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Looking for the perfect square

06 Aug 2019

Looking for the perfect square Image

By Rhonda Dredge

The Arts Precinct is trying to preserve small squares of public space in the face of rampant high-rise development all around.

At least two residential towers are on the drawing board in Sturt St, both around 60 metres high.

Residents are worried about the visual impact of more glass towers on a ground-level community.

But it was business as usual when Southbank Local News visited the Malthouse courtyard last month, a popular meeting place for students, artists, residents and theatre-goers.

The square, flanked as it is by the majestic forms of ACCA and Chunky Move, is more of a rhomboid than a perfect shape.

Issues such as sunlight, shadows, food, room to move, protection and carefully-designed glimpses of other landscapes interact here.

One worker in the Malthouse expressed concern about the impact on future parking of more development in the area but squares are primarily aimed at pedestrians.

The best squares appear suddenly out of nowhere, providing punctuation in a pedestrian’s predictable journey along grey footpaths.

A good square can transform a visitor, offering a haven in winter and inspiration in summer.

Nearby, on Dodds St, a new square recently opened between the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) and the Ian Potter Southbank Centre, following the redevelopment of the Melbourne Conservatorium by architect John Wardle.

One section of the conservatorium juts out jauntily over the new public space, defining it vertically, offering visual protection from more intrusive towers.

Some are critical of the way the ground level of the square has been landscaped in that the VCA’s art school has given up its casual dreaming space to make way for the clutter of cedar benches, instant lawn and conifers.

Arts communities around the world are conservative about the places they love. In Barcelona, Café Marcello, which was frequented by Picasso and Hemingway, hasn’t changed since. Even the dust is original.

One art lecturer said he had never seen anyone sitting on the new benches. He said the square was more of a statement than a place to hang out.

Others are more optimistic. Jon Cattapan, director of the VCA, said the square had only been open five weeks. “Wait until the warmer weather,” he said.

A student was sighted by Southbank Local News, sitting on one of the benches while checking his phone, while a group was perched on top of the circular lawn eating lunch.

Melbourne’s students can be quite pragmatic about their lunch options, seeking out good deals in out-of-the-way places that are not quite squares.

An unobtrusive space across Sturt St beside the Guild Apartments was attracting attention where great baguettes were available from Café Godot for $9.

This square is more of an oblong with display cases running along its northern perimeter for creative types.

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