Friday, February 13, 2015

The Mystique of Parliament House, Canberra



The Mystique of Parliament House, Canberra

By Satsuki Ranjou
Spirit News
September 22, 2073

Parliament House is the meeting facility of the Parliament of Australia located in Canberra, the capital of Australia. The building was designed by Mitchell/Giurgola Architects and opened on 9 May 1988 by the late Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia. It cost more than A$1.1 billion to build.

Federal Parliament meetings were first held in Melbourne until 1927. Between 1927 and 1988, the Parliament of Australia met in the Provisional Parliament House, which is now known as "Old Parliament House". Construction of Australia's permanent Parliament House was delayed while its location was debated. Construction of the new building began in 1981. The principal design of the structure is based on the shape of two boomerangs and is topped by an 81 metre (266 foot) flagpole.

It contains 4,700 rooms and many areas are open to the public. The main foyer contains a marble staircase and leads to the Great Hall which has a large tapestry on display. The House of Representatives chamber is decorated green while the Senate chamber has a red colour scheme. Between the two chambers is the Members' Hall which has a water feature and is not open to the public. The Ministerial Wing houses the office of the Prime Minister and other Ministers.

In 1978 the Fraser government decided to proceed with a new building on Capital Hill, and the Parliament House Construction Authority was created. A two-stage competition was announced, for which the Authority consulted the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and, together with the National Capital Development Commission, made available to competitors a brief and competition documents. The design competition drew 329 entries from 29 countries.

The competition winner was the New York-based architectural firm of Mitchell/Giurgola, with the on-site work directed by Italian architect Romaldo Giurgola, with a design which involved burying most of the building under Capital Hill, and capping the edifice with an enormous spire topped by a large Australian flag. The fa├žades, however, included deliberate imitation of some of the patterns of the Old Parliament House, so that there is a slight resemblance despite the massive difference of scale.

Giurgola placed an emphasis the visual aethestics of the building by using landscape architect, Peter G. Rolland to direct civil engineers, a reversal of the traditional roles in Australia. Rolland played a pivotal role in the design, development and coordination of all surface elements including pool design, paving, conceptual lighting and art work locations. Horticultural experts from the Australian National Botanic Gardens and a government nursery were consulted on plant selection. Permanent irrigation has been limited to only the more formal areas.

Construction began in 1981, and the House was intended to be ready by Australia Day, 26 January 1988, the 200th anniversary of European settlement in Australia. It was expected to cost A$220 million. Neither the deadline nor the budget was met. The building was finally opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 9 May 1988, the anniversary of the opening of both the first Federal Parliament in Melbourne on 9 May 1901 by the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V),[8] and of the Provisional Parliament House in Canberra on 9 May 1927 by the Duke of York (later King George VI).

The flag flown from the 81 metre (266 foot) flagpole is 12.8 m by 6.4 m (42 ft by 21 ft), about the size of half a tennis court. The flagpole weighs 250 tonnes and is made of polished stainless steel from Wollongong. It was designed to be the pinnacle of Parliament House and is an easily recognisable symbol of national government. It is visible by day from outside and inside Parliament House and floodlit at night. The flag itself weighs approximately 15 kg (33 lb).

The site covers 80 acres (32 hectares). The building was designed to "sit above" Old Parliament House when seen from a distance. The building is four metres (13 feet) higher than the original height of the hill. About one million cubic metres (35,000,000 cubic feet) of rock had to be excavated from the site. It was used to fill low-lying areas in the city. Most of the granite used was sourced from Australia. Twice the amount needed was quarried as a very high standard of granite was required particularly for the curved walls.

It was proposed originally to demolish Old Parliament House so that there would be an uninterrupted vista from the New Parliament House to Lake Burley Griffin and the Australian War Memorial, but there were successful representations for preservation of the historic building, which now houses a parliamentary museum.

The original idea was for Parliament House to be open freely to the public, and the sweeping lawns leading up to the entrances were intended to symbolise this. The building is a major visitor attraction in Canberra with about 1 million visits each year. With the increased risk of terrorist attacks in recent years, the security of Parliament House has been increased greatly. One result has been the construction of crash barriers blocking vehicular access to the lawns.