Public Transport + Architecture = Seagull on a hot chip; thoughts on Flinders Street Station competition entries

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Yesterday the Premier revealed the six short-listed designs in the $1million competition for Flinders Street Station's future. Despite the predictable yarn from the public transport advocates who have an inability to think beyond their next gunzelesque rant (refer to tweet) the amount of people engaging with the people's choice competition has been outstanding.

We don't get large-scale architectural competitions all that often, well - we barely get them at all, so it was an interesting exercise watching the discussion unfold - especially on the #voteflindersst hashtag.

One thing I found quite interesting (or ironic?) in mainstream media reporting was the quote the Premier doesn't see any construction happening on site for a decade, yet the site maintains 440,000 people are expected to use the station every day by 2021. That's either an extraordinary belief that Flinders Street has plenty of capacity to cope for the next 8 years (most likely does with some track reconfiguration) or just another State Government faux pas.

The people's choice is not going to affect the judgement of who will win the competition however the feedback provided by the community will be an almighty barometer into how the public thinks of Flinders Street Station as is and where they see it going.

After spending a good two hours downloading all the associated images and drawings, in all honesty, and as I posed on the dedicated transport forum thread we created for this discussion, I still don't have a clear favourite. There's no single proposal which encompasses all the elements I feel are really positive.

Rather than go into an in-depth proposal-by-proposal I thought I'd just point out common themes which are more positive than negative.

Tram network changes

Many of the proposals see varying degrees of network changes: be they new road bridges to fix the awkward 90 degree corner from the current northbank side of Queens Bridge or re-positioning of tram stops. The new Queens Bridge concept has the benefit of removing a left and a right hand turn from the #55 tram route which currently runs along Market Street, Flinders Lane and then onto William Street. ARM and Hadid+BVN should be commended for thinking well beyond the station site and any project, should it go ahead, I believe should incorporate this feature allowing the existing Queens Bridge to be a part of an enlarged Queensbridge Square.

New Queens Bridge at left - image © ARM

Furthermore many of the proposals saw re-positioning of tram stops: Velasquez + Pineda + Medina and Hadid + BVN moved the main tram stop southward to be positioned on Princes Bridge and ARM moved it to the eastern side of Swanston Street. Many proposals see a complete rebuild of the Elizabeth Street tram terminus which is very welcome and special mention to the HASSELL + Herzog and Hadid+BVN proposals for depicting the underground tunnels necessary to connect with the "CBD South" Station to be built as part of the Melbourne Metro tunnel project.

New Elizabeth Street tram terminus - image © Hadid + BVN

The Eastern Entrance

Whether the entrants have labeled it "Federation Square" entrance or "Eastern" entrance, the clear 'winners' (for lack of a better term) are those that flatten the roadspace and remove the barriers (namely the tram stop).

Hadid + BVN are taking a really radical view. Their main entrance canopy is space-age and very [insert any new Chinese airport terminal built in the past 5 years here], but most dramatic of all looks to be, thanks to the repositioning of the tram stop to the south, even more traffic calming measures put in place on Swanston St allowing for no pedestrian crossing lights and what can only be described as complete integration with Federation Square.

Extreme traffic calming measures to excite the urbanist in all of us - image © Hadid + BVN

Likewise the UniMelb students Velasquez + Pineda + Medina have also provided an excellent integration with Federation Square, again thanks to moving the tram stop further south. Yet with this proposal, we would get a double amphitheatre effect with Swanston Street becoming somewhat of a stage owing to the existing slope of Federation Square opposite and the Colombian guys' vision to have a (Canberra) Parliament House-like grass-on-roof type arrangement.

