Cultural Cringe vs Fed Square

Worst Architecture

How about a comparison between Perth’s embarrassing “Cultural Centre” in Northbridge and its sort of Melbourne equivalent, the truly awful Federation Square. As bad as Melbourne’s Fed Square is, it would actually work quite well in Perth. Melbournians are very keen to tell you how “high tec” Fed square is, which is such a Perth thing to say. The ridiculous design, hopelessly dated long before it left the drawing board would actually suit the brash, shiny, and wealthy WA capital. Fed Square is “A little piece of Perth in the heart of Melbourne.” But don’t get too smug Perth. Don’t forget The Cultural Centre was opened by Brian Burke, and that it looks like this. Perth people though are under no illusion that this space is crap. Most Melbournians seem to be unaware how SO Perth Fed Square is.

perth cultural centre


perth cultural centre

My Melbourne minions wouldn’t get me a shot of the square, so this is courtesy of Cloudbreak52 on Flickr.federation square melbourne


About AHC McDonald

Comedian, artist, photographer and critic. From 2007 to 2017 ran the culture and satire site The Worst of Perth
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42 Responses to Cultural Cringe vs Fed Square

  1. Gaz says:

    Until I came across your site via political webs,I didn’t really give Perths architecture a lot of thought.Now having lived here for thirty five years,it has just dawned on me it is a bloody dump.


  2. lazyaussie says:

    Gaz, there is a lot of crap in every city, but if you take Melbourne for example, if they build a piece of crap, there is still plenty of good stuff left around. But because of perth’s size, and boomtown economy, when we lose something good, there is not a lot else left. If a beautiful old building goes down in Sydney, there are hundreds still left. If something good goes in perth, it is usually only one of a handful of that type, so it really is a big loss.


  3. meccano101 says:

    I have to come out as a big fan of Fed square. Having lived and worked in most capitals, I find that melbourne is the only one that offers a CBD that you want to actually spend time in. Sydney offers a wind tunnel that is dark by 3pm due to overshadowing and sends you barreling toward the theme park that is circular quay and out into the harbor like a Bondi turd. Brisbane is improving along the foreshore but is just as bad as Perth around its Mall and Adelaide has that “weird vibe’ tag to contend with.
    A test of the success of public architecture has to be whether people use it. By this standard in the case of Fed Square it is an enormous success.


  4. Gaz says:


    ” Gaz, there is a lot of crap in every city,”

    Indeed there is,however,Perth must take the cake for the most sterile city in Australia.Apart from the obscene glass sky scrapers,it is dull and boring.

    Adelaide where I spent the first ten years of my life is the only city on mainland Australia that even goes close to having even the remote sign you are indeed, in the land of Oz.

    I came to Perth 1976 with work,and like a lot of people time catches up,your kids have been educated here,and you get stuck from circumstance.My God if I had my time over again Adelaide here I come,back to Australiana.


  5. lazyaussie says:

    mecc. Well I know that Melbourne didn’t have a space where people could gather, and I know it is a success in that regard, but it is the design that I have a problem with. Pure Perth. Imagine how bad it is going to look in a few years time.


  6. meccano101 says:

    I love the design L.A, it is completely sympathetic to its surrounds while maintaining its own unique and striking identity.
    It sits harmoniously alongside a 130 year old cathedral; it is functional and innovative; it has become an organic meeting place for the city. As far as I can tell it fulfills all the requirements of its brief. As you have touched on in your post, I suppose the advantage Melbourne does have over Perth is that there is no single cultural centre, Fed Square is just one element. You have two other major public galleries, the Melbourne Arts Centre [which surely deserves a mention before Fed Square “world worst illuminated spire?”] and hundreds of other independent arts hubs riddled throughout the CBD. Given the choice available, if it was genuinely as bad as you think, I suspect people wouldn’t go there.


  7. lazyaussie says:

    Well I think the fact that people go there is more to do with the provision of the space. it is in a perfect spot. I really can’t agree that it sits harmoniously next to the cathedral. Far from it. It’s like someone asked a computer to produce a “High-tech” building with no human input apart from pushing a button.


