Diagrams in the field: Three conceptual approaches in the entries for the 1979 Australian Parliament House design competition
Compositional relationships are well established between Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin’s 1912 urban plan for Canberra and the winning design by Mitchell, Giurgola and Thorp for Australia’s New Parliament House. As recognised by Andrew Hutson in 2011 and 2013, the civic-scale geometric planning features of the parliamentary triangle and land axis—from the Griffin Plan—influenced the competition brief, submitted entries, and assessors’ deliberations for the 1979 Australian Parliament House design competition. Yet, on reviewing the remaining submissions for 324 of the competition entries in the National Archives of Australia, many schemes appear to reject an apparent alignment with the geometric symbolism of the Griffin Plan.
This article surveys the lesser-known majority of competition submissions to consider other approaches to the relationship between Canberra’s urban plan and proposed parliamentary architecture, beyond the historical significance of the Griffin Plan. By comparing James Weirick’s 1989 criticism of Parliament’s remote location to Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter’s 1978 criticism of urban voids, it identifies three conceptual approaches to the problems of the site’s isolation—apparent in common characteristics across many entrants’ unique schemes. These three approaches include rejecting references to Canberra’s urban exterior with autonomous parliamentary architectural forms; internalising Canberra’s urban plan within parliamentary designs replete with symbolic gestures; or reclassifying parliamentary architecture as urban interiors for gathering places of public representation. Each approach reflects interpretations of Australia’s parliamentary democracy in different ways, and reveals risks and potential benefits for democratic practices when architecture and urban planning is employed to speak for the rights of others.
Copyright (c) 2023 Luke Tipene
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