(This post also published on the MIDF blog today – the blogging marathon continues!)

A stepped pyramid, proposed by architect Peter Corrigan for Swanston st in 1986, as part of the National Library and Museum complex development.

On Saturday I braved the cold to preview the Melbourne Unbuilt walking tour, curated by Kate Rhodes of the National Design Centre as part of the Melbourne International Design Festival. The tour is an exploration of architectural propositions for the City of Melbourne – structures and buildings meticulously designed, planned, and budgeted for, but which for one reason or another never materialised. Melbourne Unbuilt resurrects 13 selected large-scale architectural projects, taking the listener on a self-guided audio tour of the CBD’s secret architectural history.

I know, I know, audio tour – seems a bit like homework doesn’t it? BUT hear me out! This tour really surprised me.

The tour starts at the National Design Centre, where you borrow a brand new ipod, programmed with 13 different commentaries (about 5 minutes each) from Melbourne architects, architectural historians and commentators. These voices guide you through 13 different proposed developments across the CBD. You’re also given a map with each location highlighted, and a brief summary of each proposal. In addition, the ipod contains photographs and images to set the scene.

For each location, the audio you hear has been recorded exactly where you stand. So, at location 2, standing in Federation Square looking back towards st Paul’s Cathedral, Peter Davidson of LAB architecture describes his concept for the ‘shards’ or smaller structures in his design for Federation Square. These, we’re told, were designed in response to an expectation in the brief that st Paul’s Cathedral was the most important structure in the area, and was not to be overshadowed! LAB’s goal was to create an archipelago of small structures amongst larger buildings, which would define the space and frame the existing neighbouring buildings. Throughout the commentary, it’s clear that LAB were dealing with several major limitations… and Peter Davidson’s frustrations are made quite clear! It’s incredible to hear a first-hand account of Fed Square’s much publicised controversies.

In particular, Davidson refers to The Visitor’s Centre, initially designed to be 22m high, to frame st Paul’s Cathedral, when viewed from Fed Square. It was proposed that ‘framing’ the Cathedral in this way would visually incorporate it into the Federation Square development. Interestingly, Davidson points out that this has been effective to some extent, as the Cathedral has since changed in main entrance from Swanston st to Flinders st, to face Fed Square.

top – Federation Square showing the Visitor’s Centre as it stands today (the glass structure left of frame – covered in advertising!), bottom, LAB’s proposed Visitor’s centre.

The top image here shows the Visitor’s Centre as it stands – 6m high to comply with regulations. The bottom image is LAB’s proposed design – a 22m high structure which, in conjunction with the Eastern shard on the opposite side, contains the view of the Cathedral, thus incorporating it into the space. Peter Davidson explains how the imposed changes impacts the overall coherence of the project. Make up your own mind on this one! I must say… I think he talked me round!

If you’re still not convinced by LAB’s version of Fed Square, have a listen to Denton Corker Marshall‘s unsuccessful proposal… The Yarra is a much more significant feature for John Denton, who describes a winter garden enclosed by glass roof sections, referencing the parallel train lines of the railyards. At the river, a gallery space of brightly coloured boxes (DCM’s hallmark) would sit up and look out over the water. The ground would be cut away to bring the entire structure down to the river level… and the heritage bluestone vaults (pictured) would remain as passageways through to the walkway along the Yarra.


Denton Corker Marshall‘s Federation Square proposal – check out that tower!

heritage bluestone vaults on the Yarra River

I love the hint of rivalry in John Denton’s voice as he recalls LAB’s problems with the ‘shard’ buildings on Flinders st. According to Denton, DCM anticipated problems here, therefore deciding to set their buildings back from Princes Bridge!

One of the more surprising propositions mentioned in the tour is at location 5 – Flinders st Station. Architectural historian Rohan Storey explains that the iconic station was once widely condemned as an ‘ugly behemoth’ during the 1960′s and 70′s. At this time a scheme by Lend Lease/Meldon Properties and Yuncken Freeman Architects proposed that the bulk of Flinders st Station be demolished and replaced with a retail development, carpark and two office towers! Luckily the National Trust stepped in and fought to preserve the station we know today.

top – Flinders st Station today, bottom – Yuncken Freeman’s 1976 proposal for the station’s redevelopment.

I could go on… there’s so much to learn about Melbourne’s secret history. I was truly inspired.

And the best bit – you’re the tour guide! You can choose your route – you start where you like, you skip what doesn’t interest you, you can stop somewhere nice for lunch…! It’s completely up to you.

Melbourne Unbuilt guide map

Melbourne Unbuilt audio walking tour
July 17th onwards
Starting at the National Design Centre

corner Flinders st and Russell sts, Federation Square
$5.00