Apple's plan to take over Melbourne's Federation Square is part of a bigger push into retail spaces

Foster + PartnersAn artistic rendering for Apple’s flagship Melbourne store, which will replace an indigenous cultural center at Federation Square.
  • Apple announced that it will demolish an indigenous cultural center for a new flagship store at Federation Square, a public plaza in Melbourne, Australia.
  • Critics of the plan say that it goes against the intended purpose of the square as a public space, free of commercial interests.
  • In a statement over the weekend, Fed Square Pty Ltd, the company that manages the plaza, defended the plans.

At the iPhone X launch event in late 2017, Apple made another big announcement. In 2018, it will begin making over hundreds of stores into “town squares.” Apple has a nebulous definition of the phrase “town square,” using it to refer to stores where people can participate in free classes, like photographing, producing music, and editing with iPhones.

In Melbourne, Australia, Apple is taking the town square idea one step further. The company is taking over Federation Square, a public plaza, to build a flagship store.

Set to open in 2020, the two-story Apple store will replace the Koorie Heritage Trust, an indigenous cultural center inside the Yarra Building that will need to relocate. The project will also create approximately 5,380 square feet of public space and attract approximately 2 million more people annually to the square, according to Fed Square Pty Ltd.

The plan has caused outrage among some residents, who say the local government didn’t consult the public before Apple signed the lease. Citing “wide-ranging social and economic benefits” for Melbourne, Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne said on Saturday it was in the city’s best interest to fast-track Apple’s development plans.

A new group called Citizens of Melbourne against Apple Federation Square has called the government’s deal with Apple “shady.” An online petition against the store, created in late December, has garnered more than 49,000 signatures. When it gets to 50,000, it will be delivered to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

Using the hashtag #HandsOffFedSquare, people are also expressing disdain for the new store on Twitter. And in an op-ed for local outlet The Age, Damien Bonnice, a project director for the original Federation Square design, says the building will take “a wrecking ball to the established architectural rhythm of Federation Square.”

A statement from Fed Square Pty Ltd, which manages the plaza, defended the plans.

“Federation Square operates on a commercial model, and there are already a number of commercial organisations operating in the space,” it reads. “All new commercial operations in Fed Square need to enhance the cultural life and amenity of the square and Apple’s proposal has aligned with this.”

In December, Apple said the new Melbourne store will “complement the original vision for the precinct, and increase the public space within Federation Square through thoughtful planning and landscaping.”

Wikipedia CommonsThe Yarra Building at Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia.

It’s not unusual to construct stores near public spaces. New York City’s Union Square, for example, features a grassy area and a pedestrian-only plaza surrounded by shoops, including Whole Foods, Forever 21, and Barnes and Noble. But the actual square is free from retail.

What’s novel about Apple’s plan for the Melbourne Square is that it will take down a cultural center in a public space, and put a store there. Critics say that, once completed, activity at Federation Square will revolve around activity at the Apple store – rather than its stated primary purpose to become “one of the world’s great public places.”

Designed by Foster + Partners, the “town square” at Federation Square will hold live music events in addition to free in-store classes.

Apple is likely purchasing a lease in the square because the company realises it’s a cherished landmark that already attracts 10 million people per year. And you can’t put a price on that.

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