The Griffin Legacy
A DESIGN FOR THE NATIONAL CAPITAL
Working in his Chicago office, Walter Burley Griffin created his design from a topographic map, contour plans, a series of panoramic paintings, a plaster model (located at the British Consul's office), and a detailed description of the site.
The Griffins' winning design symbolised democracy. They wanted the city to reflect the values of an emerging nation:
I have planned a city not like any other city in the world. I have planned it not in a way that I expected any government authorities in the world would accept. I have planned an ideal city -
a city that meets my ideal of the city of the future .
Walter Burley Griffin, 1912
Many competition entrants responded to the Yass-Canberra site as a blank canvas, distorting it to accommodate traditional design principles. Griffin actively recognised the importance of the surrounding hills, distant mountains and the Molonglo River landscapes as valuable features that could be set within a modern and democratic city design.
Local topography gave Griffin the opportunity to generate two symbolic axes on which to arrange elements of the city. The ‘Land Axis' extended from Mount Ainslie through Capital Hill, Red Hill and beyond to Mount Bimberi. It linked designated government spaces with commercial and residential areas on the opposite side of Lake Burley Griffin. Crossing the Land Axis at right angles was the ‘Water Axis', which stretched across the Molonglo River and was expressed in Griffin's design as a chain of parks and waterways. These axes effectively locked the city into its site.
Having established the Land and Water Axes, Griffin provided another geometric reference, the National Triangle. The Triangle provides a focus for the Seat of Government and the location of important cultural buildings and recreational areas. Events, memorials, protests, parades and important Federal Government decisions were to take place in the Triangle and give the National Capital purpose and meaning. At the apex of the National Triangle, Griffin planned his Capitol building, centrally located and visible from practically every part of the city. The Capitol building was intended to commemorate the achievements of Australians in literature, science, art, politics and much more - a place of the people. Today, Parliament House sits on the site once reserved for the Capitol. Close to Parliament House is the road called Capital Circle, followed by State Circle, National Circuit, Dominion Circuit and Empire Circuit. The wide avenues radiating out from Parliament House, like the spokes of a wheel, symbolise the democratic links between the states and the Federal Government. Each radial avenue is named after a state capital.
Griffin also made space at the base of Mount Ainslie (in line with the ‘Land Axis') for a ‘Casino'. Unlike the casino of today, where gambling occurs, Griffin's Casino was to be seen as a centre for public leisure with outdoor gardens, restaurants and recreational areas providing a prominent meeting place for the community. Today, the Australian War Memorial is located on this site and the parkland leading to Lake Burley Griffin is called Anzac Parade. This national shrine, although not a Griffin proposal, represents a sympathetic adaptation of Griffin's concept, an important place that symbolises Australian sentiment, achievements and ideals.
In 1928, Griffin supported the location of the Australian War Memorial.
Due to the many differences of opinion Griffin had with Public Service officials, and the onset of World War I, many of Griffin's original concepts and designs were altered or not carried out. Griffin resigned as Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction in 1920 and the continued construction of the National Capital became the responsibility of the Federal Capital Advisory Committee.
There is considerable (and rapidly growing) public interest in the life and works of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. Today, the Griffin plans have been preserved and stored at the National Archives of Australia, in Canberra, where they are recognised as a significant national treasure for all Australians.
THE NATIONAL CAPITAL AUTHORITY AND THE GRIFFIN LEGACY
Since its beginnings, Canberra has been the result of the aspirations, ideals, pragmatism and hard work of the many Australians involved in the making of the city: they made a place that stands forever at the centre of the nation's identity. They made the capital of Australia.
This concept informed Walter Burley Griffin's Plan in its multi-faceted aspects, a beautiful plan with its places, avenues, vistas and landscapes that now looms large in the environmental consciousness of the world. This plan, whilst reflecting the democratic principles of human settlements, goes beyond a mere ethical or aesthetic project: it has become a powerful symbol of solidarity for a nation.
This new assessment of the value of such heritage is timely and significant. For such heritage is rather a seed for a realistic and vigorous growth based on principles set at the city's beginnings. Canberra remains among the nation's greatest achievements .
Romaldo Giurgola AO, Principal Design Architect of Parliament House
The National Capital belongs to all Australians. It is a city that is internationally recognised for its highly symbolic and democratic design. There is a particular responsibility for future generations of Australians to look after the National Capital and to invest wisely in its future.
The National Capital Authority is the Commonwealth agency responsible for the planning and further development of the National Capital. Recently, the National Capital Authority produced a comprehensive document that details a strategic vision for the National Capital in the 21 st century: The Griffin Legacy. This document seeks to enlarge the appreciation of the Griffin design and to guide its development through to the city's centenary in 2013 - and beyond. It sets a new course for Canberra as the Nation's Capital with its strategic framework for the city's development. At a crucial stage in the city's development, the National Capital Authority has initiated a study which clarifies the following:
- what components of the Griffin design have been established;
- what elements must be protected;
- what elements have been lost;
- what elements have been altered, to the benefit or detriment of the city;
- what elements are no longer relevant; and, most importantly,
- what elements can be recovered or adapted for the benefit of Canberra in the 21st century.
