Never built ‘Parliament Square’ at the top of Bourke Street

Since Melbourne was established as a city a grand civic square has been something lacking. Many attempts have been made over the years to build one, and today’s example is the 1929 ‘Parliament Square’ proposal for the top end of Bourke Street.

The proposal was included in the Plan for General Development created by the Metropolitan Town Planning Commission in 1929, when Parliament House was the tallest building in the area.

And would have seen a major redevelopment of East Melbourne to the north-east of the Hoddle Grid.

On Spring Street, the eastern boundary of the City proper, are located the Houses of Parliament, the Treasury Buildings in which are housed the Executive Council and other Ministerial Departments, the Hotel Windsor, the Princess Theatre, and other buildings which would be suitable for incorporation in a scheme of architectural treatment for this part of the City.

The eastern approaches to Collins and Bourke streets form very unsatisfactory intersections at Spring Street, and in view of the fact that there is a large amount of open space on the eastern side of Spring Street through which these approach roads pass, the opportunity has been taken of propounding a scheme of remodelling for the whole area. The old High School, at the corner of Victoria Parade, is being superseded by modern new buildings on other sites, the new high school for boys having been completed at South Yarra.

The black hatchings on the plan on opposite page indicate the existing Houses of Parliament, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Peter’s Church in Gisborne Street, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade also in Gisborne Street, the Governmental administrative offices in the area north of the Treasury Gardens, all of which, in conjunction with the buildings in Spring Street, and the site of the old and superseded High School, form a substantial nucleus for a scheme of grouping for prominent buildings in this elevated situation.

It will be seen that by relocating the streets in this area and combining the several reserves, a considerable area admirably suited for the formation of a “Parliament Square” would be available.

Roads would be altered.

The suggested treatment is shown on the plan on previous page. Evelyn Street and Carpentaria Place have been abolished, McArthur Street has been diverted, and the western end of Albert Street has been abandoned. A new scheme of roadways has been planned to harmonise with the park treatment and to supply greatly improved access to the east-west city streets.

In order to facilitate traffic movements at the intersections of Lonsdale and Bourke streets with Spring Street, the corners have been rounded and a small central feature inserted. The sites of a few existing houses and other buildings of an inferior type fronting Victoria Parade have been included as a part of the scheme, but no substantial resumptions are involved excepting for the rounding of the corners referred to.

The street arrangement is designed to overcome the unsatisfactory layout in this area and to abolish dangerous intersections. Traffic on the streets in the vicinity and through the area could be more easily controlled, and larger volumes accommodated with less congestion.

To make way for a grand building at the top end of Lonsdale Street.

It is suggested that the principal building which might be erected in this setting should be in line with Lonsdale Street as shown on the plan, so that the vista along this street would be terminated by a building of suitable architecture, surrounded by open space so that it may be viewed from all angles.

Between the suggested building and Parliament House, a square capable of accommodating a considerable assemblage can be formed. The completion of the northern wing of Parliament House would materially improve the scheme.

The sites, shown in white, would be available for other public buildings, while the whole of the western or Spring Street frontage could be utilised in due time for other prominent buildings of approved architecture.

And connecting the existing gardens around the CBD.

The suggested treatment would effectively link the Carlton Gardens with the Treasury and Fitzroy Gardens, the continuity of garden treatment being broken only by buildings of architectural importance. The Commission is of the opinion that this scheme, if adopted, would greatly enhance the beauty of the City, would lend dignity to buildings and institutions erected in it, would improve the whole neighbourhood, and provide much safer and more satisfactory road facilities than now exist in this area. The aerial view shows the present conditions on the greater part of the area included in the proposed remodelling. It clearly illustrates how the gardens and parks could be made to form beautiful surroundings for buildings of suitable architectural character.

So what happened?

As you might expect, nothing came of the 1929 plans, but in 1954 the Melbourne Metropolitan Planning Scheme proposed a scaled back proposal – demolition of the top end of Bourke Street to form a Civic Square outside Parliament House, and a freeway beneath Spring Street.

The only part of that project to proceed was the Commonwealth Centre at 275 Spring Street completed in 1958, and the State Government Office at 1 Treasury Place completed in 1970.

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5 Responses to “Never built ‘Parliament Square’ at the top of Bourke Street”

  1. andrew says:

    The square would have been a great place for protests – perhaps that’s why it was never built.

    But the problem with both proposals is that the Victorian parliament house only looks good from the front. The other three sides are a hotchpotch of unplanned or uncompleted extensions.

  2. rohan storey says:

    i dont think either the commonwealth offices or the state govt offices were part of this plan per se – the comm already owned the former ‘slums’, and were perhaps already planning their offices, and the state ones came much later. the 54 plan was however very much the sort of this that actually did happen in some US cities, especially the freeway part.

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