As our cities have grown and our populations have boomed, some of the simpler things in life have disappeared. Or at least, become fewer and farther between. The humble town square is one such civic feature that has become victim to the forward march of humanity – but it is not yet time for its extinction.
Melbourne-based studio ACME was appointed to design a new town square for Eastland, a mammoth retail centre recently erected in the eastern Melbourne suburb of Ringwood. More than just another labyrinthine shopping complex, Eastland has so far displayed a formidable commitment to duties of public and cultural amenity.
The ACME-designed ‘town square’ is to be a centrepiece of this commitment. The project assigned to the studio will be multi-faceted and grand of scale, and include a library, civic centre, multi-storey carpark, a sculptural entrance to the mall and the David Jones Department Store in addition to the public square.
The project forms but one piece of the $575 million puzzle of Ringwood’s regeneration. Realm, as the project is called, now provides local residents and visitors with amenities that have, in the past, mostly been confined to our city centres.
From the architect:
ACME was appointed to design a new town square, a sculptural entrance to the mall (the Shard), a library and civic centre, the David Jones department store, and a Multi-story carpark. The new centre adopts the classical idea of the town square or piazza and rethinks it within a suburban context. An inward-looking 1960’s masterplan has been inverted, creating a series of public spaces to give the entire area an exterior and civic focus.
A new sequence of spaces form a new public heart for Ringwood and Maroondah showing that high quality architectural design can create a more dignified human environment where commercial gain can coexist happily alongside civic gain and create real public spaces and facilities for the local community.
Contemporary design is used to frame a variety of functions and spaces in a cohesive visual language. The design of the library, town square, Shard and the David Jones store are of one family, united by a gradient shift of tones, a diagrid structural motif and shared material palettes. The contemporary buildings respond to the local topography and act as a signpost from the road while also drawing people to and from the train station.
Realm, Maroondah City’s new library, cultural, knowledge and innovation centre is located at the entrance to the town square to form a civic landmark for the entire development. Conceived as a shaded box of books and digital information, the library’s more solid upper section appears to float above a glass box beneath that houses public functions including a café, art gallery and citizen advice centre, engaging with and opening towards the public realm by stepping towards street and square.
The patterned floor of The Town Square is used at varying scales to transition from large open spaces to smaller areas allowing for the movement of people and uses local Bluestone wherever possible. ACME worked closely with their client to create a mix of hard and landscaped areas that bring the intense vegetation of the Yarra Valley into the space.
The square is defined by the Shard, which rises out of the ground with an undulating roof soaring over a transparent glass base. It serves a dual function as light is pulled into the atrium below, while visitors are drawn upwards to access the town square. The form of the Shard ensures that there is no part which ‘turns its back’ to the square acting as a gateway into the mall from Maroondah high street. This small intervention has become a main thoroughfare in and out of the centre and characterises the bold, contemporary reimagining of the old mall.
The grand carved solid stone portals and bronzed metal shop-front of the surrounding retail maintain a consistent palette throughout, ensuring the space has a dignified uniformity.
The new town square and surrounding retail spaces accommodate and support a range of public functions, such as market stalls, outdoor concerts, and screenings while strengthening the sense of identity and offering a civic space for the community of Ringwood.