By Lorrin Windahl.
The Victorian Government has alluded to the fact that they are interested in upgrading Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station. Although no budget has been allocated, or likely to be in the near future, they held an international design competition to explore the possibilities.
Six entries were shortlisted in October last year but these were only released for public review two weeks ago. This gave the public a chance to vote for the People’s Choice Award before the competition winner was announced. When I reviewed those shortlisted to decide my vote, I was met with an interesting conundrum – cutting edge design or green urban spaces.
Zaha Hadid Architects, of the UK, submitted an entry together with BVN Architecture here in Australia. I am a big fan of Hadid’s. Her designs are amazing. I love the organic and contorted shapes of her architecture. And the submission does not disappoint. It is a piece of art. I believe it pushes the boundaries of architecture, not unlike Federation Square, which, incidentally, faces the station. So, at this point I thought my preferred submission was an easy choice.
But then I saw the submission by Eduardo Velasquez + Manuel Pineda + Santiago Medina which includes an urban forest on the roof of the station. This then enables the station to not only act as a transport hub but also as a ‘green’ public space in the heart of the city. And they have also included bike facilities which gets sustainability points from me.
So this created an interesting battle in my head. Fluid, cutting-edge design that appeals to the designer in me. Or, green public spaces that are more inviting and sustainable. In the end the decision was a simple one. In a moment of clarity, I realised that although the Hadid entry is visually very appealing, its lack of greenery makes the spaces feel cold and a bit clinical. Are they spaces that I would want to linger in and enjoy? No. But in contrast the entry by Velasquez, Pineda and Medina creates spaces that I would want to spend more time in. They have created much more than just a transport hub. It is a public space that, not dissimilar to Federation Square, people would gather, converse and sit to watch the world pass by. It is on the river after all so why not capitalise on the great view. Therefore, my vote is with the urban greenery of the Velasquez, Pineda and Medina entry. I think it is the most sensitive to its location as well as the environment. I’d stamp this as socially responsible design!
However yesterday the winners were announced. The Judge’s Award was won by the Hassell + Herzog & de Meuron entry, shown above. Quite an unexpected choice if you ask me. The People’s Choice Award was less of a surprise. This was won by Velasquez, Pineda and Medina.
Do the differing opinions of the judges and the public suggest that there is a discrepancy between what people want and what designers think people want? Or perhaps it indicates a paradigm shift in architecture and design. Maybe the public is becoming less awed by beautiful architectural statements and more by sustainable, sensitive solutions. Are we moving in a direction where iconic buildings, like the Sydney Opera House, become less fashionable in favour of nature enveloping the built environ? Or has architecture always been shrouded in this type of controversy?
If you want to check out the shortlisted entries go to www.vote.majorprojects.vic.gov.au