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Melbourne's Wonderful Identity Crisis
Brian Wood in Australia
I would much rather have a city exploring its identity than one that is set in its way and stagnates


Federation Square

Melbourne is not really a tourist city, which is a good thing. The sites and interesting things the city offers are not in your face like in cities such as Sydney or New York. It takes a lot of work to realize the wonderful nooks and crannies in this stately city. In a sense, Melbourne is a mature city that does not feel the need to have constant attention with glitzy, and more often than not, gaudy tourist attractions. Though some may argue that some of the new construction projects underway could lead the city that way. An example is the new Federation Square in the Central Business District (CBD).

Federation Square is a new development along the Yarra River just across the street from the Victorian grande dame of Flinders Street Train Station. These two buildings are a perfect example of the contrasts between old and new; between Victorian and Avante Guarde. Ever since I arrived, which was only about a week and a half ago, I have been hearing criticism of the Federation Square project. The purpose of the site is to house art and culture – specifically Australian I believe. It is basically an overflow site for the huge art collection of the now closed for major renovations National Gallery of Victoria just across the river.

Federation Square is rather difficult to describe. At first glance it looks like a huge mass, or mess, of glass and metal. The metal parts remind me of huge boulders stuck on square structures. The project is not finished so it is difficult to see what the final presentation will look like. From the grumblings of the citizenry, it will probably not have a standing ovation at the opening ceremonies. It looks like it will be a series of small squarish or rhombus-like protrusions from the bank of the Yarra with a few glass shards for effect. It will be a cruel, distorted, hundred year old mirror in the face of Flinders Street Station.

In my opinion, I rather like the looks of the Square. It is quirky and very modern. You have to remember that I am coming from Tokyo, a city that has very little personality. As long as the new buildings going up are not the reinforced concrete of Modernism that is Tokyo, then I am happy. In thinking of the contrast between old and new in Melbourne, another city comes to mind – my old haunting ground of Boston. These two cities are a lot in common, and one of those commonalities is the time contrast. Cities like Boston and Melbourne are successes because of their respect for the past and their gaze to the new.

Some may think the glaring contrast is a type of identity crisis of the city. I would agree with that - Melbourne does have an identity crisis. I would much rather have a city exploring its identity than one that is set in its way and stagnates – Tokyo comes very much to mind. When identities are explored, interesting things spring up. These entities may not be elegant or even beautiful in the eyes of the majority – but interesting.

I do not know what the difference is between urban tantrums like Federation Square and gaudy, in your face tourist attractions. I just know that there is a difference. It is a feeling of a city living and not racing to that age when gold lame and embroidered jogging suits are considered the things to be seen in (for those of you who have parents approaching their golden age, you will know what I am talking about), or lying on their grey, desolate deathbeds struggling even to breathe. One sure thing can be said about Federation Square now, it will not be thought of as a boring slab of rust stained, reinforced concrete.

© Brian R Wood August 2002

The Nogawa Redemption:
Brian R Wood in Tokyo
This is the Nogawa. One of those hidden treasures you do not find until
you really look for it

Brian R Wood Tokyo, Japan email:woodkoiwa@hotmail.com

Shinjuku: The Empress Dowager of Tokyo
Brian Wood

Good shopping, the best gay bars and where to picnic in Sakura season

Shibuya No Techno
... if I try to understand everything about Shibuy
a, then I would not be really experiencing something that, by nature, defies understanding.

Brian R Wood in Tokyo

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