The third and final stage of the 10-year redevelopment of Melbourne Park has seen the full potential of this iconic precinct come to life. The overarching goal for the final stage of works was to secure the future of the Australian Open in Melbourne until at least 2036. To achieve this, the precinct needed to evolve to accommodate growing crowds and improve the amenity and overall experience for visitors. We were also aware of the ambition to create better connections and flow both within the precinct and out to the surrounding public transport networks, the river, and the city beyond.
All these ambitions came with significant logistical challenges to meet, requiring innovative design thinking from the project team.
Anchored at the heart of the newly created public realm spaces sits CENTREPIECE, a new function and media centre. It is a carefully balanced negotiation between a complex functional brief and a desire to bring a civic presence to Melbourne Park. The building contains a dedicated auditorium and broadcast centre, a Grand Hall space for events, Pre-Function lobby, and a destination café for the entire precinct; as well as many of the essential operational elements for the precinct: new loading docks, a central kitchen and logistics hub.
Contextually, CENTREPIECE niches into the existing Tennis Australia headquarters to the north and engages openly on the west to Garden Square. The building connects several terraces of substantial height differences ascending from Garden Square towards the newly created Central Terrace.
We worked with Snøhetta and Aspect Studios to incorporate a seamless landscape approach to the surrounding public realm spaces. This means visitors can experience a variety of public spaces while the character of a single precinct is maintained. We looked to extend the language of some of Melbourne’s most treasured parklands, such as the nearby Birrarung Marr.
Sloping landscape berms have been introduced to connect various elevated site levels. These reinforce the overall landscape design to read as one continual topography. This approach allows the public realm to meet the requirements of both the sports and civic infrastructure of Melbourne Park, letting the landscape guide the flow of visitors. These spaces are intended to be equally as compelling whether you’re passing through on an average day, or as one of a 100,000 strong crowd during the Australian Open.
Obscured from view beneath the Central Terrace sits a new Central Logistics Hub, with loading bays, storage facilities and 1300 square meters of industrial kitchen. The careful structural engineering of this new precinct wide facility allowed the project to hand back more of the precinct to the public. The elevated landscape, complete with deep soil trees, remove any sense of being on a suspended podium.
Overall, the project added over 100 established gumtrees to the precinct in addition to the extensive landscaping works. The trees create a canopy that provides relief from the harsh summer sun and significantly reduces the heat island effect, while maintaining the operational and spatial requirements of the brief. This enduring green infrastructure will mature and continue to provide beauty and amenity to the precinct.
Our team worked collaboratively with Nick Morris of Morris Goding Access Consulting to establish the highest level of accessibility across all new connections within the precinct. We navigated level differences with walkways rather than ramps and included high amenity seating opportunities across the public realm with backrests, armrests and access to shade and drinking fountains. These are just some of the measures we adopted across the precinct and the venues.
Framing the Central Terrace to the east is the new 5,000 seat Kia Arena. Kia Arena is modest in height; a deliberate move not to compete with the sporting monoliths of the precinct. Its full size and capacity are only revealed upon entering from a series of open entry passages surrounding the court.
The architectural language is modest too, such as the carefully detailed façade which calls to mind a pleated tennis skirt. This folded surface captures and reflects light as it changes throughout the day. Here too, universal access was a key driver at every stage of the design process. Entrance from the concourse level into the arena ensures that the accessible and enhanced amenity seating is in the prime viewing spot. At least one percent of all the seats in the arena are wheelchair accessible, which is a rare achievement.
NH Architecture has been involved in the redevelopment of Melbourne Park for the past decade, designing interventions at different scales including Margaret Court Arena, Kia Arena, and CENTREPIECE. This latest stage of works reaffirms the ‘park’ in Melbourne Park and unifies the new public areas with the existing fabric of the precinct.