Yagan Square

Yagan Square

“Yagan Square is a type of urban ecological repair, both physical and cultural. The square is…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.”

Neil Appleton, Director at Lyons

Creating a sense of place in an urban environment requires the convergence of stories and carefully designed buildings. Yagan Square is a product of such convergence, a civic space formed from stories of the site’s past. A project of local and state significance for the city of Perth and Western Australia, Yagan Square has become one of the city’s most popular community, meeting and celebration places.

More than just a transit area for thousands of workers and residents, the space holds cultural significance for the city. Our design embodies the rich history of the site and facilitates new opportunities to meet, connect and celebrate. Our innovative design accounted for the challenge of working around live rail tunnels and the arms of the heritage-listed Horseshoe Bridge. We relied heavily on collaboration to ensure Indigenious history was woven throughout the design. The result is a space organically embedded with meaning and history for the public to engage with on whichever level they choose.

  • Sector

    Urban Design

  • Key Lyons contacts

    Neil Appleton
    Paul Dash

  • Collaborators

    Iredale Pedersen Hook Architects
    ASPECT Studios
    Maddison Architects

  • Client

    Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority
    Perth City Council

  • Location

    Corner Wellington & William Streets, Perth WA

  • Traditional land

    Located on the traditional lands of the Wadjuk Noongar People

  • Size

    11,500 square metres

  • Sustainability

    5 star Green Star Design and As Built Rating

  • Project status

    Complete, 2018

Awards:

2020 Awards - National
    • Winner Steel Clad Structures – National Steel Excellence Awards, Australian Steel Institute
2020 Awards - Western Australia
    • Winner Steel Clad Structures – Western Australia Steel Excellence Awards, Australian Steel Institute
2019 Awards - National
    • President’s Award, Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) National Awards
    • Urban Renewal, Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) National Awards
    • Government Design Award Silver (Architecture, Public Realm), Good Design Awards
    • Architectural Urban Winner, Good Design Awards
    • National Tourism Award of Excellence, Australian Institute of Landscape Architects
    • National Civic Landscape Architecture Award, Australian Institute of Landscape Architects
2019 Australian Institute of Architects Awards - National
    • National Award for Urban Design, Australian Institute of Architects
    • National Award for Colorbond Steel, Australian Institute of Architects
2019 Awards - Western Australia
    • WE-EF After Dark People’s Choice Award – Regional Winner (WA/SA), Australian Institute of Landscape Architects
    • WA Landscape Architecture Award, Australian Institute of Landscape Architects
2019 Australian Institute of Architects Awards - WA Chapter
    • The John Septimus Roe Award, West Australian Award for Urban Design, Australian Institute of Architects – Western Australia Chapter
    • Commendation for Public Architecture, Australian Institute of Architects – Western Australia Chapter 
    • The Colorbond Steel Award for Steel Architecture, Australian Institute of Architects – Western Australia Chapter

Building
the city

Collaborating with
designers and artists

Enriching cultural
experience

Convergence of culture

Located in the heart of Perth’s CBD, Yagan Square is one of Perth’s most popular community, meeting and celebration places. The site sits on the land of the Whadjuk people and was traditionally an important meeting place for Indigenous people, particularly women who gathered food from lakes that were once in the area. The name itself reflects this importance, paying homage to a Noongar warrior, Yagan. Conscious of the historical weight Yagan Square holds, our design is not simply about functionality or materials. Our response is both a literal convergence in the heart of the city, and a symbolic convergence of geologies, tracks, narratives, indigenous and non-indigenous people and culture. 

We imagined Yagan Square as an integral and active part of the city, extending existing circulation systems. We designed elements to repair and amplify connections to the adjacent areas of the city and Northbridge, such as the meeting place, digital tower, marketplace, playground and landscape ecologies. Within the square we created spaces for rest and reflection to shape the way people experience the city. Larger spaces for performances and events are included to create a cultural hub.  

