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City Square, Melbourne

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Subject: Larry La Trobe, Regent Theatre, Melbourne, Occupy Melbourne, List of alumni and faculty of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Comedy Theatre, Melbourne
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City Square, Melbourne

City Square looking from Swanston Street

The City Square is a pedestrian plaza and former civic centre located in the Central Business District of Melbourne, Australia. The square is currently bounded by Swanston Street, Collins Street, Flinders Lane and the Westin Hotel. Melbourne Town Hall (1870) and St Paul’s Cathedral (1891) are prominent landmarks to the north and south respectively. The square has been redeveloped several times and associated with a number of controversies over the years.

History and development

Melbourne was originally planned with a number of large parks around the periphery of its central business district, but lacked a major civic open space in the heart of the city. Convinced that public squares "only encouraged democracy" the colonial government of the time demanded that no towns laid out at that time should have them included within their boundaries.[1]

Initial planning and the temporary square

Sir Bernard Evans, architect, city councillor and later Lord Mayor of Melbourne, first raised the idea of a city square in 1961, an idea that was not adopted by Melbourne City Council until he raised it again in 1966. Following this, Council began the process of acquiring properties along Swanston Street between the Town Hall and St Paul’s Cathedral. A vacant half-acre site formerly occupied by the Queen Victoria Buildings and the City Club Hotel on the corner of Collins and Swanston Streets was acquired in 1966, and from that time onward additional properties were acquired and buildings demolished between the Town Hall and St Pauls Cathedral. These included Cathedral Hotel, Cathedral House, Guy's Buildings (demolished 1969), Green's Building and the Town Hall Chambers (demolished 1971) as well as Wentworth House and Regency House on Flinders Lane.[1] The Regent Theatre was also intended to be demolished, but was saved by a union ban.[2] However, the restriction of the site area and the presence of a long blank façade limited any grand visions for the space.

By 1968 a temporary square was installed. In February 1976 a performance by the band AC/DC was filmed there for a video clip for the single It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll).[3] The video was filmed on the same day as the well-known version filmed on the back of a flatbed truck travelling down Swanston Street.[4]

Design and construction of a new square

In 1976, an architectural competition was launched by Melbourne City Council to design a permanent square which was won by Denton Corker Marshall architects. The design, responding to the complex brief, included a giant video screen, restaurants, shops and outdoor cafes, connected by a glazed canopy, a sunken amphitheatre, graffiti wall, reflecting pool, water wall and cascades as well as the open area of the main square. The area was extensively paved with sawn bluestone. The Burke and Wills Statue (1864) by Charles Summers was positioned (somewhat ironically) next to the cascades.

Following its opening by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 May 1980 the new square attracted criticism from the general public. The Melbourne Age newspaper reported "in interviews with newspaper reporters and on talk-back radio, many Melburnians have blasted their long awaited City Square for what they see as its bareness, the noise from its controversial video matrix screen and the starkness of the glazed steel canopy running along the Regent Theatre Wall".[5] A large yellow steel sculpture titled “Vault” by Ron Robertson-Swann (dubbed the "Yellow Peril") which was commissioned as a centrepiece for the square was relocated to Batman Park in July 1981, following heated public debate.[6][7]

1990s redevelopment

In the late 1990s over half the square was sold for the development of the Westin Hotel.[8] and in the period between 1997 and 2000 the remaining area of the square was totally redeveloped with a much simpler plan and granitic gravel was introduced to contrast with more traditional bluestone paving.[9] A long linear water feature and a water wall known as the John Mockridge Fountain were installed.[9] A cast bronze statue of a small dog titled Larry La Trobe is located in the north-west corner. The statue became widely known after its theft in 1995 after installation in 1992. Following a long public campaign, a revamped version of the statue was recast and reinstalled in 1996.[10] The statue was created by Melbourne artist Pamela Irving. In 2003 raised grassed areas were added to soften the space and provide informal seating areas.[11]

Current status

With the substantial reduction of its area and the opening of the nearby Federation Square in 2002, the civic importance of the City Square was diminished. In October 2011 Mayor Robert Doyle ordered an eviction of about 100 Occupy Melbourne protestors from the City Square, which was enforced by up to 400 riot police.[12]


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  • Day N. (1976), "The Struggle to Build a City Square . . ." Architecture Australia, 65 (4) pp 22–39
  • The Age, Melbourne, 4 June 1980:3
  • Melbourne City Council - City Square

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