The public and politicians alike have reacted forcefully to news of an Apple flagship store planned for Melbourne’s Federation Square.

Announced at the end of the last year by Victorian premier Daniel Andrews, the opening has faced backlash from a broad swathe of commenters. In particular, the approved development has been slammed for ceding public space to commercial interests.

The Federation Square location will be Apple’s first Global Flagship Store in the southern hemisphere. Under the plan, the existing three-storey, river-facing building that occupies the southern edge of the square will be demolished to make way for a sandwich-shaped building of glass and bronzed metal. The two-level pavilion has been designed to capture what Apple is calling a “sculptural quality”, and will incorporate wraparound balconies and extensive glass panelling to capitalise on Federation Square’s city and Yarra River views.

Criticism has largely centred around the fact that Federation Square, which was opened in 2002 amidst similar criticism, has become an established and culturally significant public gathering and exhibition space. But despite the vested public interest, there has been no open consultation regarding Apple’s plans for the site. Thanks to an esoteric planning process devised by Victorian planning minister Richard Wynne for the project, Apple will neither have to obtain a planning permit for the site, nor make their concepts available for public exhibition.

Within days of the announcement last December, two separate petitions were launched: one more serious that called for the protection of the existing building, and another vaguely tongue-in-cheek petition that suggested a more quintessentially Australian retail experience on the site.

“The proposed development of an Apple store in Federation Square is a blatant abuse of precious public space,” reads the latter petition, launched by Melbourne local Nick Price.

“Bunnings is the one and only retailer that should be built on the sacred site.


For Price’s listing, official Apple architectural renders were altered to display a superimposed Bunnings façade.

Aside from premier Andrews, Apple’s seeming sole defender comes from a surprising corner. Professor Donald Bates, a director and co-founder of the practice behind the design of Federation Square, LAB Studio, has defended the project, saying that commercial activation was always part of the plan for the site.

“People keep saying they’re privatising public space at Federation Square. This is incorrect,” Bates told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“We have many examples [from] the late 20th century – including our own Arts Centre [in] Southbank, Southbank in Brisbane, Southbank in London [and] the Lincoln Centre in New York – where bringing together three or four cultural institutions and yet having no commercial activation meant they were dead most of the time.

“[The plan for the Apple flagship] is all part of the social and cultural character that Fed Square is there to promote.”

According to an Apple press release, the design of the Federation Square flagship was conceived in response to the “original vision for the precinct”. They claim that the store will increase public space and provide “a daily program of activity to inspire and educate the community”. It will also be a socially responsible enterprise, relying on renewable energy for its power.

“We’re thrilled to move forward in the planning process for our new home in Melbourne’s Federation Square and would be honoured to call the world-class galleries and museums of Melbourne our neighbours,” says Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president for retail.

“Apple Federation Square respects the original vision for the plaza, with a bespoke design concept and extensive landscaping bringing increased opportunities for the community to enjoy this renowned cultural hub.”