Builder: Doric Constructions
Landscape Architect: ASPECT Studios
Services Engineers: WSP Group
Structure, Civil And Façade Engineers: Aurecon
Heritage Consultant: Griffiths Architects
Lighting Designer: Ramus Illumination
Kitchen Architects: Maddison Architects
Waterfeature Design: Waterform International
Client: Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority
Yagan Square is a project of local and state significance for the city of Perth and Western Australia, located at the east end of the new MRA Citylink development which seeks to physically reconnect Northbridge with the Perth’s CBD (and the Swan River). Yagan Square is a major civic space and performance venue, a flora reserve, a fresh food market, public realm art destination, a watercourse play-scape, a digital animation venue and an indigenous education/visitor information centre.
The design develops a clear cultural idea about the place of Yagan Square within the city and country, and is representative of the idea of convergence: of geologies, ecologies, tracks, narratives, of indigenous and non-indigenous people. The design elements of the meeting place, the digital tower, marketplace, playground, landscape ecologies and art are arranged to repair and amplify connections to the adjacent areas of the city and Northbridge.
The project is also, of course, the ongoing ‘project’ of the city – but in very specific local terms – where the continual cycle of formation and erasure creates conceptual and physical gaps and scars in the city. How can architecture and urban landscape fill in these gaps, repair the scars? And if cities are as much a living cultural ecology as a damaged natural one, can a publicly funded project such as this repair both ecologies in a city like Perth?
Within such an idea of ‘the project’, the ‘site’ is both the unbounded city itself, the physical boundaries and context of the subject site, as well as a site of living history and culture, a kind of story. And this story needs revealing, needs a telling, through the design.
On the one hand the site tells a familiar story of urbanism, of the city rail yards, the tracks held in the grip of the historic Horseshoe Bridge – which stands as a physical embodiment of the disconnection developed between the land and the people, the river and its lakes, the city and its cultural institutions. On the other hand the site is the place of disrupted but unbroken stories of the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation (the traditional owners that have occupied this land for over 40,000 years), brought into Yagan Square, in memory of an aboriginal warrior executed in 1833.
Culture and the land are inseparable in aboriginal society; the broken body of Yagan, the fourteen languages spoken by the Noongar people, the gathering places, the ground, the tracks, the water, the reeds, the nests, and the six seasons of country.
Following English settlement, the land was surveyed, the lakes drained and surveyors grid imposed, forcing passage by foot along anti-topographical lines.
Established in the late 1800’s the rail corridor running inland to the Indian Ocean dismembered the CBD from the northern suburbs. The Horseshoe Bridge, opened for traffic in 1904, offered the only crossing within a kilometre either side of the Central Station.
The Library, Art Gallery, Theatre and Museum are also on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’, isolated from the city’s inhabitants, further reinforcing the inaccessibility of the city’s cultural institutions. The project becomes an idea of both cultural repair and urban repair.
Creative Design Engagement
A distinctive strategy for engagement with the Noongar community was developed as an idea of cross cultural repair. Through the Whadjuk Working Group, the community represented its interests through public interpretation, public art collaborations, on-going cultural programming and employment opportunities. Integral to this relationship was the brokering of a common language able to mediate between the great place-making story lines of Noongar culture and their counterparts in non-Aboriginal understandings of sense of place.
The success of this story-based and symbol-based approach is illustrated in the way the key Noongar figures for Yagan Square -Yagan and proud aboriginal woman Balbuk - both shamefully treated in their own day - are acknowledged and the legacy of their political leadership respectfully and powerfully embodied in the choreography of Yagan Square. Repair is generative when the scars are acknowledged, not glossed over; in the wake of recognition pain can turn towards the creative reclamation of place.
The project is a type of urban ecological repair, both physical and cultural.
The square is hewn from local rock and crafted from mined metals – stratified, eroded, excavated and folded to make a lasting architecture of place, a part of the country and a part of the city, at once old and new.
The project is formed through a convergence of tracks at the heart of Yagan Square, traversing this new geology to negotiate the ‘split’ of the city, both in plan and section.
The tracks, traversing through the new landscape of the Square, provide an invitation to enter and encouragement to pass through safely. A meeting place is formed at their convergence, an unprogrammed space, resembling a clearing in the red earth, designed for city-scale sociability, open to performative cultural exchange. Worn stone contours step down to form an amphitheatre, gathering around a staging area and fire pit for Noongar ceremonies.
The memory of the colonial rail yards, which for so long separated Northbridge from the CBD and the people from Swan River, recedes with each new passage through Yagan Square along the tracks to future destinations.
Finally, Yagan Square cannot fully repair the ecological degradation that has occurred but it seeks to create landscape connections; moments of ecological value that contribute a larger story, to connect the city with its prior landscape.
Western Australian tree species, grown from local provenance seed, will increase ecological diversity within the city’s urban forest, together with a range of environments, from native wildflower gardens, to an elevated forest, a tree grove, and a small constructed watercourse. Each of these provide habitat to birds, bees and insects.
The watercourse adds delight and play, and the combination of flowing water along the edge of the walking tracks attenuate the severe heat of Perth. The shimmering ‘lakes’, which float above the meeting place, provide dappled shade within the heart of Yagan Square.