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Champagne Socialist
12,691 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·

Beauty is worth paying for, even in Melbourne

May 2, 2006

Southern Cross Station and Docklands are wonders to be praised, writes Dimity Reed.

Remaking cities is a tricky business, especially in Melbourne. Melburnians are a thoughtful lot and like to discuss change but, as Rachel Buchanan's piece on her visit to Docklands (26/4) and Kenneth Davidson's piece on the Southern Cross Station (Opinion, 27/4) indicate, we are far more comfortable whingeing than being excited.

Davidson is incensed that our Treasurer has spent $1.8 billion on a roof on a railway station when he could have got a perfectly good roof for $100 million. Maybe he's right, although I haven't costed acres of new roof lately. John Brumby probably could have got a perfectly good roof for less money. But he couldn't have got a station that moves hundreds of thousands of people through it on perfect circulation routes at reasonable speed, in great comfort, in a place of such beauty that they want to return each day.

It is at our peril that we underestimate the importance of beauty as an attribute of civilisation. The creation of an exquisite public railway station is a contribution to this society's culture as important as education and health and poetry. One should not preclude the other.

Davidson is correct that a (depoliticised) discussion needs to occur about the public value and benefits of public-private partnerships, and that discussion should happen truthfully and in depth, now. But to confuse the social good of making a magnificent new public building with the perceived disadvantages of PPPs is to create a climate in which we should only expect the lowest level thinking in the creation of our cities. Instead of the new station, one aspect of which is its spectacular roof, we could have had an old station with a roof resembling a 1950s car port. Cheaper, but not good.

When, in the distant past, the city fathers decided we needed art, they commissioned Ron Robertson-Swan's Vault for the old City Square and every taxi driver in town swore that it would make little children go blind. So it went. We were angst-ridden about developing the south bank of the Yarra, convinced the new retail activity would destroy central Melbourne. But Southbank actually regenerated the city.

So, when the redevelopment of Melbourne's disused docks was mooted, the bone was immediately pointed there. Based on the crude misunderstanding that Marvellous Melbourne had been constructed in its entirety by government, Docklands has consistently been seen as a wicked intervention in the sacred city by private developers.

Both assumptions are wrong. Only Melbourne's public buildings were built by the state; the churches paid for their own buildings and central Melbourne was sliced into saleable lots and offered to the highest bidders.

Now to Docklands, which so distressed Buchanan. While the making of Melbourne Docklands has had bipartisan political support over 20 years, it was always on the basis that there would be no government funding. (The money to extend Collins Street into Docklands was the only exception to that dictate.) So when land parcels went out to tender, the responses were required to also include the cost of roads and all services. In that sense, Melbourne Docklands has been built with private money. But it is a public place, publicly lived in, managed and used.

All tender requirements relating to civic design were based on the urban principles that underpin the design of central Melbourne and the assessment of tenders was driven by principles of public interest and access - there would be no privatised waterfront, this new place would give public access to the waterfront at every point and the width of the public domain between the waterfront and the edge of buildings would be the width of Collins street, 30 metres.

Rachel Buchanan took three children to the playground in Docklands Park on a cold and squally day when she might have been wiser to have taken them to a movie and given them each a choc top.

I recently took three children aged seven to 11 to that park and they were so engrossed that we stayed for four hours. It is quite the most inventive playground I've seen; there are hills to roll down and extraordinary swinging poles that delight both watchers and participants, and little waterways tucked into the sandpits that could be manipulated in all sorts of ways and involved my grandchildren and a dozen other kids (four Finns, three Japanese, two Chinese and three Anglos) in a wonderful, cross-cultural maze of activity while the parents chatted or just lay on the grass and dreamed of peace.

Buchanan should walk around this new part of Melbourne with an adult she doesn't have to carry, have a drink and maybe a meal, watch the water and the people, and look at the place with interested eyes. Docklands has achieved something never previously considered possible: it has made Melbourne a waterside city.

And the new Southern Cross Station has altered the idea that public transport has to be difficult, dreary and strewn with graffiti.

Dimity Reed, formerly professor of urban design at RMIT, is a Melbourne architect who has been involved in development of Docklands since 1987.

When did she stop being a prof at RMIT?

1,788 Posts
It is at our peril that we underestimate the importance of beauty as an attribute of civilisation. The creation of an exquisite public railway station is a contribution to this society's culture as important as education and health and poetry. One should not preclude the other

Now theres the truth!
Great to see a positive story coming from The Age for once.