For those interested in purchasing a copy of The Griffin Legacy, which contains over one hundred beautiful historical and contemporary colour plates, please visit the National Capital Exhibition in Commonwealth Park or, for further information, phone within Australia (02)62571068.
A PLAN FOR THE NATIONAL CAPITAL
Walter Burley Griffin recognised that his competition-winning design was far from perfect. Indeed, he made many significant changes to it as early as 1913. Later versions show a refinement of ideas and a response to practical conditions such as local geography, increased population projections, budgetary considerations and political interference.
While the 1912 Plan was prepared in distant Chicago, it still managed to convey a unique three-dimensional form from the competition's contour maps, models, paintings and geographical information. When Griffin arrived in Canberra in 1913, and walked the site for the first time, he commenced his first review of the original design and created the 1913 Canberra Federal Capital of Australia: Preliminary Plan.
After several interim versions, a final overarching master plan called the Canberra - Plan of City and Environs, was issued in 1918. It brought together the detailed design development of the previous plans and expressed Griffin's more intimate knowledge of the site derived from discussions with local engineers and stakeholders. This is the last general plan of Canberra signed by Griffin as the Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction. Further plans were produced by Griffin and his office team which showed the detailed layout of critical areas within the city and adjoining neighbourhoods, and also included the detailed design of streets, tramways and planting schemes.
In 1920, Griffin ceased work on the plan for the National Capital. The Federal Government eventually approved a watered down version of Griffin's work - called the 1925 Gazetted Plan. On closer inspection of the Gazetted Plan you can see the inner ring of Civic Centre has been removed and no longer links to the lake. Griffin's recreation area located along the edge of the Molonglo Basin no longer exists and many roads have been removed. Only a few of Griffin's grand public buildings remain, including the Capitol flanked by two official residences.
View from Mt Ainslie by Marion Mahony Griffin
A PLAN FOR THE NATIONAL CAPITAL
1912 Competition Plan
Canberra Federal Capital of Australia: Preliminary Plan (1913 Preliminary Plan)
Canberra: Plan of City and Environs (1918 Plan)
1925 Gazetted Plan
NATIONAL CAPITAL COMPARISON
1912 - Competition Plan drawn by Marion Mahony Griffin
1957 - view from Mount Ainslie
2004 - view from Mount Ainslie
The image at the top shows a portion of the 1912 Competition Plan so expertly rendered by Marion Mahony Griffin. The plan shows a view from Mount Ainslie across an ornamental lake towards Capital Hill. Many of the hills have been left bare of construction and are said to remind the citizens of their unique Australian environment. The city design fits neatly around its natural surroundings and works well, enhancing the landscape.
The 1957 view from Mount Ainslie shows an almost treeless plain with only a few established suburbs and the beginnings of Anzac Parade. The building in the foreground is the Australian War Memorial and the building in the middle of the photograph is (Old) Parliament House.The view from Mount Ainslie in 2004 is a very different one. The ornamental waters of Lake Burley Griffin take the place of the Molonglo River. The Australian War Memorial has been expanded, and Anzac Parade extends from the War Memorial to the lake. Old Parliament House can still be seen and Parliament House, opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988, is now situated on Capital Hill.
URBAN DEVELOPMENT OF THE NATIONAL CAPITAL
Walter Burley Griffin - 1918 map
Urban form and activity
Walter Burley Griffin's 1918 Plan shows commercial businesses and higher density residential areas located on the perimeter of the National Triangle, along the main avenues and around the junctions of these avenues. This design gives the public ready access along the main avenues and supports a busy public transport service. Building intensity gradually decreases as you travel away from the main avenues and eventually the buildings merge with the landscape altogether as you reach the base of the inner hills surrounding the city. Grand public buildings dominate the urban skyline with distinctive silhouettes. Non-public buildings have not been positioned outside a containment line. The height of the containment line was approximately 617m (the height of Capital Hill, where Parliament House is now located) and ensured the visual domination of the Capitol building. It also made sure that the surrounding hills were kept clear of construction and offered beautiful vistas and scenic landscapes.
URBAN DEVELOPMENT OF THE NATIONAL CAPITAL
Canberra - 2004 map
Urban form and activity
Obvious variations from the Griffin 1918 map can be seen on the Canberra 2004 map.
The configurations of the lake and the surrounding parks have been altered slightly and appear less formal than the original Griffin design. The spread of urban housing has moved beyond the 617m containment line. Commercial businesses and higher density residential areas are no longer located on the perimeter of the National Triangle or the majority of main avenues. There are fewer public buildings sited within the National Triangle, and Parliament House sits atop Capital Hill.