Federation Square
LAB architecture studio

Photo © Lab + Bates Smart

Federation Square, the new civic precinct in the heart of Melbourne, was the winning project in an international design competition and Lab architecture studio's first realised buildings.

The project covers and area of 3.6 hectars, an entire city block above the railway tracks, and consists of nine separate cultural and commercial buildings with a combined area of 45,000 square meters.

Included are the new galleries for the National Gallery of Victoria's collection of Australian art, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), SBS (Australia's multi-cultural broadcaster), Melbourne's Visitor Information Centre, retail spaces, a car park and numerous restaurants and cafes, all grouped around two new civic spaces.  

One is a Plaza capable of accommodating up to 25,000 people in an open-air amphitheatre, the other a unique glazed and covered atrium with a glass walled theater on the south side.  

Photo © Trevor Mein

The architects developed a grid system that allowed the building facades to be treated in a continuously changing and dynamic way, while simultaneously maintaining an overall site coherence, instead of being traditionally composed as a regularly repeating flat surface.  

Photo © Shannon Pawsey

Photo © Peter Clarke

Three cladding materials; zinc (perforated and solid), sandstone and glass have been used within a modular basis established by the triangular pinwheel grid. This fractally incremental system uses a single triangle, the proportions of which are maintained across the single tile shape, the panel composed of five tiles, and the mega-panel construction module composed of five panels.

The unique quality of the pinwheel grid lies in the possibility of surface figuration and framing shapes to be independent from the grid's smallest component unit, the triangle.  

The Plaza has been developed as a compound figure, with multiple alignments and zones, that is also understood as a distinct, single, spatial figure.  Being the key to the entire project, the Plaza establishes precise and varying relationships with the city and the landscape around the site.

Photo © Peter Clarke
The design's geometry allows for a variety of configuration and arrangements, from the largest scale public gatherings  to intimate corners for relaxation and contemplation.

For daily life the Plaza acts as a series of individual spaces associated with outdoor cafes and restaurants as well as different cultural and social activities.  
As a compound figure, where the individual components are aggregated into a large outdoor amphitheatre, the Plaza's key role as a focus for major public festival events is revealed. 

The informal topography of the plaza surface is focused on a stage area to the south west, adjacent to the large video screen fixed to the corner pub.

Photo © Trevor Mein

To distinguish the surface from the city's existing pavement, the Plaza is covered in cobblestones of Kimberley sandstone, with stone pavers for the edge terraces, stairs, planters, walling and seating elements.

The variety of stone colours, ranging from reds, oranges, yellows and pinks to purples, mauves and greys, are arranged to form a pattern across the entire Plaza surface.

Open, without doors at the northern and southern ends, the Atrium  is a large, high volume public thoroughfare and covered meeting space, that allows 24 hour access across the site of Federation Square as well as forming a link from Flinders Street down to the river.

Photo © Lab + Bates Smart

With an open interior volume, almost 16 meters high and 16 meters across, the glass enclosed Galleria provides a sheltered extension of the Plaza and also acts as a forecourt to the National Gallery of Victoria, the shops and other commercial spaces.

Utilizing a limited number of standard components a series of non-uniform frame shapes have been developed to form a continuous structure.  The lattice supports glass panels on both its inner and outer faces.

The varying density of the frames register structural forces, shading requirements and orientation to views in a subtly altering manner, creating an inherent variety along the length of the atrium.  

Photo © BMW

The southern half of the atrium steps down from the elevated level of the deck above the railway, to connect to the lower level of the riverside promenade.  Within this transition, the south Atrium has been designed to operate as a chamber theater, with an acoustically tuned interior suitable for small to medium sized music and theater ensembles.

Photo © Shannon Pawsey

The Ian Potter Centre: National Gallery of Victoria's 7,250 square meters of gallery space showcases the unique collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands' work on the ground floor and the historic and modern Australian collections on the floors above.

The simple dual filament composition of the galleries is expressed through the building in the plans and volumes, as well as through the facades and roof.  It allows a direct following of chronology through the building's inherent figure eight but, as this figure always flows back to the center, different routes can be traced.

Photo © Peter Clarke

Circulation by lift, escalator and stairs is also focussed at each level on the central residual spaces formed by the x-bar's embedding within the NGV filaments.  Here vertical movement becomes part of the building's internal drama, as well as continuous outlook to other aspects of the site and the city.

Photo © Trevor Mein

The intrafilament spaces, enclosed, calmer and darker in the north half of the building, and opening onto the landscape and river through a continuously folded glass wall linking all the bridging levels in the south, are an important spatial reference, assisting in providing location within the building.  

Photo © Shannon Pawsey
Drawing courtesy Lab + Bates SmartNational Gallery of Victoria Floor Plan +1federation_square_15.jpg
Drawing courtesy Lab + Bates SmartSection through Plaza looking north
Drawing courtesy Lab + Bates SmartNorth Elevation

Facts about Federation Square

Site area:

3.6 ha
Building area: 44,000 m2


Ian Potter Centre (NGV): 14,000 m2
Gallery area:  7,250 m2
ACMI - 7,000 m2
Plaza - 7,500 m2
Atrium - 3,250 m2
Labyrinth - 1,600 m2


Lab architecture studio in association with Bates Smart

Principal Architects:

Donald L. Bates + Peter Davidson

Project Director:

Tony Allen

Senior Project Team:

Fulvio Facci
Peter Bickle
Attilio Terragni
Greg Bray
Roger Chapman
Stephen Davies
Doug Dickson
Gaynor Fox
Matt Foley
Andrew Francis
Nicole Hardman
Derek Hawkes
Tim Hill
Dylan Ingleton
Steven Javens
Olda Kurdiovsky
Libby Langlands
John McNabb
James Murray
Edward (Ted) Sanderson
David Shultis
Peter Stevens
Bill Tucker
Paul Von Chrismar
Casimir Zdanius

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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