I’ve always felt Ballarat lacked a large central open civic square. Aside from sporting ovals, our largest public gathering spaces are the Lake Wendouree precinct (1.8km from the city centre) and Victoria Park (2.7km from the city centre).
Special events such as the Summer Sundays and the Ballarat Beer Festival are held either in the Botanical Gardens, or North Gardens (a further 3km away from the city on the west side of the lake). Few gatherings can be held in the city centre due to the lack of a large open civic space.
As a local architect I enjoy exploring new design ideas to make Ballarat a more liveable city.
As part of What if Ballarat? (a collection of design ideas by Ballarat architects for unused and unloved urban spaces), the idea to transform St Andrews Square into a civic space was born.
Transforming St Andrews Square is of course a hypothetical, yet deliberately provocative concept, that aims to open up the conversation around re-urbanism and heritage conservation.
The fire for this transformation was further stoked by the fact that St Andrews Kirk, one of Ballarat’s two large cathedrals, was sold to private property developers and has remained unused for many years. Putting to one side the question of how we as a community let this happen (it was only $2.5M to buy), I wondered if it would be possible to turn this property back into a community asset?
Working with the concept explored in Alain de Botton’s ‘Religion For Atheists’, St Andrews Square becomes a kind of secular cathedral.
In transforming St Andrews Square, we are asked to reconsider the sacrosanct nature of heritage protection when there are significant positive outcomes available for the community.
Instead of seeing the cathedral demolished by neglect, or transformed into a medium-density residential building, we should reinvest the historical asset into the community and retain the building’s original intended use as a space for the people.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the roof structure was opened up to sunlight, walls were partially removed to encourage access on all sides, and the urban landscape continued from outside to inside?
The Square would become a welcoming covered green space for picnics, markets, celebrations, quiet contemplation, and multi-denominational worship. And by diverting traffic around the site, the available green space could be expanded. The resulting public space would be similar in size to Melbourne’s Federation Square.
St Andrews Square represents a new position for the future of Ballarat. Instead of viewing the city as a large open-air museum of historical buildings that are seen but not used, the concept proposes the idea that we can confidently adapt and re-use Ballarat’s heritage structures to become innovative, useful and enjoyable assets for the community.