  8. meccano101 says:

    That may well be the case for some people, I can only speak for myself, I love the design and I enjoy going there. If it looked like say, Darling Harbor Sydney I wouldn’t go near it. The high-tech aspect of the place is secondary for me, although a friend who was employed there for many years at SBS RADIO assures me that it is an incredible place to work for this reason also.


  9. Anonymous Perthon says:

    I’m afraid i’ve got to side with meccanon 101 with this one, Fed Square is a space that works (regards of its aesthetics) and is a great gathering space also. Remember when the soccer was on and it was put up on the big screens around Fed Square for everyone to watch, I’d like Perth to have something like that. The only thing to watch in our “cultural centre” is people being beaten up and that homeless guy who lies on the grass.


  10. Anonymous Perthon says:

    I did just remember when something exciting happened in the cultural centre. On the shouting man sculpture, someone once shoved a box of chicken treat in his hands – that was a day to remember

    *correction from above meccano 101


  11. lazyaussie says:

    Wel I still think youse are mainly talking about the fact that it is a space in a good location. As you say Anon, “regardless of its aesthetics”. The aesthetics is what i am talking about. It would still have been packed for the soccer even if it looked like Darling Harbour with Video screens. The space was not available to Mebournians before and it was a place that was obviously needed. My problem is with the awful design of the buildings. It was just an all round mistake to go for those shapes as the theme. Dated from day 1.


  12. lazyaussie says:

    The shouting sculpture in the cultural centre is pretty good actuallly.


  13. meccano101 says:

    The design is fantastic, it is very difficult to find a bad photo of it if you do a google search, sorry L.A I totally disagree. I have sent you one shot that shows how beautifully it blends with the surrounding buildings, The photo isn’t great but it illustrates what I mean. The whole area was considered not just the site. I have sent you a pic of the soccer night also. This is no Darling Harbor.


  14. lazyaussie says:

    We’re never going to agree on this one. I was so looking forward to seeing it, and really expected to love it, having heard so much about the place. It would be hard to describe how disappointed I was to see it in the flesh. But you’re in the majority Mecc. I don’t think I’ve met anyone else who doesn’t like it.


  15. Anne says:

    I used to study in the old State Library (lived in Northbridge/studied at Perth Tech – Theatre Arts) – that was a wonderful space! Wouldn’t be caught dead there now.

    I’ve since moved to Canberra, and now back to Melbourne, where I started. Fed Square is hideously ugly, although everyone loves it – can’t figure out why. I think if someone recladded all the builidings – maybe some nice miniorb ;-) – it would improve the place. It’s basically Melbourne’s Mum’s place; where everyone congregates when something special happens. Kids find out their HSC results & uni placements there, events get watched on the big screen, uni students hang out there to celebrate the end of exams. Everyone knows Mum’s place is daggy and needs a reno, but it feels like home -where else would you go for the big life events?


  16. meccano101 says:

    I’m not sure how my mum would deal with 10,000 drunk soccer fans in her living room. [insert smiley face]


  17. golden1 says:

    I know exactly how my mum would deal with 10,000 drunk soccer fans in her living room!


  18. meccano101 says:

    Any thoughts on Fed Square G1?


  19. Cimbali says:

    You expats should stop crapping on about Melbourne – if you think Melbourne is so much better than Perth why don’t you go and live there! – or something!

    By the way LA I know you are big on irony but are you suggesting that the Perth Cultural Centre is not a really good representation of Perths cultural landscape?


  20. lazyaussie says:

    Did I say that?


  21. meccano101 says:

    No, I think you were suggesting that if Perth’s cultural centre was like Fed Square, you would still hate it…?? Basically comparing two things you hate. I think.


  22. Cimbali says:

    Probably not but I was just checking. Since it is a perfect representation of Perth cultural landscape it is not so much bad as accurate.
    The only way it could provide a more accurate barometer is if the WAFL put up a proposal to move Subi Oval there


  23. meccano101 says:

    BTW Cim, I was under the impression this post was all about crapping on about Melbourne.