To create the key performance space at the heart of the square we designed features to organise foot traffic. The Walking Track loop creates and defines the amphitheatre space, leading from William St Mall, under the overpass bridge and into the central meeting space. It connects to the Horseshoe Bridge and cafe on the roof of the Market Place, the central Market stairs and lift, moving past the urban forest. We arranged the extension to William Street via the Mall, the digital tower, the retail buildings and landscape to link the adjacent areas of the city and Northbridge. The active retail outlets and passive landscape elements work to engage the public with the space. These considered design elements shape the way people experience the city.

Cross cultural repair

When designing integral community spaces, we are conscious of the need to marry stories with buildings to create a strong sense of place. Collaboration is not only crucial to the success of this project, it holds significance in acknowledging stolen land and its repair. We undertook a collaborative design process to allow us to incorporate the culture and stories of the Whadjuk people. We worked closely with the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council and the Whadjuk Working Party. In collaboration with Material Thinking and Dr Richard Walley, we developed a Creative Template. It drew on historical research of Indigenous and non-Indigenous narratives and collated viewpoints about first contact. These processes informed the design of Yagan Square to create a place of significance that welcomes Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike.

“Yagan Square 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. Designed to work at an intimate scale as well as for large organised festival events, the city square’s hard and soft landscape provides a welcome respite from the day to day workings of the city.”—Neil Appleton, Director at Lyons

“This is one of the rare cities in the world that will have an iconic place that reflects its history and its culture.”

Dr Richard Barry Walley OAM

“Lyons successfully navigated a complex site with numerous competing stakeholder interests and delivered an all-inclusive, welcoming civic space.”

Ren Lee, MRA Yagan Square Project Manager

Enriching urban experience

The Aborigional narrative can be seen throughout Yagan Square’s design, materials, and distinct features. The design is quite literally a product of its environment, with materials such as sandstone, limestone and granite quarried locally. 

The central meeting and performance spaces have been designed with a fire pit to be set up for smoking ceremonies. The iconic digital tower, often showcasing digital works by local artists, at the heart of the square is supported by fourteen painted columns, each representing a Noongar language. The columns were inspired by bulrush plants that once grew through the lakes at the site. It is a key feature of the square with its scale making it a pivotal locator in the city. 

Other features that reference the history of the land include the Discovery Trail and Digital Canopies. Found at points along the waterline, eleven plaques featuring hand-drawn images by Dr Richard Walley OAM make up the Discovery Trail. These graphic representations of native flora and fauna were designed as an educational tool for visitors to learn about the history of the land. Similarly, we designed the giant shade structure above the main meeting space to emulate the shapes of lakes that originally existed on the site. 

 

The playground, located in the forest area in the upper level of Yagan Square consists of a series of topographic mounds inspired by the unique landscape and landforms of Western Australia. These mounds continue the architectural language and provide a unique experience of play that is integrated into the broader landscape of Yagan Square. 

A key part of integrating Indigenous culture into our design for Yagan Square was the inclusion of Indigenous artwork. Amongst the artworks is Wirin, designed by Tjllyungoo —Noongar man Lance Chadd— standing tall in the grass terraces. Named after the  Noongar word for spirit, it represents the eternal sacred force of creative power that connects all life of boodja (mother earth). We worked with Australian artist Paul Carter to develop 7 text based artworks titled Passenger. The words describe the protest of Noongar woman Balbuk against colonial occupation and can be seen throughout the square. Integrated art, such as Sharyn Egan’s ‘Liquid Fire’, has been commissioned and placed throughout Yagan Square.

Constructing space through historic narratives

Although rich with Indigenous history and art, we did not design Yagan Square as a museum experience. Instead, and more importantly, the square creates a living platform for dialogue, contributing to the life and experience of the city. It was important that our design wasn’t bound by time, with the ability to reach back through the past and into the future. We achieved this by acknowledging the space that has always existed, using natural materials to acknowledge the site, and connecting the design back to the land. These historic elements are balanced with modern design features such as The Digital Tower to blend it to the surrounding city. It forms part of a living and evolving culture echoed by the evolution of the city of Perth itself. Intentionally ambiguous and consequently generous, Yagan Square invites visitors to interpret, find, create and complete their own narratives within a civic space.

Key Contacts