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Prahran Square

Prahran Square responds to the a very real need for to create more public open space in a dense and diverse inner-city neighbourhood of Melbourne. It is a leading example of a new form of urban spaceplace;, a hybrid typology that combines urban park, square, amphitheatre, waterplay,  and & sensory garden, lawn, streets, car park and and & retail. The 10,000 m2 Prahran Ssquare transforms a once unremarkable asphalt car park into a complex integration of shared streets, architectural form and and & raised landscapes around a central multipurpose hardscape.

Positioned on the podium of anthe the now-undergroundnow undergrounded car park, the design required exemplaryintense collaboration integration across landscape architectural, architectural, engineering and arborist teams for its success. to create the new square. The $65 million (€42 Mmillion) project is one of the largest and most ambitious local council public space projects ever delivered in Australia. It reconnects and integrates a complex context in a sensitive and iconic location to create a new andan inclusive destination for the  diverse community ies of Prahran toto  call their own. The design team took advantage made the most of the opportunityies to consult with the community and local artists to create spaces that would appeal to a broad range of people.Five years in the making, Prahran Square is the result of deep collaboration between some of Australia’s leading architecture and landscape architecture design firms.

The edges of the sSquare rise and fall to form a continuous ‘ribbon’ that creates a unique urban streetscape that cleverly accommodates the car park entry portal, stair access, retail opportunities, community spaces and service areas. By removing car parking from the ground plane and creating 500 car spaces in two underground levels of underground carparking directly below the sSquare, the design team createdestablished the opportunity for this new urban space.

This design strategy creates an ‘interior’ landscape, sheltered and protected from the surrounding traffic, ensuring the resulting public space is prioritised as a unique community asset unsullied by retail commercialisation and cars. The provision of short-term artificial shade, before the tree canopies mature, is vital in any Australian public space, so this also had to be carefully considered.

The interior landscape of Prahran Square comprises three sides that each slope up to the top of the ribbon and a fourth side that extends from the neighbouring supermarket. These four sides enclose the level ground plane of the sSquare and each curate their own distinct landscape experience.

The first side slopes steeply as a densely planted rising forest landscape emerging from a local mudstone rockscape. A cleverly integrated disabled access path weaves through native trees and grasses and connects to a series of intimate gardens and play spaces. The gently sloped north-facing lawn of the second side is an ideal place for relaxing and socialising, or as the location for community events that the local council curates throughout the year.

Considerable effort was required to incorporate suitable soil volumes and weight bearing capacity into the sloping podium structure.

The gently sloped north-facing lawn of the second side is an ideal place for relaxing and socialising, or as the location for community events that the local council curates throughout the year.

The concrete and timber terraces on the sSquare’s third side create large-scale amphitheatre-style seating for up to 1500 people, with pockets of tree groves and dense underplanting for shade and character.

The sSquare’s fourth side is an intimate scented and edible garden that adjoins a public library and community room. Public seating and dining tables extend from the supermarket edge and allow people to filter into the garden space.

The central area of the sSquare is a hardscape of high-quality granite cobble for events, markets, and festivals. A custom, interactive water feature sits flush with its surrounds and creates a constant pulse of energy, playfulness and microclimate during the day and is subtly illuminated at night.

Each corner of the sSquare is open. Spatial gateways demarcate the adjacent precincts with each corner tied to its context using materials that abstractly reference civic landmarks and that act as a navigation tool to encourage pedestrian movement through the larger precinct.

A holistic design and documentation process was embraced by the full team of architects and construction engineers throughout all stages of the project. Their vision and commitment created a complex hybrid typology urban space. Stakeholders and the design team worked collectively to use their knowledge to workshop multiple possibilities. Without that collaboration, integration and trust the difficult issues of coordination, detail and delivery would fail. The design team made the most of opportunities to consult with the community and local artists to create spaces that would appeal to a broad range of people. New public spaces require programming and management to promote new behaviours and support community use.

Prahran Square incorporates numerous design features to promote a range of ESD objectives. These include:

  • Improved Pprecinct-wide pedestrian movement encouraging active and multimodal transport
  • Waste reduction management systems for the market and restaurants
  • On-site stormwater retention (underground retention tank) including wWater sSensitive uUrban dDesign throughout
  • Use of local materials reducing transportation impact
  • Strata vault systems used for tree planting to improve water retention and maintain long-term growth of trees in a highly constrained urban environment
  • Substantial plantings of predominantly indigenous and native trees, soft surfaces and and & extensive podium landscape gardens support biodiversity and and& reduction of urban heat island effect
  • Sophisticated water management systems (water is reused and and & cleansed) for water features andand & irrigation
  • Provision of much-needed public open space with shared streets, pedestrian priority andand & an inclusivity focus promotes urban resilience
  • Nature-play andand & waterplay promote connection to nature experiences for children.

The full team of architects and engineers embraced a holistic design and documentation throughout all stages of the project. Their vision and commitment created a complex hybrid typology urban space. Stakeholders and the design team worked collectively to usinge their knowledge to workshop multiple possibilities. Without that collaboration, integration and trust the difficult issues of coordination, detail and delivery would have failed.

Architecture offices involved in the design: Lyons Architecture

Project location: Cato Street, Prahran, Victoria 3181 Australia

Design year: 2015-2018

Year Built: 2019

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