Sydney and Melbourne have long been rivals – of the sibling rivalry kind. Both wanted to be known as the nation’s capital. In an effort to appease, a provision was put in the Australian Constitution to create a new federal capital in NSW but it was not to be within 160km (100 miles) of Sydney. This set in motion a series of events that would lead to the deliberate design and construction of Canberra – our nation’s capital. American architect Walter Burley Griffin’s design was chosen 1912 and construction of our capital began the year later. Due to the first World War, only a provisional building for parliament was built. In 1978 Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser announced plans for a new Parliament House which was to be opened in 1988, Australia’s centenary.
Keeping in with our seemingly love of a good competition, another international competition was held to find a suitable design for the building. New York-based Mitchell/Giurgola and Thorp Architects had the successful design. I highly recommend taking a tour of Parliament House so you can truly appreciate the deliberate design of the building, from the corridors and offices being designed to evoke the feeling of our typical Australian streets and houses, to the red, terracotta Marseille tile on the roof which the American architects felt typified Australian houses.
In my previous tours of Parliament House, I had been accompanied by 60 plus 12 year olds. Parliament House is the standard Year 6 (final year of Primary School) excursion as that is the year that students learn about the development of democracy in Australia. This time I was fortunate enough to be accompanied by some of my fellow Visit Canberra human brochure people. The tour took on a completely different approach as we focused on the design principals behind the building, rather than the purpose for which the building was designed – although the purpose obviously influenced the design! One of my favourite features of Parliament House is the reflection pool which is located in the exact centre of the building. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take photos where it is located – so you will have to seek it our for yourself. The pool has been designed so that the water flows over the edge without making a single ripple, very tricky indeed! The pool also has a hole in the centre so that nobody is able to stand in the exact centre. Another interesting feature (as if there hasn’t been enough thought already put into this pool) is that if the President of the Senate opens the door and looks down the corridor and across the pool of reflection, they should be able to see the Speaker of the House of Representatives – providing they also have the door open!
Facts you may not know about Parliament House – through pictures
Tours of Australia’s Parliament House are held at 10am, 1pm and 3pm, each day, free of charge. If you prefer a customised tour of Parliament House, you can arrange one for you own group with a cost of $9.50 per person, and a minimum total cost of $80. Visit the Parliament House website for further details. I highly recommend asking for a tour that incorporates the architectural significance of Parliament House. I’m not necessarily an avid fan of architecture, but you can’t help but admire the hundreds of tiny, significant details and thought that has gone into creating the building that houses our Nation’s government.