HASSELL and Herzog de Meuron's winning design for the iconic Flinders Street Station redevelopment competition in Melbourne was unanimously chosen by the competition's jury, who said that the proposal offered “a beautiful and compelling integration of aspects of the original station design, strongly reinforcing its gateway status”.
However, there is a likelihood that this proposal may never come to fruition.
The design, submitted by the Melbourne and Swiss firms, anticipates the transformation of the iconic Flinders Street Station into a cultural precinct and hub. The principal design characteristic of the collaborative plan is a series of vaulted latticework arches to roof the platforms and tracks. An amphitheatre, a plaza, marketplace and an art gallery were also part of the plan.
In keeping with heritage concerns, the administration building, situated along Flinders Street, the clocks and domes, Banana Alley vaults, and milk dock will all be preserved. The concourse and platform canopies will be removed.
From across the Yarra, the south face of the administration building will not be visible. The vaulted roof will sit below the height of the Administration Building, and both the old and new structures would sit parallel to each other.
According to Victorian Premier Denis Napthine, the award-winning plan would cost approximately $1 billion to $1.5 billion to be realised, on top of the $1.6 million already spent on the competition.
However, the State Government has of yet, refused to promise funding for the design, and ruled out selling the station in order to finance the construction. This has led to claims that the competition was "a waste of money", and that it should not have been initiated if there was no certainty of construction.
At the same time, the Melbourne City Council has taken exception to the design, noting that the proposed building's oversized top has an “ungainly relationship to the building below”.
Napthine acknowledges that Flinders Street Station is in need of considerable attention, and claims that the design competition has been an “important phase” in the site’s redevelopment. Negotiations with the winning bidders have commenced to determine the true cost and overall viability of the project.
“I would hope we start inside the next 10 years,” said Napthine.
However, Melbourne’s past experience with big-budget architecture suggests that this winning design might never, or take a long time, to come to life.
In 2007, Zaha Hadid – who was also shortlisted for the Flinders Street redesign – was announced as the architect for Melbourne’s Docklands redevelopment. Her proposal was touted as a $1.5 billion future landmark and hailed as among the most important in Melbourne, but construction was postponed until the competition tender was reopened in early 2011.
As one The Age reader, Michael Havir, said, "like a lot of large visions for Melbourne, including public transport initiatives, the proposed redevelopment of Flinders Street Station ... will quietly slip from the public view and not be mentioned again until the next "new" review and planning process in a few years' time. I suppose it keeps the consultants in work."
In the end, many factors beyond budget and schedule will influence whether Herzog & de Meuron’s vision for the Flinders Street redevelopment will ever be realised.