Archive for July 29th, 2020


City in a Landscape

Linda Lou Burton posting about Canberra, Australia from Little Rock, Arkansas – My last post was about a beautiful building; this one focuses on the beautiful city in which that building sits, Canberra, Australia. It takes a lot of thinking, planning, and arguing for “what is best” when building a city. Washington, DC is a good example of that, beginning with George Washington’s appointment of Pierre Charles L’Enfant to design a capital city, and what happened over the years after that. Here is Canberra’s story of Charles Scrivener, Walter Burley Griffin, Marion Mahoney Griffin, and Charles Weston, and what happened over the years.

About Charles Scrivener

Charles Scrivener was the New South Wales Government Surveyor back in 1908 when the Canberra area was chosen by Parliament as a site for Australia’s future capital city. The Canberra valley, set in an amphitheatre of hills, was chosen because it had “a bracing climate, good water supply, and natural beauty.” Scrivener’s task was to explore the area and prepare a contour survey, which he did; he also suggested four possible points along the Molonglo River where dams could be constructed to create ornamental waters. Fast forward to 1964. Scrivener Dam was inaugurated, creating Lake Burley Griffin, an ornamental body of water in the center of Canberra.

About Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney Griffin

Walter Griffin was born in Chicago, studied architecture at the University of Illinois, and for a time worked with Frank Lloyd Wright. He eventually set up his own practice and from 1899 to 1914, created more than 130 designs for buildings, urban plans and landscapes in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin. In 1911 he married Marion Mahony, an MIT graduate in architecture. They were on their honeymoon when they heard of the international competition held by the Australian Commonwealth Government to produce a design for its new capital city. They worked feverishly to prepare their entry; Marion presented Walter’s designs in a series of vivid drawings showing a city nestled into hills and valleys. In May 1912 their design was selected as the winner out of 137 entries.

Walter’s winning design showed a chain of lakes along the Molonglo Valley and a triangular framework for a central national area laid out along major vistas. Marion’s drawings showed a new type of Australian town plan, where buildings, roads and gardens could work together to make a picturesque and livable city. The geometric pattern, developed from the topography of the land, had long tree-lined avenues and boulevards and incorporated significant areas of natural vegetation.

Griffin was appointed Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction in 1913, and moved to Australia to supervise the detailed planning of his modern city. But lack of money, the intervention of the First World War, and bureaucratic obstacles made it difficult to realize his plan. Many of his main avenues and parks were laid out at that time, but due to differences with the administration and his own uncompromising vision, Griffin left Canberra at the end of 1920 to work elsewhere in Australia.

In 1924 the government gazetted the Griffins plan for Canberra so that no changes could be made without the approval of Parliament. This protection ensured that the plan for the city remained essentially as Griffin intended it to be — a logical expression of the site. The strength of Griffin’s design is its adaptability to grow and change.

Griffin was largely under-appreciated during his time in Australia, but recognition of his work has steadily grown. In 1964, when Canberra’s central lake was filled by the construction of Scrivener Dam, it was named Lake Burley Griffinr.

About Charles Weston

Charles Weston was an English-born horticulturist who pioneered the greening of the area and its surrounding hills. European settlement after the 1820s had a significant impact on the site; of principal concern was the destruction of tree cover on the hills and the consequent degradation of the shallow soils; there was widespread water and wind erosion. Weston faced a challenging task; an added problem was the conflict between Griffin and Weston over choices of suitable tree species. In all, between 1913 and 1926, Weston was responsible for the planting of two million trees and shrubs.

When Weston arrived in 1913, he assessed the suitability of a wide range of exotic and indigenous trees and shrubs for the site and devised the best methods of planting. He established an arboretum to test the growth of trees; by 1920 almost 45,000 trees had been planted there; it is still in use today. He next turned his attention to rehabilitating degraded hill areas. Between 1915 and 1924 he treated over 2,500 acres of public land. He took the first steps in the conservation of the ACT’s rural landscape. He laid down a set of conditions to achieve control over the lopping of vegetation for fodder and the killing of trees by ring-barking. In addition, he issued free trees to landholders.

