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Creation of Canberra

This details the creation of Canberra
by

Rebecca Gorton

on 3 October 2013

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Transcript of Creation of Canberra

There were two major building projects in 1920sAustralia -
the Sydney Harbour Bridge andCanberra. By the 1920s,
building Canberra hadbecome a story of compromise and
carefulbudgeting rather than the realisation of a dreamborn a decade earlier.
Creation of Canberra
In 1909 the Commonwealth Government chosesheep pastures in the Canberra area as the locationfor its capital and parliament, and in 1911announced an international competition to designthe city. Australian and British architects boycottedthe competition because of its low prize money,because the final judge was an amateur (HomeAffairs Minister King O'Malley) and because theentry conditions gave the government the right touse all or part of the design
On 23 May 1912, Chicago architect Walter BurleyGriffin won the competition out of 137 entries,gaining him £1750 in prize money. The design wasalso the work of his wife Marion Mahony Griffin,although only his name appeared on the entry.Despite the high quality of Griffin's entry, manyarchitects believed that with different rules thecompetition might have attracted better designs.Thus, Griffin began his Australian career amid abackground of resentment and disapproval withinthe architectural profession.
Griffin's design plan for Canberra reflected manyarchitectural influences, in particular LouisSullivan's `democratic architecture'. A centraltriangle contained the functions of government tobring people into daily contact with buildingssymbolising democracy. The people formed the baseof the central triangle; above them was thejudiciary, followed by the legislature (the Houses ofParliament), which was to be crowned by a Capitol,which would house the national archives andcelebrate Australians' achievements.
Function and use of the landscape were the mostimpressive ideas of the Griffin plan. The Griffinsgrouped the Commonwealth Government buildingsaround the strong visual axes formed by MountAinslie, Capital Hill and Black Mountain. WalterGriffin chose the location of the city's major functions - national government, civil administration,industry and commerce, residential andrecreational Ð according to Canberra's naturaltopography and the importance of each functionwithin the national capital. The plan allowed roomfor future expansion without disturbance to otherareas. The Griffins wanted the lakeside, hills andmountains to remain free of building developmentso that nature would remain the dominant featuresof the cityscape. In keeping with this concept, thedominant buildings indicated on the Griffin planwere low-slung and had strong horizontal lines
Griffin was Federal Capital Director of Design andConstruction from 1913 to 1920 but never establishedhis authority. In 1916, a royal commissioninvestigated criticisms of him. Commissioner WilfridBlackett cleared Griffin and blamed the DepartmentalBoard for creating criticisms in an attemptto have its plan replace his. Opposition continued.In 1920, the government appointed the Federal CapitalAdvisory Committee (FCAC), chaired byrenowned architect John Sulman, to supervise Canberra'sconstruction. Griffin resigned, realising hisown input was to be severely restricted.
Australia's participation in World War I meantthere was little money available for the constructionof Canberra in the 1920s. The FCAC focus wason creating essential buildings (Parliament Houseand government offices), saving money and usingsimplified designs. The first casualty was Griffin'splan for grand public buildings. Sulman sought tocreate a pleasing and unpretentious garden city.He granted funds for a provisional ParliamentHouse designed to last 50 years and, to save money,relocated it to a flatter site downhill from whereGriffin had intended. Few of the grand buildingsGriffin proposed along the land axis facing the lakehave been achieved.
John Smith Murdoch, a senior government architect,designed the provisional Parliament Houseand building began in August 1923. The Duke ofYork (later King George VI) opened it on 9 May1927. The opening was both grand and bizarre. Asevere shortage of accommodation meant thatmany would-be spectators had had to stay in tentsthe night before and endure Canberra's coldautumn weather. Some parliamentarians andgovernment staff camped out in Parliament Houseitself.
At the opening, Dame Nellie Melba sang thenational anthem and later complained that no-onecould hear her over the sound of aeroplanes overhead.The official proceedings began when the Dukeof York unlocked the double doors that led intoKing's Hall. Here he unveiled the statue of hisfather, King George V, and then in the Senate heopened Australia's first Federal Parliament. At theluncheon that followed, the guests drank nonalcoholicpunch, as alcohol was still illegal inCanberra. Outside there was too much food: twotruckloads of leftovers later had to be buried.
Sulman didn't support Griffin's general vision forCanberra. The FCAC made significant changes toGriffin's plans for residential areas. Instead of widestreets with terraced housing opening on to communalspaces at the rear, Sulman planned a varietyof street widths, cul-de-sacs and detached cottages
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