Flinders St Station. Melbourne’s main railway station is a ‘grande old dame’. For Melbournians it’s as familiar as a pair of old shoes. For the older generation it was a work destination, Saturday night at the movies, Chinatown or a picnic at the botanical gardens. Life revolved around catching a ‘red rattler’ to Flinders St, or one of these modern blue Harris Trains. There were its gates, its ramps and – its toilets (Oh dear!) And now it is being refurbished, no expense spared “Meet me under the clocks” and I’ll tell you all about it…
A team of Melbourne and Swiss based architects – Hassel, Herzog and de Meuron won the Victorian Government’s competition to redevelop Flinders St Station in 2014. The winners were a unanimous choice from the panel of judges. Demonstrating respectful treatment of the existing Heritage Building, the team melds a vision of new and additions to this iconic and loved Melbourne landmark.
Flinders St Station, located on the south western corner of Flinders and Swanston St is the busiest railway station in Australia with over 92,000 daily entries recorded back in the 2011/12 fiscal year. It was Australia’s first major capital city railway station and back in the 1920s was rated the world’s busiest passenger station towards the end of that decade.
The main station building is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. It features a prominent dome, towers, an arched entry and its world famous ‘clocks’. Adorning the entrance facure. The main station buildings were completed in 1909. The famous clocks indicate the next departure on all lines serviced by the station and its many platforms.
Originally Flinders St Station was but a collection of weatherboard train sheds. Lt Governor Sir Charles Hotham opened the station on Sept 12 1854. On that day a steam train travelled to Sandridge (Pt Melbourne) ‘in the country’. The trip required a Yarra Crossing via the Sandridge bridge which is still there but now redeveloped simply as a tourist feature. Made from wrought iron it stands in testament to those early days with both fine features and heavy unmoving engineering; seeing it survive many floods and incidents. Spencer St and Princes Bridge both opened in 1859. Spencer St serviced the North and West of Melbourne. It was eventually joined to Flinders St Station by a ground level railway line in 1879 and then eventually the Flinders St Viaduct in 1889. Princes Bridge ultimately became part of the Flinders St complex but its station platforms and vista have been usurped by Federation Square.
The original ‘Design Competition’ to create a new central station was held in 1899. This was in response to the Government decision of 1882 to build a new central passenger station to replace the ad hoc original railway sheds and platforms.
First prize was awarded to two railway employees Mr James Fawcett and HPC Ashworth of Fawcett and Ashworth. Their design was named ‘Green Light’ and featured a grand building of French Renaissance style which included the large dome and a tall clock tower. With arched roofs over each platform it was an impressive and ornate design.
Work commenced in 1901. Construction on the main building itself commenced in 1905. By this time there were 13 platforms. It was constructed from red brick with cement render featuring Harcourt granite on the Flinders St External view. The building faced many obstacles whilst under construction, with the original builders being suspended and the Railways ‘Ways and Works Branch’ completing the construction in time for the official opening in 1910.
The top floor used by the Railways Institute featured a gymnasium, a library and a lecture hall – which ultimately became the Victorian Railways Ballroom. In the 19030s and 40s a creche operated adjacent to the main dome and there was also an outdoor playground for children on a roof abutting this area.
Many attempts were made to re-develop the station but until recently none, thankfully, were successful.
Modifications to the concourse carried out in the early 1980s were severely criticised by both the National Trust and sections of the Melbourne City Council. The renovations were described as being akin to ‘a modern shopping centre’.
Fast forward to 2017
According to winning designers, the Architects Hassell, Herzog and de Meuron, the aim of the excercise was to transform the station into a ‘modern transport hub’ and at the same time ‘re-engage with the city, the Yarra River and Federation Square’.
A central feature of the design is a vaulted roof covering the railway tracks, a collection of arches in the form of woven lattice like structures, running adjacent to the heritage building. It is an acknowledgement of the original design and a device to disperse far more natural light on the area than previously experienced.
The original building remains intact with original features such as the Ballroom and the gymnasium being enhanced. It will be serviced with new cafés, bars, retail spaces and an administrative area.
Also included will be a new civic precinct comprising of a public art gallery, plaza and marketplace featuring an amphitheatre stepping down to the river’s edge and a floating stage.
Principal architect Mark Loughman was quoted as saying “We want to turn Flinders St Station into a destination to be enjoyed rather than a place to hurry through.”
Works commenced on the initial refurbishment in 2016 with an estimated cost of $100 million.
This is the first stage of refurbishment and it includes repainting, repairs to the roofing, refurbishment of the toilet blocks on the concourse and on the Elizabeth St subway. It will be completed in 2018.
Will the complete plan as per the 2014 competition winners vision be implemented after this stage is completed? Time will tell.