He created a special landscape character for the streets, avenues and parklands of the emerging city, achieving strong seasonal color effects and protection from the bitter cold and hot dusty winds.

The legacy of Charles Scrivener, Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney Griffin, and Charles Weston is the creation of Canberra as a city in the landscape.

As of June 2019 the population of this city in a landscape named Canberra was 426,704. Located 93 miles inland from the coast near the Brindabella Ranges, it covers an area of 314 square miles at an elevation of approximately 1,900 feet; the highest point is Mount Majura at 2,913 feet.

It’s a really pretty place, you should visit.

Visit Canberra


Nothing Like It

Linda Lou Burton posting about Canberra, Australia from Little Rock, Arkansas – I’m a sucker for capitol buildings – on the Journey Across America I always dug into the story of how each state’s capitol came to be; the reasons for the choices made in design, location, and symbols. So natch, the story of Australia’s Parliament House was the first thing I wanted to dig into when I woke up in Canberra this morning (on my NDI RTW). Here’s the story straight from the Australian Government website.

Canberra Has Had Two Parliament Houses

Old Parliament House started life in a rather temporary status. It was named the Provisional Parliament House when government moved from Melbourne to the new capital of Canberra in 1927, designed to serve the needs of Parliament for a maximum of 50 years. It was built in a “Stripped” Classical style common to the 20s and 30s in Australia – no columns or pediments, but the symmetry associated with neoclassical architecture.

By the 1970s the building had exceeded its capacity and was in need of considerable repair and renovation, so plans for a new Parliament House began. The new building was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in May 1988. I don’t know what the Queen thought about it, but it’s safe to say there is nothing like it anywhere else in the Commonwealth, or for that matter, the world. Its roof is covered in grass, and the shape is, well – two boomerangs. No kidding, look at the aerial view. See the curves? And that flagpole on top is 266 feet high, weighs 275 tons, and flies a flag that is 42 x 21 feet, about half the size of a tennis court. To the right is the forefront and verandah of the building, where the public is welcomed in; a 640 sq foot mosaic by an Aboriginal artist depicts ancient western desert dreaming.

But the Old Parliament House wasn’t left out; some of the facades of the New included deliberate imitation of some patterns of the Old, so that there is a slight resemblance despite the massive difference of scale. And the Old still stands today; at the base of Capital Hill at the centre of the Parliamentary Triangle, which is the heart of Walter Burley Griffin’s design for the city of Canberra. (More about the city’s design in the next post.)

Here are some numbers to stretch your mind with regard to the scope of the New Parliament House project.

  • 320 entries were submitted in the international design competition from which Architects Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp were chosen
  • 7 years were involved in the construction of the new Parliament House
  • 10,000 workers were involved in building and fitting out the building
  • 300,000 cubic metres of concrete went into the construction of the building
  • $1.1 billion AUD was the cost of the new Parliament House
  • 79 acres are covered by Parliament House and its landscape setting on Capital Hill
  • 4,500 rooms are in Parliament House
  • 5,000+ people work in the building when Parliament sits
  • 1 million people visit Parliament House annually
  • 200 years is how long Parliament House is designed to last

I can only say – it’s worth a trip to Australia just to see this building!

A few words directly from the Parliament House site about the Chambers:

Parliament House is the heart of Australian parliamentary democracy, and one of the most open parliamentary buildings in the world. It was designed to encourage public access and involvement while responding to the Australian climate, landscape, vegetation, and even the quality of the light.

The House of Representatives has 151 members and is the house in which government is formed. The colour scheme of the House Chambers reflects the green associated with British Parliament’s House of Commons and the eucalypt green of the Australian landscape.

The Senate, or upper house, has 76 senators: 12 from each state and two each from the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. The Senate Chambers reflect the red of British Parliament’s House of Lords and the shades of ochre red in the Australian landscape.

The Members’ Hall lies at the centre of Parliament House and is not open to the public. Inlaid on the first floor is a bronze Federation Star, representing each of the states and mainland territories of Australia; flowing water comes into the Reflective Pool.

Parliament House Entry