Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Remaking of Canberra

Senator Kate Lundy talked on "Creating a New Nation’s Capital – the international origins of the Griffin Canberra Plan" today. This far ranging talk on Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin's design for the city of Canberra was made more relevant, as it was at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra, located in the centre of the city the Griffin plan created. Several of the restored original renderings of the design are on display in the archive. Senator Lundy chairs the parliamentary committee which recently delivered recommendations on planning Canberra: "The Way Forward – Inquiry into the role of the National Capital".

This was not the average politician's talk, written by a staffer with snide remarks about the opposition. Senator Lundy discussed the detail of the origins of the Griffin plan for Canberra in scholarly detail, combined with personal anecdotes about living in the city. Kate argues the Canberra plan was a joint work by Walter and Marion Griffin. She courted controversy by suggesting that Frank Lloyd Wright's town planning designs were derivative of the Griffins (my criticism of Wright brought dismissive responses from US academics).

The Lundy thesis is that the Griffins expressed a detailed theoretical blueprint of the role of government in a democracy via their plan for Canberra. Some parts of the plan survive, despite the intervention of the federal public service and changes in requirements. At question time there was some quibbling over details in the talk. My only correction would be to say that the flagpole on new Parliament House, which has pyramidal legs reflecting the Griffin's original design, is made from stainless steel, not aluminium.

One questioner asked about getting Canberra planning "back on the rails", referring to the splitting of the process between the federal planners and ACT Government. Senator Lundy will be setting up a blog on her web site in the next few days for discussion of recent proposals from the federal committee. I wanted to ask a more literal question about rails, as to if there was prospect for a light rail (tram) along the approximate alignment planned by Griffin and linked to a high speed Sydney rail terminus (perhaps Australia could swap Chinese made trams and high speed trains for some more LNG?).

National Archives of Australia will be providing an edited podcast of the talk in the next few weeks. Hopefully the text of the talk will also be provided. Perhaps the blog discussion can be expanded to encompass the "Public Sphere" web based consultation process which the Senator is pioneering.

After the talk I walked towards Lake Burlie Griffin, with Old Parliament House to my left and the Portrait Gallery ahead and national monuments all around glowing in the spring sunshine.

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