Federation Square management has submitted a permit application for the demolition of the Yarra Building in order to make way for the construction of a Foster and Partners-designed Apple store.
The permit application, currently on exhibition for public comment, follows an interim protection order placed on Federation Square by the executive director of Heritage Victoria in August 2018. The executive director has also recommended the square be placed on the state heritage register.
The heritage impact statement prepared by Urbis on behalf of Federation Square management admits “the proposed removal of the Yarra Building will result in some negative heritage impact on Federation Square as a whole.”
The report acknowledged the heritage value of Federation Square and its design qualities, particularly the fractal geometry of the facades, but stated, “The Yarra building does not share the high level of design resolution of the other buildings with Federation square.
“The proposed loss of the Yarra Building will be acceptable given the appropriateness of the high-quality, design-excellence of the proposed new Apple Global Flagship Store designed by architects, Foster and Partners, and Oculus landscape architects.
“It is noted that the construction and architectural plans submitted with the application are not fully detailed.”
The report also included statements from the original architects of Federation Square, Donald Bates of Lab Architecture Studio and Roger Poole, former executive chairman of Bates Smart.
Bates stated that the Yarra Building, originally known as the South Commercial Building, was not part of the original design competition, but was rather conceived as a “commercial opportunity […] in order to recover its cost of construction.”
“The South Commercial Building was designed without a specific use or operational logic,” Bates continued. “It was first and foremost a massing for the benefit of the civic plaza.”
The heritage impact statement argues that “from the time of development, this part of Federation Square was intended to be used for commercial purposes.
“The permit application to enable an Apple Global Flagship Store to replace the Yarra Building does not result in a change in the nature of the continued historic use of the site (i.e. commercial).”
However, elsewhere the report states, “There is some public misconception about the role of Apple in Federation Square. Apple has been criticized for providing a ‘retail’ outlet. Rather Apple is offering education and community engagement. This will provide synergies and collaborations with the existing tenants - National Gallery of Victoria, ACMI and Koorie Heritage Trust. This in turn will reinvigorate and reactivate Federation Square.”
The Victorian government announced the Apple store proposal in December 2017. In a design statement from Foster and Partners, partner-architect James Edwards states, “Apple approached the practice with the Federation Square site in September 2015.”
The initial design of the store was widely derided by the public. A City of Melbourne councilor likened the design to “a Pizza Hut pagoda.”
In February 2018, the government formed a steering committee to supervise the design development of the building. Revised designs were revealed in July 2018, however, “it is noted that the construction and architectural plans submitted with the application are not fully detailed,” the report states.
Roger Poole stated in his assessment, “I believe that the design proposals I have reviewed can, if developed with appropriate care, skill and architectural judgement, become an outstanding and worthy replacement for the Yarra Building, which will offer great benefits to the people of Victoria.”
In particular, he said the proposed organic woven pattern of the movable sunscreens on the upper level will link the “calm pavilion language of Foster and Partners [with] Lab’s more fractal architectural grammar.”
“It takes a good deal of imagination to transpose the potentially very beautiful screen patterns onto the moving panels. Yet I believe that the use of sliding metallic screens in the complex organic pattern can generate a rich tapestry which will link the new building back to the surrounding square.”
The permit application is available for comment until 13 February 2019.
The Heritage Council of Victoria’s directions hearing for Federation Square is scheduled for 14 February while a registration hearing will take place from 15 to 17 April.
The National Trust of Australia (Victoria), which nominated the square for heritage protection, said it “has concerns that this proposal is being rushed through before the heritage registration is resolved and ahead of preparing a masterplan or conservation management plan to guide the change.”
Architect and Citizens for Melbourne president Tania Davidge said, “This Apple proposal has been ill-conceived from the start. Fed Square’s own Heritage Impact Statement acknowledges the proposal’s lack of detail and the fact that that the removal of the Yarra building will negatively impact the heritage value of Fed Square as a whole. We are hopeful that Heritage Victoria rejects this for what it is - an opportunistic bid to short-circuit the heritage process already under way.”
Apple’s senior vice president of retail Angela Ahrendts is behind the strategy to rebrand its shops as “town squares,” that has seen the company seek out retail locations in prominent public places around the world. In 2018, a newly elected Stockholm City Council dropped widely unpopular plans for an Apple retail outlet at the edge of a public park in the city, while in Washington D.C., plans to locate a shop in Carnegie Library has also faced criticism.