With the pandemic eroding our collective feeling of agency – we decided that Friday afternoons would be devoted to exploring how we could make the city a better place. While walking the dog one day we passed St Andrews Kirk, one of Ballarat’s two large cathedrals that has sat empty since 2013 and has been sold to private property developers.

Project Name: St Andrews Square
Studio Name: Moloney Architects
Completion date: 2020
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Photography: Mick Moloney

©Mick Moloney

We asked ourselves the question – how did our community find itself with such a prominent public building in private hands? And could we imagine a future for the site that bridges public and private interests?

‘St Andrews Square’ is an entirely conceptual and un-requested proposal for a new civic square for Ballarat. It is a deliberately provocative concept that aims to start a conversation around re-urbanism and heritage conservation. By proposing interventions into the heritage structure and the demolition of the original steel fence, the proposal asks us to reconsider the sacrosanct nature of heritage protection when there is a potential for a significant positive outcome for the community.

©Mick Moloney

Instead of seeing the cathedral “demolished by neglect” or transformed into residential or commercial use, the proposal aims to reinvest the historical asset into the community and retain the building’s original intended use. Working within the paradigm established in Alain de Botton’s ‘Religion For Atheists’, St Andrews Square becomes a secular cathedral for the people. Opened both literally to sunlight and figuratively to the community, the interior of the cathedral is planted out to become a covered green space for picnics, celebrations, and multi-denominational worship.

Aside from sporting ovals and median strips, there is no large green space or public gathering space in Ballarat Central. By diverting traffic around the site, the green space that surrounds the Cathedral is proposed to be combined with a re-claimed section of Sturt St – and joined to the central median strip. The amalgamated public space would be similar in size to Melbourne’s Federation Square.

©Mick Moloney

Seen through an economic prism for the developer, the proposal puts forward a scenario where a large parcel of land to the north to the square is retained by the developers for a mixed-use residential/commercial building. The maximum height limit of the development would be increased as a trade-off – providing the developer with an economically viable pathway to gift the greenspace and Cathedral back to the community.

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