It’s been stormy few days in the Australian federal parliament, with the Prime Minister being subjected to a call for a party-room spill, his colleagues apparently as unhappy with his performance as many of the voting public. But this blog won’t go there. However, here’s a few views of Canberra’s Parliament House under stormy skies, in keeping with what’s been happening within.
For sixty years, Australia was governed from a “temporary” parliament building. Design and construction of the present impressive building began in 1978, and it was opened in 1988, co-inciding with the bicentenary of the country. The building design was chosen from a two-stage competition and the winner was the New York-based architectural company of Mitchell/Giurgola, with the on-site work directed by Italian architect Romaldo Giurgola.
The Parliament House website tells us:
“There were many factors that the designers of Parliament House considered, including its size and its inevitable grandeur. Its relationship to the Burley Griffin plan of the city within which it was to occupy the symbolic centre—the Parliamentary Triangle—was also critical. The new building was seen as an intimate part of Canberra, but it was designed not to dominate the city.
The architect, Romaldo Giurgola commented:
The building should nest with the hill, symbolically rise out of the Australian landscape, as true democracy rises from the state of things.”
The Parliament House building is one of my favourite buildings. When I was at ANU in Canberra the site was still a low hill – Capital Hill – covered with grass and a few trees. The present building replicates the hill it replaced – in a stylistic sort of way – as its roof is a dome covered once again in grass. This low profile is all the more impressive, since it has an area of 7.5 hectares on a 32 hectare site. In the 1980s, it was the largest construction site in the Southern Hemisphere. Apart from housing the chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate, it also houses all the apparatus of government. There are 4,700 rooms in it.
But that flagpole on top? I heard at the time, and have always understood, that it wasn’t the architect’s idea — see his comment quoted above about “nesting with the hill.” The pole is 81 metres tall, weighs 250 tonnes, and the flag flown from it is 12.8 m by 6.4 m – about the size of half a tennis court. As my urban myth has it, the flagpole was a late addition, forced upon the architects by faceless people who thought the parliament should remind the world of its existence. As if the stormy shenanigans within weren’t noisy enough.