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Unit 3 - The Ideal City

Lesson plan
Activity - Designer School


Only a decade after achieving nationhood, an international competition to design Australia's capital city was staged. In those days there were no faxes or the internet to assist in communications. All international travel was by sea. But the competition attracted 137 entries, many from overseas, and in 1912 a young Chicago landscape architect, Walter Burley Griffin, won first prize. Incredibly, Griffin had never visited Australia, yet he managed to understand the site for the new Federation capital from an ocean away. Griffin's design imaginatively embraced the superb natural features of the Canberra site, with the mountains and hills providing a scenic backdrop. It has been said, that of all the designs submitted in the competition, only Griffin's plan showed an artistic and visionary grasp of town planning.


Students work from an image of an unplanned area, displayed as a block of land, and design their impression of an ideal school by including a variety of facilities and outdoor areas.


  • brainstorm as a group
  • acknowledge that Walter Burley Griffin won the international competition to design Australia's National Capital
  • understand the role of a landscape architect
  • understand the basic process involved in designing an urban space sympathetic with
    the environment
  • understand and successfully complete a set of instructions
  • clearly explain the final outcome and decisions that dictate the overall design process


Exhibit title - Walter Burley Griffin's Winning Plan
Location - The Ideal City, section 5

Exhibit title - Designing the City of Canberra (laser model)
Location - The Ideal City, section 5

Exhibit title - Building with Water
Location - The Ideal City, section 7

Exhibit title - Other Place Getters
Location - Creation of a Nation, section 2

This activity relates to the large reproduction of the winning design Walter Burley Griffin submitted for the design of Australia's National Capital. It can be found in section 5 of the National Capital Exhibition. In front of the design is a bust of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. A nearby wall also reveals a number of commissions and projects by the Griffins.

You can find a large book in section 2 of the National Capital Exhibition which displays copies of a number of entries in the design competition, including some of the runners-up.


  • student activity sheet
  • vacant block of land activity sheet
  • pencil and eraser
  • colour pencils


  1. Introduce the topic by setting the scene with the class.
  2. Hand out both activity sheets.
  3. Note: You may need to hand out several copies of the block of land activity sheet so students can create several drafts before beginning work on a final design.
  4. Brainstorm with the class and come up with a list of facilities the students recognise as suitable for a modern school. Facilities could include: large classrooms, a gym, a library,
    bike racks and disabled toilets.
  5. Then discuss with the students the additional list of design requests represented on the activity sheet. Explain similar requirements were part of the brief given to entrants for the 1912 National Capital design competition.
    Design requests include:
    • a monument, raised on a hill, for retired principals
    • artificial wetlands for a local endangered swamp hen
    • the use of native trees and bushes (but make sure you don't obscure scenic views)
    • a site for a weather station to be dedicated to the school's science teacher
    • two school ovals with names that symbolise the benefits of going to school
    • a garden walk commemorating the school's sporting achievements
    • a quiet, reflective area for reading library books
    • a vegetable garden for the school canteen
  6. Students complete the activity by incorporating the list of facilities and the list of design requirements into their project. Students must consider the existing landscape and adapt their design where possible. Creativity is encouraged.
  7. At the conclusion of the activity, students can present their designs to the rest of the class. Discussion on each of the students' final design outcomes is encouraged.
  8. Put your designer school plans on display.
  9. To extend the activity, students can form a number of judging panels and create a list of questions that refer to the design requirements for a school.

Prizes or certificates can be issued for place getters, including a popular choice award that is judged by all of the school.