A new Central Piazza designed by ASPECT Studios at the former Pentridge Prison grounds builds on the history of the controversial place while creating an opportunity for new beginnings.

Located in the northern suburb of Coburg, the decommissioned prison is currently being transformed into a new residential and retail precinct. Officially closed in 1997 after almost 150 years of operation, Pentridge Prison served as the main remand centre for the Melbourne metropolitan area and housed some of Australia’s most infamous criminals.

“ASPECT Studios is dedicated to transforming brownfield sites in our inner cities into thriving new communities, that also protect and value their past lives and the deep histories of places and people,” said Kirsten Bauer, landscape architect and director of ASPECT Studios.

ASPECT Studios collaborated with NH Architecture on the original master plan that gained approval from Heritage Victoria and has subsequently completed the main part of the development of ‘Pentridge Coburg’ alongside Sue Hodges Productions (SHP) and PTA Landscapes.

Given the challenging narratives that infused the site, it was essential to take an innovative approach during the redevelopment, which was guided by the depth of Pentridge’s cultural significance. ASPECT Studios sought to find a balance between the dark history of the site, its heritage fabric and the need to create a new contemporary square that was welcoming for the community.

Located in the heart of the precinct on what used to be the parade ground or mustering yard for prisoners, the new Central Piazza sits between the heritage protected 19th century bluestone buildings, and next to the new retail centre and cinema designed by the Buchan Group.

The historic mustering lines of the prisoners in the yard are embedded into the Piazza through simple concrete lines and crosses marking each prisoner – part of the interpretive approach developed between ASPECT Studios and SHP.

Hand-carved bluestone blocks extracted by the prisoners themselves to build the buildings from the adjacent former quarry that is now Coburg Lake, have been reused to create seats, edges and a water play sculpture. The reuse not only honours the labour and craft of the prisoners but also establishes a connection back to the geology of the place.

Stories and mementos of prison life are subtly infused throughout the site, extending an invitation to visitors to explore the site’s history. These stories are also infused into the wayfinding signage, also delivered by ASPECT Studios’ specialist in-house wayfinding and signage team.

Pentridge’s revitalisation aims to alter the perception of the site from a neglected traumatic space to one of Melbourne’s cultural assets.

This recent development adds almost 6,500m² of open public space to Coburg and will allow the Piazza to grow into a viable outdoor venue for art or cultural activities, entertainment, and as a lively hub for residents, locals and visitors to enjoy.