The company’s latest flagship will displace an Aboriginal cultural center in Melbourne.
When Federation Square first opened 15 years ago, Melbourne residents were skeptical. Understandably so: Its deconstructivist buildings were literally edgy; its abstract bluestone-paved plaza was like nothing else in town. This was Melbourne’s first proper public square—a civic center explicitly devoted to culture—and it took some getting used to.
Since then, Federation Square has become the heart of Melbourne, as The Age tells it. While the multifaceted geometries and sharp façades of the buildings may not be for everyone, even residents who don’t care for the design grudgingly admit that area has emerged as one of the city’s most recognizable features.
Others simply see Federation Square as lucrative property, including its ostensible caretakers. Just before Christmas, the government of the state of Victoria announcedthat the Yarra Building, one of those jagged prism–shaped structures that gives Federation Square its flair, would be demolished. The building, which currently houses an Aboriginal culture center, will be replaced by an Apple Store.
The new design by Foster + Partners—the architectural firm behind Apple’s flagship flying saucer in Cupertino, California—would replace the quartz-like Yarra Building with a floating golden panini. While handsome enough, the Apple Store design is out of step with the other buildings on Federation Square, which were designed as a concept by Melbourne’s Lab Architecture Studio. (One of the lead architects behind Federation Square, Donald Bates, has also consulted on Apple’s plan.) The demolition plan raises the prospect that the government sees Federation Square more as a set of assets than as a singular entity.
Furthermore, Apple’s plans violate Federation Square’s Civic and Cultural Charter—a set of public guidelines that function as the plaza’s constitution (truly a novelty, says this American). The City of Melbourne and Government of Victoria enshrined their shared vision for the area in this document. It might not have the binding authority of law, but it plainly establishes Federation Square as a civic district, with a preference for arts and nonprofit entities and clear boundaries for commercial uses. Leasing storefront space to a tavern is one thing under the charter’s operating principles. Nuking a building and evicting a cultural center is very clearly not.
The proposed Apple Store is being touted as one of the company’s flagship “Town Hall” concepts, and the first in the Southern Hemisphere. John Eren, Victoria’s Minister for Tourism and Major Events, has said that the new store will draw more than 2 million additional visitors to Federation Square per year. How could the Koorie Heritage Trust—a cultural center for the Aboriginal peoples of New South Wales and Victoria, and the current tenants of the Yarra Building—hope to compete at the door?