Premier Daniel Andrews described his predecessor’s plan for Flinders Street Station as a “colouring-in competition at taxpayers’ expense”, ruling out a multi-billion dollar plan – based on the winning selection of an international design competition – for the station’s transformation.
Mr Andrews’ comments follow a demand from the Victorian Opposition that Labor should outline its plans – if not to re-imagine the station then to maintain it – with some irony, after it too backed quietly away from putting in place a mechanism to realise the design selected to redefine the city landmark.
The Flinders Street Station design competition, conceived by former Coalition premier Ted Baillieu in 2010, offered $1 million for a plan to restore and reinvigorate the station.
Three years later Mr Baillieu’s successor Denis Napthine announced the winning architects – Hassell and Swiss-based Herzog & de Meuron, but no commitment was made to follow through to implement the architects’ design for the station – at an estimated cost of around $2 billion.
Shoring up Premier Andrews’ remarks, State Treasurer Tim Pallas told the ABC that the competition was “nothing more than a drawing project”.
“Rather than spend billions of dollars on an edifice in the centre of the city, our view was that that money could be better spent delivering better public transport for Victorians,” he said.
“We don’t see it as our priority and never did,” he added.
To get an architect’s perspective on this state of affairs – and one whose award-winning work offers radical alternatives for Melbourne’s built-environment – I asked Billy Kavellaris, founder of bespoke Melbourne architectural practice KUD, for his reaction to the government’s reverse-gear approach.
Kavellaris says he isn’t surprised. “Given that this was to be a government civic project – and one of the largest in Victoria’s history – it was always going to be a difficult journey for the architectural community.”
“As much as I would love to have seen the project go ahead, I can understand why the decision seems to have been made.
“There were never any accurate feasibility studies – or costings done, and moreover there was nothing specified in the competition brief.”
Kavellaris believes the local and international success of Federation Square continues to be a model for such ambitious urban projects.
“In a time when Melbourne has become a prominent Australian international city, it’s critical that we as a culture invest, and philosophically shift our focus, towards a much more sophisticated transport ideology,” says Kavellaris.
“It’s impossible to remove congestion from a city, but in the words of Rem Koolhaas, a city needs ‘smooth congestion’. The Flinders Street Station project is one of the paths that Melbourne will need to take. I’ve no doubt that a project on this site will happen; when is another question.”
Major Projects Victoria has for more than a year been responsible for a ‘preliminary business case’ for the redevelopment and restoration of Flinders Street Station.
What that will result in, given the state government’s comments to date, is likely to mean few major alterations to the iconic station.
The station’s history is perhaps instructive here. The current much-loved building and platforms’ conception was the result of a design competition held in 1899 which had 17 entries.
The 500 pounds first prize went to local railway employees James Fawcett and HPC Ashworth. Their plan – extensively modified – was realised after much fraught argument and financial concerns 11 years later.