  24. Cimbali says:

    Crapping on Melbourne did you mean?


  25. meccano101 says:

    [insert confused;nodding politely; smiley face]


  26. Cimbali says:

    Confused, nodding politely, smiling…..Has your primitive brain stem snapped again?


  27. lazyaussie says:

    No. I said that the style of fed square would suit perth. New shiny, “high tech” expensive, somewhat in bad taste but not caring. It could actually work well here. I may have to close comments on this.


  28. meccano101 says:

    Is the building “not caring” or you L.A?


  29. meccano101 says:

    I’m confused


  30. Miss Teschmacher says:

    I think Perth Cultural Centre needs a clean up and here’s an idea-soem activity!! Years ago when i lived in Nortbridge they used to hold weekend markets there. They weren’t the best but they were something. Perth is driving me mad at the moment. A couple of Saturdays ago we got caught short at a wedding and needed to buy a jacket/jumper/etc as it ended up colder than we first thought.

    At 4.55pm on a very sunny Saturday we were unable to get anything. harbour town refused to serve us as it was too close to closing,we zipped down to Subi markets and they were shut,the city had shut promptly at 5…..

    We have embraced daylight saving yet everything shuts so early! I went to Freo for a movie Sunday night and was pleasantly suprised at how many people were about-but it was only because of the Festival. Left a show at the White Elephant (oops Convention Centre) the other night and the city was dead and dark. Where are all the inner city dwellers?

    There really is more going on in my (suburban) area at night. More people out walking,with and without dogs, dining out, having coffee, taking kids to the park. Even our local IGA is open until 10pm-something I am not seeing closer to the city….


  31. La Plaza Bentley says:

    Fed square does indeed attract people. But the building itself is trying sooooo haaaaaard and yet it’s set up for failure from the start because the cladding is awful. It’s like the material used to build stalls in shopping centre food halls…. That being said, it might be an optical diversion from the fact that the thing has no shape or sculptural merit. Melbourne seems to have a bad case of the “we can design your roof to look like a scrunched up plastic bag” trend in architecture. I saw a lot of even modest buildings that had been refurbished without a 90 degree angle in sight…obviously gullible owners being hoodwinked by recent architecture graduates. It’s replaced the “innovative ideas with colour” concept that was in vogue in the 90s. Of course it might be because I’m living in Sydney. Apparently there’s a fierce rivalry. I remember seeing a Melbourne based architect interviewed on television who described an aesthetic difference between the two cities akin to the difference between Barcelona and Madrid. It’s these kind of savvy observations that put us up there with the world’s best.


  32. lazyaussie says:

    The designs for the place being built next to entertainment centre are very similar in style.


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  38. Perth escapee says:

    When I first saw the Perth CBD from Kings Park I thought it looked like a spread out Surfers Paradise. I find the intervening years and development have done little to alter this impression. We have a book passed on from the inlaws called ‘Perth a Pictorial Contrast’ published in the 80s, presumably as a celebration of all the thrusting modern development that had swept away any traces of the past. It is a rather sad read.


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  40. RubyRuby says:

    I’d not seen this thread before, TLA, thanks for the Pingback.

    I think the main point of Fed Square was that it replaced the Gas and Fuel Towers, which were exactly as architecturally interesting and exciting as that sounds.

    Melbourne people do have an interest in their buildings and built environment (at least, it was something we were aware of as kids growing up there) and everyone could say without hesitation that the Gas and Fuel buildings were definitely the ugliest that the city had to offer.

    What was removed for the vibrancy of the Cultural Centre to go in?

    And has anything been said on here about the Urban Orchard? I’d nominate that for a Not Worst, brilliant use of previously dead space.


    • The point of Fed Square is the space. Melb didn’t have that type of space before, so it mattered less that they built something so bad. It was an improvement anyway.


      • RubyRuby says:

        There HAD been City Square in Melbourne, before someone who knew someone managed to build a hotel in it…

        Ah, Kennett-era… and they wondered why we all grew up sooo cynical.


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