Prahran Square is one of Australia’s largest urban public realm projects, marking a symbolic transformation for the community. The pre-existing carpark was transformed into a diverse public realm of pedestrianised streets, central event square, park and garden spaces, art, integrated retail and community facilities and underground public car park.
The design for Prahran Square met two critical client objectives: creating a safe and flexible public open space and providing a solution for increased carparking. The purpose was to create a meaningful and functional public space out of an unremarkable car park, reimagined into a diverse public realm for the community.
As a hybrid typology, Prahran Square combines urban park, square, streets, carpark and retail spaces and by this definition its uses are varied. It is designed for encounters ranging from intimate to large scale events. It has already transformed a community, highlighting the contribution and true potential of Urban Design.
By removing carparking from the ground plane and creating 500 car spaces in two levels of underground carparking, created the opportunity for the new Square. Instead of completely disconnecting the carpark from the ground level, the edges of the square were raised to form streetscapes allowing natural light into the carpark below, facilitating visual connections to the street.
The distinctive ‘ribbon’ form of the outer square is used to curate a diverse set of urban landscape experiences. The western edge is a slope of densely planted ‘forest’ landscape emerging from a local mudstone rock-scape. An equitable access path weaves through native trees and grasses and connects to a series of intimate gardens, rest and viewing spots and a playspace.
The southern edge is a gently sloped, open north-facing lawn, ideal for council-run community events. The eastern edge offers a large-scale amphitheatre-style seating for up to 1,500 people, with pockets of tree groves and dense underplanting for shade and character. The terraces can shape-shift from a pleasant outdoor space suitable for a coffee or lunch into a major celebratory experience overlooking the central space below.
The Square’s northern edge is an intimate scented and edible garden that adjoins a new public library and community room. Public seating and dining tables extend from the edge of Wattle Street and allow people to filter into the garden space for private respite. The central area is a programmable hardscape of high-quality granite cobbles for events and markets.
This project realises the true potential of a client and a design team, unconstrained by conventional thinking. It reconnects and integrates a complex context in a sensitive and iconic location to create a new and inclusive destination for the diverse communities of Prahran to call their own. As cities continue to grow and, work life patterns shift into a new era, our collective open space needs become even more increased. These new hybrids of urban square and urban park are the spaces that our profession will continue to design and lead into the future.
This project can and has moved the public in many ways and advances and encourages our profession to understand the role strategic and detailed urban design plays in transforming a once unremarkable asphalt carpark into an outstanding example of contemporary urban design.
By giving space back to the people, Prahran Square has already transformed a community. Its true potential will be realised over time as the community transfers their identity to make the place their own.