Double amphitheatre with Swanston Street as the stage - image © Velasquez + Pineda + Medina

Central Plaza / Amphitheatre + River Stage

Hadid + BVN, HASSELL + Herzog and NH have a strong similarity in this regard. Hadid + BVN and NH feature shading utilising canopies and in Hadid+BVN's case, the join between the two main parts of superstructure canvassing the entire site appears to provide shade to their smaller amphitheatre fronting the Yarra. NH's inclusion of a new bridge (below) - piggybacking off the newly finished Hamer Hall concourse - running from St. Kilda Road to near the Western entrance / Elizabeth Street axis warrants further investigation.

Central plaza/concourse with canopy concept - image © NH

One wonders what the plaza in HASSELL + Herzog's proposal would be like in summer. Doubtless to say it would have a lot of foot traffic, passing through but not utilising the space other than as another transit route (however Federation Square is in the same boat, so there may be some merit in it).

Integration with the Yarra

One of the strongest proposals in this area is Wardle + Grimshaw's. Bricks: love them, small spaces: check, wooden boardwalk: it's there. It appears as if this would have the effect of extending the same style of riverfront usage like on the eastern side of Princes Bridge where Riverland and the other vault businesses are located - I feel that's a big plus.

Small spaces for small businesses - image © Wardle + Grimshaw

Open Air platforms or Train shed?

I'm a sucker for the Victorian-era train sheds that exist all over the world, so ARM and HASSELL + Herzog's proposals caught my eye. Big Kudos to ARM for referencing the original Swanston St entrance proposal.

Reminiscent of the train hall of old - image © HASSELL + Herzog

I tried so hard to only be positive

The only major negative feature of any of the proposals I want to point out is with regards to NH's proposal: lose the existing canopies above platforms, they're outdated and will be out of place with the new concourse. I see them with the least amount of heritage value and actually an impediment; I much prefer an entire roof (like ARM or HASSELL+Herzog) or new canopies and if worst comes to worst incorporate the heritage platform signage. Sorry there's a second negative: Hadid+BVN's over-reliance on shopping centres should be discouraged; hotels fine, but no-one wants another Southern Cross retail outlet shop, no matter how upmarket Hadid+BVN's renders of the retail components are.

While we do have to remember this is a station and its primary function is to have the ability for trains to run more frequently over time to cater for the forecast demand (thanks Daniel), there's a heavy focus - in the imagery at least - on everything above, beside or below the tracks and platforms when the single most important thing in any new development on this site should be focusing on new or less platform space. It might not have been part of the brief, which would explain the lack of detail, but the next stage after a winner is selected (and naturally this should only occur if the State Government is serious about putting this on a long-term road map for actual construction), serious consideration needs to go into what the track and platform layout will be in future.

The primary reason why NH's retention of heritage canopies is not useful is that there are arguments to reduce the number of platforms and therefore space where 3rd overtaking lines may once have existed between two tracks with platforms as the PTV heavy rail plan is gearing itself toward focusing less on Flinders Street station. Melbourne Metro's "CBD South" will remove a large amount of trains from City Loop operations and the dwell times at Flinders Street over time are likely to disappear as driver changes will occur outside the city in future.

While yes, the Ballroom is the least of our concerns, like many have already commented on Twitter and in the mainstream press, we must plan 20 steps ahead for Flinders Street's expansion yet also open the public's mind on what else can be incorporated into the site.

See the videos, write-ups and download all the images/drawings from the Flinders Street Station Design Competition.

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3 comments

Mark Baljak's picture

The Wardle brick/wood integration with the yarra is great...as is the panda sitting down hehe

Watch out for UM taking a tour of the FSS Ballroom in coming weeks

Martin Mankowski's picture

Daniel Bowden and his former mob the PTUA are a real enigma. On one hand they oppose a great proposal like the one above on the basis it wont help network efficiency, yet on the other hand they oppose the construction of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel! *Slaps forehead* There's no pleasing some people.

Mark - How did you guys score a tour of the FSS ballroom? I went in the ballot recently, but with only 10 people getting the nod, I don't expect a result!

Alastair Taylor's picture

People's choice to the Students, winner of comp judged by jury is Hassell + Herzog

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