Melbourne Central is a major retail and commercial centre above a busy underground railway station. From the time it opened, it struggled financially. A decade later, ARM won an invited international competition to masterplan, design and revitalise it.
Before attempting any designs, we analysed the movements, circulation and arrival and departure patterns of shoppers in the centre. We found that Melbourne Central was like a suburban shopping centre in the CBD: it was the wrong type of building for its setting because it disrupted the natural flow of pedestrians and shoppers. People got lost inside or found it an obstacle rather than an exciting and useful thoroughfare for city pedestrians.
In response, we created a matrix of laneways allowing people to move through the centre as if it were just another city street. Instead of the original three entrances, there are now 17. This encourages the public to come and go from all directions around the city and easily locate the stores they’re looking for among the centre’s 60,000 m2 of nett lettable retail area.
Rather than an anonymous not-place with white plasterboard and generic retail experiences, we created a new heart at the middle of Melbourne Central—a magnificent atrium that is a magnetic gathering place defined by multi-media screens, strong colour, natural light, and the existing heritage shot tower around which Melbourne Central had originally been designed.
The nine-storey Coop’s Shot Tower is a striking heritage-listed centrepiece at Melbourne Central. It was built in 1888 and decommissioned in 1961 when the city’s demand for lead shot died out. It has been housed inside an 84 m conical glass roof since Melbourne Central was first built. Inside it is the Shot Tower Museum and an R. M. Williams store.
As well as a shopping centre, Melbourne Central is a major transport hub. Thousands of commuters circulate through it each day, particularly at peak times, and our pedestrian modelling provides a direct route to the station without detours or bottlenecks.
The original routes from the station took people outside directly rather than via the retail centre, as if shopping and commuting needed to be strictly separate. Poor circulation meant that commuters hit peak-hour bottlenecks on their way into the station. Our new entrances and improved vertical transport configuration have reinvented station access: they allow commuters to access Melbourne Central Station quickly from all directions, even at peak times.
Retail outlets line the pedestrian routes but don’t hinder rushing commuters. Catching the train is now inextricable from retail because Melbourne Central connects key parts of the city via a network of shortcuts lined with places to eat, drink and shop.
As a CBD centre, Melbourne Central needs to stay calibrated with the latest urban thinking and constantly provide new interest for the public. We are regularly engaged in minor works there.
“The unscrambling of an impossibly confused series of disjointed and unsuccessful spaces is impressive. The project represents a metamorphosis from an ugly duckling into a kind of psychedelic swan.”
— Jury Citation, AIA Commercial Architecture Award 2006