access. The destruction of shared space is used everywhere to inhibit the growth of civic self-confidence.

Personally, I did not design an apron for Apple products.

Paul Carter
Writer and artist. His book Mythform: the making of Nearamnew at Federation Square (2005) describes his involvement with the project. 

Tanderrum, Federation Square (2013).
Federation Square’s size equates to a traditional Melbourne CBD grid.

“Framing Apple’s move into Federation Square as a great day for Melbourne’s tourism is an insult to all Victorians” – @Emma_Telfer

Jefa Greenaway

Indigenous Architecture + Design Victoria (IADV) has followed with interest current developments at Federation Square. As this will result in the move of the Koorie Heritage Trust (KHT), as the major tenant of the Yarra Building, this raises a series of important cultural considerations. IADV as a key contributor in the design of the Trust, along with Lyons Architecture, has a unique vantage point from which to consider this new commercially-defined decision.

Federation Square has incrementally been embraced by Melburnians and tourists alike, however there was always a missing link within the cultural offerings of this key civic space. Until September 2015 there was little acknowledgement or visibility of Indigenous culture within the beating heart of Melbourne.

The relocation of the KHT to Federation Square was both a literal and metaphorical shift, from the fringes to the centre of Melbourne, and brought an exponential growth in visitors. However, many people are unaware of the underpinning design goal that informed the transformation of the interior of the Yarra Building, which was to connect to the river.

One of the key shortcomings of the building was its position in obscuring the connections to the river. This not only prevented key sightlines, it also precluded the opportunity to have a conversation around the importance of the river over time, as well as the ability to embrace Indigenous stories that connect to place and showcase the cultural continuity of the Kulin Nation peoples who have made Melbourne home for millennia.

The new location of Apple within the previous position of the Yarra Building provides the potential to not only better connect to the river, but also facilitates a unique opportunity for a large multinational corporation like Apple to meaningfully engage with the Indigenous community in the spirit of reconciliation. This approach could prove transformative for all involved.

The new location of the Trust to the Alfred Deakin building offers a tangible opportunity to again explore these ideas by reflecting and strengthening Indigenous culture, while Apple also has a unique opportunity to demonstrate global leadership by celebrating First Nations culture within the places of importance in which they become located.

Jefa Greenaway
Chair of IADV, a practicing architect and lecturer at the University of Melbourne. He submitted an entry to the original Federation Square competition in 1996.

Tanderrum, Federation Square (2013).
Federation Square is home to Tanderrum, the opening of Melbourne Festival, a ceremony of the five clans of the Central Kulin Nation. Image: Melbourne Festival.

Ronald Jones

Commercial activity has been a part of Federation Square since it opened, with cafes and bars contributing to its role as a lively meeting place. Rental income from commercial tenants is also essential to the square’s ongoing operation. A commercial presence in a civic space is not a concern. However, while those bars and cafes are retail outlets, the food and drink they sell is less important than the place they create. The reverse is true in Apple stores; no matter how excellent their service, one goes there for the products.

There is a vital question as to what types of commercial tenants should be housed on the site, especially in such prominent locations. What do they contribute to Federation Square? Much more than cash, one would hope.

There may well be a place for a business like Apple in Federation Square. Given the way it has been set up, there is unquestionably a need for a healthy rental income, but does it really belong on a pedestal at the heart of Victoria’s major civic space?

Ronald Jones
Melbourne landscape architect

James Lesh

Melbourne has found a civic heart at Federation Square over the past two decades. In our city’s longer urban history, this is a remarkable achievement, given the many aborted and less-successful attempts at making a central square. The proposed Apple Store threatens to unsettle the current equilibrium of Fed Square: between public and private, between civic, social and commercial. Fed Square may not be perfect, and there may be a case for rejuvenating the Yarra Building, but its demolition for a megastore cannot be justified. Our city shapers must listen to the Melburnians who have claimed Fed Square as their own.

James Lesh
An urban and heritage researcher based at the University of Melbourne.

Ellen Sandell MP 

We’re very concerned about proposals that turn one of our most iconic public and cultural spaces into a space that’s dominated by a large commercial building. Federation Square was built as a cultural place for the community to use – as a meeting place, as a place to enjoy the arts, environment, and food – not as a shopping mall.

Planning Minister Richard Wynne has rammed through changes to the Planning Scheme to make this possible, with no public consultation or public process. We also don’t know what deals or incentives were offered to Apple to make this happen, and the Government won’t release the terms of the lease, how much it will cost, and other details which should be public knowledge.

Federation Square was built as a cultural place for all of the public to enjoy, not as a commercial shopping mall. Victorians will rightly be asking themselves why this Labor Government continually lets our public space be taken over by corporations and private developers.

The Greens are looking at what Parliamentary tactics we can use on this issue in the new year.

Ellen Sandell
Politician and environmentalist, and Greens MLA for the seat of Melbourne. 


Federation Square interior
The interior of Federation Square’s buildings are host to a number of institutional tenants such as the National Gallery of Victoria and ACMI, alongside commercial bars and galleries.

“The Andrews Government decision to demolish the Yarra Building and replace it with an Apple store is so bizarre I genuinely thought it was a joke at first” – @unsungsongs

Emma Telfer

Framing Apple’s move into Federation Square as a great day for Melbourne’s tourism is an insult to all Victorians. According to the Federation Square Civic and Cultural Charter, retail outlets will be incorporated upon a level of contribution to the cultural and civic objectives of the Square. An Apple Store is not an expression of Melbourne’s innovation and creativity, and it doesn’t communicate the city’s leadership in contemporary ideas. Simply, an Apple Store responds to only one of the six objectives of the Charter: visitation. How can Apple not only move in but fundamentally change the fabric of our town square without contributing to the city’s cultural and civic needs?

Emma Telfer
Executive Director, Open House Melbourne


Leon van Schaik

Years ago (1980-ish), I designed and built an educational campus much on the scale and form of Fed Square. I had in mind Alvar Aalto’s dictum that all campus designs should be baggy enough to allow for future inserts by other architects. Indeed, 10 years later another very different building was inserted. So I agree with Don Bates on this. Replacing that building will make things better.

What I think we have to fight for is the total ban of cars from the CBD… so that roads are safe for people.

Leon van Schaik
Innovation Professor of Architecture at RMIT.

Marcus Westbury

The Andrews Government decision to demolish the Yarra Building and replace it with an Apple store is so bizarre I genuinely thought it was a joke at first. It fails on so many levels: the privatisation of public space, the destruction of the coherent architecture of Federation Square for little or no reason and the crazy assertion that an Apple Store will somehow drive millions of extra tourists per year to Victoria. Federation Square is part of the fabric of Melbourne. The government is mad to think the public want that fabric ripped into pieces for so little.

Marcus Westbury
Writer, broadcaster and CEO of the Collingwood Arts Precinct. 

This post was updated with additional commentary on 8 January 2018