The international architectural competition for the redevelopment of Melbourne’s iconic Flinders St Station is throwing up some fabulous ideas, but there are questions about the selection process
Last month the Victorian Government announced the six short-listed finalists for the Flinders Street Station Design Competition.
Entries were received from 117 architectural practices from around the world. The finalists (more info here) are:
- Ashton Raggatt McDougall
- John Wardle Architects + Grimshaw
- HASSELL + Herzog and de Meuron
- NH Architecture
- Eduardo Velasquez + Manuel Pineda + Santiago Medina
- Zaha Hadid Architecture + BVN Architecture
The finalists now go into stage 2 where they have another six months to develop their proposals further. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see the judges report explaining why they were selected (and, I’d hope, why the other 111 missed out) until the winner is announced, expected to be in the middle of next year.
Nor is Major Projects Victoria displaying any entries to the public. We have to wait until mid-2013 before we’ll get to see any of them (hopefully all of them).
The studios that entered the competition deserve to have their hard work rewarded with public exposure, the architecture profession deserves insight into the competition process, and the population of Melbourne deserves the chance to discuss the aspirations and future direction of their city. This competition is an unsurpassed chance to start a conversation about Melbourne, about what it is and what we want it to be. The exhibition should happen right now.
Some of the firms that didn’t make the short-list have elected to display their disregarded entries anyway. Several of these have been gathered up by the design enthusiasts at Skyscraper City – you can have a look at their proposals by clicking on the list below:
- Andrew Burns Architect
- Steve Rose Architect/Mihaly Slocombe/Foong+Sormann
- Fraser Paxton Architects
- Gresley Abas
- Delia Teschendorff Architecture
- K20 Architecture
- Michael Smith (The Red and Black Architect)
Note that these firms aren’t necessarily representative of all firms who submitted entries. They’re firms who’ve made their entries public by posting them on the web.
None of them made the cut, but there’re some interesting ideas here. Even so, as I’ve discussed before (here and here), it’s arguable if an architectural competition was ever a smart way of going about this task.
This is Melbourne’s most important precinct and its future needs to be thought about in wider terms than just architecture (although of course that aspect is important). Nor is a competition the best way to go about getting it right – in my opinion, it’s likely to promote attention-getting ahead of deliberation.
This is one of Melbourne’s most important and busiest rail stations. It will be integrated with a new station for the planned north-south Melbourne Metro; it’s the gateway to the arts precinct and the sports precinct; it’s on the river opposite Southbank; it’s on the Swanston St spine adjacent to Federation Square; it’s an important historic building with huge sentimental attachment; and more.
There’re other dissenting views too. A Frank Godsell from satirical website Godsell and Corrigan reckons he hasn’t heard a single good word about the competition from within the architectural profession:
The general consensus is that the project is simultaneously too open-ended and altogether too restrictive…..But even within this straightjacket framework, there is a conspicuous lack of aspiration. The restructuring and rationalisation of Flinders Street is a serious infrastructural project – a task that, by the government’s own admission, needs to be done. Why it has been shoe-horned into an architectural exercise is beyond me…..The competition is further stymied by the absolute lack of funding to push any winning design ahead.
Godsell and Corrigan didn’t submit an entry but Mihaly Slocombe did. While entries were nominally anonymous, they say the process didn’t work well:
One juror confided to us that 80% of all 117 entries were recognisable. Such recognition went staunchly undiscussed, but we imagine it can’t have helped but nuanced the jury’s conversations and influenced their decisions. Thus it was without surprise that we accurately guessed 4 of the 6 shortlisted entrants.
Those four are international “starchitects” Zaha Hadid and Herzog and de Meuron and “local heroes” ARM and John Wardle Architects. Mihaly Slocombe wonder what the odds are that the entries of all four were so obviously better than the rest:
The cynic in us suspects that the jury, easily recognising a Zaha Hadid project when it’s handed to them on a silver platter, had no choice (consciously acknowledged or otherwise) but to include it on the shortlist. The State Government and MPV (Major Projects Victoria), for their parts, have wasted no time in extolling the virtues of their star-studded cast, we imagine giddy with excitement over the possibility of commissioning the next Guggenheim.
Given this sort of concern, I think the Minister should release immediatly the juries report explaining in detail why it chose the short-listed six and why it rejected the rest.
I fear the aspiration to create “the next Guggenheim” is where this project is heading. Of course if that level of visibility were achieved it would be brilliant for Melbourne and Australia, but the odds of pulling it off in a world already awash with “look-at-me” and “crazy” buildings is astronomical.
In fact we might not see another (Bilbao) Guggenheim or Sydney Opera House for generations. Perhaps Manhattan’s High Line is a sign that the built icons of the future won’t look anything like “starchitecture” as we know it today.
Note: There was an unofficial exhibition in Fitzroy of 30 non-shortlisted entries on 22 November. You can read a report by architect Michael Smith here (no pics though).