584 Posts
As important as beautiful public buildings are, it is also equally important that they are well constructed. By being well constructed, I mean:

- Low in ongoing maintenance,
- Solid,
- High quality materials used in construction,
- Robust fittings used throughout, and
- Designed in a manner that requires a mojor upgrade/overhaul every 30 to 40 years.

Champagne Socialist
12,691 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
:lol: this is great:

One eyesore goes, another replaces it

Photo: Mel Harris

By Simon Mann
May 8, 2006

What on earth are they doing to Spencer Street? The station redevelopment continues to win praise, and rightly so. Its roof is stunning, "breasts" and all, the remodelled West End hub a 21st century tribute to the grand 19th century terminuses of London - Waterloo, Paddington, Victoria, Kings Cross - and a fitting counterpoint to Flinders Street's grand old dame.

One hundred and fifty years after the birth of Victoria's railway network, the development is a timely reconjuring of the vision of the early proponents of rail transport.

While the name change has yet to catch on, Southern Cross Station looks every bit a worthy addition to the capital - majestic, but functional, towering but accessible. Its transparent Spencer Street frontage, between Collins and Bourke streets, has opened up the station to its city. For one thing, it's a lot more inviting than its 1960s predecessor. Its broad walkways link the CBD to its platforms, and to Docklands beyond. In modern archi-speak, it seems a good example of permeability, its boundaries working as filters rather than barriers.

Sure, there's a debate about the cost (a $1.8 billion "roof", some argue) and about how it's being financed: it's another one of those PPPs (public-private partnerships, which deliver infrastructure for governments too timid to borrow while delivering private developers windfall profits). But that's another story.

No, the problem is not the station itself - it has lifted the design standard - but its new neighbour to the north, the imposing shedlike edifice that is to hold cars and a bus terminal and yet another retail outlet, a so-called "Direct Factory Outlet", a string of stores flogging consumer brands cheaply. There's one at Essendon, just off the Tullamarine Freeway, which has apparently caused traffic headaches for the locals as bargain hunters have clamoured for weekend retail therapy.

But first, a disclaimer: I happen to work in arguably the ugliest building on Spencer Street. Tagged the "Spencer Street Soviet", not only because of its Stalinesque layer cake stature the like of which the Soviets erected throughout the capitals of eastern Europe, but also as a pejorative reference to the pinko commentators who supposedly inhabit it, the brown brick building often features in polls of Melbourne's worst blights. No. 250 continues to scale the ranking of ugliest building as competitors for that accolade are dismantled or redeveloped. The Gas and Fuel buildings gave way to Federation Square; Markillies Hotel, once branded the worst spot by Premier Jeff Kennett, is getting a facelift.

Maybe my expectations were unfairly raised by the success of the station's new roof, suspended like a giant spider over the three hectares of railway platforms on long steel legs, and its exhilarating, airy feel. It's just that it makes for quite a contrast with its neighbour, which is shaping as an uninspiring, massive grey box: a bit like a giant Nissen hut. Usually, these sorts of factory outlets get built in the burbs or in an industrial belt, not in the centre of town.

The Spencer Street complex, West End Plaza, with its 120 shops and food courts, will be the first of two: a second of its ilk is expected to open in Docklands in two years' time. The latter location would seem to make more sense, especially as the waterside population grows. But having opened up the West End with the Southern Cross makeover, it seems contradictory to develop a shops precinct alongside, which draws the retail centre further towards the CBD fringe and which doesn't interconnect with the city. Just as one "blockage" to opening up Docklands is removed, another is seemingly erected.

Granted, the developers had a tough assignment - they had to include the station car park and a bus terminal - and the tenanted shops, including a Coles supermarket for inner city dwellers, puts icing on the cake as far as making the thing pay its way.

But the 800 parking spaces suggest it will attract a fair bit of traffic, not just shoppers who arrive by train, with the already strangled surrounding roads and Spencer Street itself (reduced to one lane in parts to accommodate wider tram stops) facing greater congestion.

Dimity Reed, on this page (2/5), cautioned against undervaluing the importance of beauty in a city's public buildings. She's right, Southern Cross Station is "exquisite". It's just a shame about the neighbours' joint.

Simon Mann is a senior writer.
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