Finalist 2021

Prahran Square

ASPECT Studios / Lyons / City of Stonnington

Prahran Square - a leading international example of innovative public realm in a high-density urban context. Balancing open space, facilities & traffic.

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 transformation accommodates the ebb and flow of each day through multi modal landscape spaces combined, creating a unique framework for community use and occupation.

Design Brief

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.

Intended outcomes were, the creation of a multi purpose open space, both square and park, both commercial and public facilities, both art and events, both pedestrian connection and streets.

The design creatively addresses the need for above ground infrastructure for the underground park into innovative architectural solutions.

It also creates a place for large scale events while sumptuously providing small and intimate spaces for everyday public use. The Square has also been incredibly successful in facilitating outdoor destination spaces for the community during COVID lock downs.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

Prahran Square required a sophisticated design response that could only be achieved through intensive and integrated collaboration between architects, landscape architects, engineers and arborists. A holistic design and documentation process was embraced by the full team of architects and construction engineers throughout all stages of the project.

Prahran Square as a hybrid typology 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. This increased visibility and clear wayfinding which were key to prioritising pedestrian safety. The streetscape edges also accommodate the carpark entry, stair access, retail spaces and service areas. A product of community collaboration can be seen in the immersive digital art installation by Ramus and Material Thinking, 'The Pipes'.

The space meets sustainability objectives. An interactive multi-jet water feature, which uses recycled water is embedded at the centre of the square. The central water feature is popular with children and creates a focal point where passers-by can easily engage. A diverse mix of native and exotic planting is used throughout the project reflecting the eclectic nature of the community. Low water use and drought-tolerant species were prioritised to reduce watering requirements and improve biodiversity. Bicycle parking and public transport networks close by, with parking spots nominated for electric vehicle charging.

Design Excellence

Prahran Square’s design prioritises people by placing car parking underground to re-connect its local streets and precincts to create an integrated urban park. The Square is flexible and open, offering a diversity of uses and spaces which create a vibrant urban place shaped to meet the precinct’s complex needs. A crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) process was undertaken to ensure the square provided a safe space for the neighbourhood.

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.

The Square has played an active role in providing opportunities for encouraging health and wellbeing within the local community. Improving walking and cycling outcomes at the ground level and its multiple spaces are regularly used for local community gatherings and health and fitness classes.

Design Innovation

Prahran Square is a leading example of a new form of urban space. 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.

Since its completion the space has not only increased carparking space but has been used by locals for various activities including council events such as Christmas festivities, pop-up cinema, yoga, story time, outdoor games and more. The four corners have also been designed to support pedestrian movement through the space. Each have separate identities related to their context through materiality. Various urban infrastructure items are located in the corners to promote activity. This includes bench seating, drinking fountains, feature trees providing a natural shade canopy and bike racks.

Design Impact

The space ebbs and flows with the mood of each day and the people that occupy it, allowing the community to define its meaning. This flexibility and accessibility is key in creating a safe public realm. 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.

Prahran Square combines urban park, square, streets, carpark and retail spaces, therefore its uses are varied. It's designed for encounters ranging from intimate to large scale events.

Our solution to house two floors of parking allows us to meet safety objectives. The two levels of parking below Prahran Square dictate aspects of the design above, with elevated terrain allowing for large sweeping entry into the carpark. Raised up to allow natural light to permeate the carpark, the edges of the square make for a safer public space. Increased visibility was important in prioritising pedestrian safety. Good visibility in the square and carpark allowed for passive and full CCTV surveillance. A rarity in Prahran, the space is sheltered from cars, allowing pedestrians to relax and enjoy the space.

The ecological value of the site was improved. The existing paved car park was replaced with terrace gardens providing communal spaces with vegetated areas including native plants. Reduction of light pollution to neighbouring properties and the night sky have met best practice guidelines. Materials specified and vegetation has helped reduce the urban heat island effect.

The development also met Stonnington Council’s Water Sensitive Urban Design Planning clause 22.18 by achieving a STORM score of 100% or more. This was achieved through providing a total of 140kL rainwater tank, collecting water from the trafficable areas of the paved plaza.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

Prahran Square builds on the Council’s long-standing commitment to the environment and its design implements a broad range of holistic environmental and sustainability initiatives.

Energy efficiency measures include energy efficient (LED) lighting, high performance thermal, building fabric and glazing. Solar PV, water and storm water capture and management and urban ecology features as key project outcomes. Prahran Square maintained a clear focus on sustainably sourced materials, recycling and efficient waste management to ensure that the project has the highest possible environmental outcomes.

The interactive multi-jet water feature embedded at the centre of the square is popular with children and creates a focal point where passers by can engage. Carefully engineered to minimise water usage through recycling its own water, the water feature boasts a sustainable element of the design.

There are also rooftop gardens to enhance social interaction in the community, drought-tolerant natural planting to improve biodiversity and reduce watering requirements.

There is bicycle parking and public transport networks in close proximity, with two parking spots nominated for electric vehicle charging, with appropriate signage and charge.

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