St Andrews Square
Winner - 2020 Architeam Awards
“As an example of architectural activism, the design by Moloney Architects to transform a cathedral in Ballarat into a place of worship for all, is visionary. Sold to developers in 2013, St Andrews Kirk has sat empty ever since. The design addresses the desperate need for a public space in the city, opening up both literally and figuratively to the community. It imagines a secular cathedral, interior voids created for trees and light, a place for picnics and celebrations, with a large parcel of land to the north retained for the developers. In its efforts to bridge both public and private interests, St Andrews Square is a captivating proposal.”
St Andrews Square is a public design proposal for an open civic space for the people of Ballarat. In a strange omission for an otherwise well-planned city, there is no large central open civic space in the city. Aside from sporting ovals, the only large public green 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 are held in the city centre due to the lack of a large open civic space.
St Andrews, one of Ballarat's two large cathedrals, is currently owned by private property developers and not being used for community purposes. Putting to one side the question of how we as a community somehow let this happen (... it was only $2.5M to buy it) we asked ourselves: would it be possible to turn this property back into a community asset?
'St Andrews Square' is a hypothetical proposal - it was not undertaken as a concept for the developers or local council. It is intended to be provocative concept that opens up the conversation around re-urbanism and heritage conservation. By proposing interventions into the heritage structure and the demolition of the original church fence, the proposal asks us to reconsider the sacrosanct nature of heritage protection when there are significant positive outcomes available for the community.
Instead of waiting to see the cathedral 'demolished by neglect' or transformed into medium-density apartments, the proposal aims to reinvest the historical asset into the community and retain the building's original intended use as a space for the people. Working with the concept explored in Alain de Botton’s 'Religion For Atheists', St Andrews Square becomes a kind of secular cathedral. The roof structure is opened up to sunlight, walls are partially removed to encourage access on all sides, and the urban landscape continues from outside to inside. The Square is seen as a welcoming covered green space for picnics, markets, celebrations, quiet contemplation, and multi-denominational worship.
By diverting traffic around the site, the available green space can be expanded. The proposal consolidates a section of Sturt St, the central median strip and a large open green space to the west of the cathedral. The resulting public space would be similar in size to Melbourne's Federation Square.
From an economic perspective, the proposal puts forward a scenario where part of the land surrounding the cathedral is retained by the developers for a new mixed-use residential/commercial building. The maximum height limit of the development could be increased as a trade-off, providing the cathedral's private owners with an economically viable pathway to gift the civic square and cathedral back to the community.
St Andrews Square represents a position on the future of Ballarat. Instead of viewing the city as a large open-air museum of historical buildings that are seen but not used (...another example of which is the vacant upstairs floors of our 2 storey buildings), the concept proposes that we can confidently adapt and re-use Ballarat's heritage structures to become innovative, useful and enjoyable assets for the community.