Federation Square management has applied for a permit that would allow demolish a building in the public space to make way for a flagship Apple store, despite admitting this would result in “some negative heritage impact”.
The company behind Federation Square is also attempting to position the planned Apple store not as a store, but a “building” that would provide an “educational and commercial experience”.
In late 2017, the Victorian government announced a deal with Apple that would involve the demolition of the Yarra building at Federation Square to make way for a global flagship store, with the planning permits already approved without public consultation.
The plan caused an outcry, centring on the commercialisation of the public space and the lack of transparency in the process.
Federation Square is in the running to be listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, with hearings in April to decide its fate.
An interim protection order has been placed on the site preventing any construction until the decision is made, but Federation Square management has now applied to demolish the building anyway.
In a 124-page Heritage Impact Statement, Federation Square argues that it should be allowed to demolish the building, and that the Apple store is not, in fact, actually a store.
“The proposed removal of the Yarra building will result in some negative heritage impact on Federation Square as a whole. Within the context, that loss will be acceptable in heritage terms,” the statement said.
“The design of the proposed AGFB [Apple Global Flagship Building] by Forester + Partners and Oculus will respect the heritage significance of Federation Square. It is proposed to construct a sympathetic building that complements, without imitating, the existing architectural language of cranked angular geometrics.”
The company also claims that there would be “considerable adverse economic impact” and a “decline in commercial activity at Federation Square” if the permit were not granted.
One of the central criticisms of the plan is the handing over of significant public space to an international tech conglomerate. But Federation Square is arguing that the Apple store isn’t really a store at all.
“There is some public misconception about the role of Apple in Federation Square. Apple has been criticised for providing a ‘retail’ outlet. Rather, Apple is offering education and community engagement,” the company said.
“This will provide synergies and collaborations with the existing tenants…this in turn will reinvigorate and reactivate Federation Square, enriching the civic and cultural roles played by Federation Square,” it said.
“[The Apple store will be an] educational and commercial experience that will draw young and old to the Square for a contemporary learning experience. This reinforces the important social significance that the Square has for the city as well as respecting the historic aesthetic and technical attributes of the place.”
Citizens for Melbourne, a community group formed to oppose the Apple store at Federation Square, labelled the new move “a cynical bid to undermine the heritage process”.
“They want to demolish a building that is likely to be heritage-listed in 12 weeks’ time. Why would Fed Square management apply to demolish a building that is currently being considered for heritage listing? There’s a word for that – vandalism,” Citizens for Melbourne president Tania Davidge said.
“This Apple proposal has been ill-conceived from the start. Fed Square’s own Heritage Impact Statement acknowledges the proposal’s lack of detail and the fact that the removal of the Yarra building will negatively impact the heritage value of Fed Square as a whole.
“We are hopeful that Heritage Victoria rejects this for what it is – an opportunistic bid to short-circuit the heritage process already underway.”
National Trust Victoria chief executive Simon Ambrose has urged Victorians to have their say on the new proposal, with submissions open for the next two weeks.
“While the National Trust does not oppose commercial activation at Federation Square, future development should not be at the expense of the unnecessary destruction of the Yarra building,” Mr Ambrose said.
“The National Trust has concerns that this proposal is being rushed through before the heritage registration is resolved and ahead of preparing a master plan or conservation management plan to guide change,” he said.
“We also remain concerned with the lack of community consultation for a project with such prominent cultural and architectural significance.”
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