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Australia's Parliament House

Closer Look – Australia's Parliament House [PDF 2.02Mb, 14 pages]

Fast facts

  • Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp architects who designed Parliament House
  • $1.1 billion cost to build in Australian dollars
  • 7 number of years it took to construct
  • 10 000 workers involved in constructing and fitting out the building
  • 5000 people work in the building when Parliament meets
  • 1 million number of visitors each year
  • 200 number of years Parliament House is designed to last

Parliament House in Canberra is home to federal Parliament. Architects Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp have created a building that is a meeting place for members of parliament and a symbol of Australia's democracy. It is a place where decisions that shape the nation are made, a site for celebration, memorial and sometimes protest, and above all a building for the people.

Parliament House is located on Capital Hill, Canberra. In Walter Burley Griffin's plan for the city, this was the most prominent location in Australia's national capital.

Opened on 9 May 1988 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Parliament House is one of the largest buildings in the southern hemisphere. It is 300 metres long and 300 metres wide, has a floor area of more than 250 000 square metres and contains 4500 rooms.

Parliament House was the biggest building project undertaken in Australia since the 1960s and the construction of the Snowy Mountain Hydro-electric Scheme. A 10 000 strong workforce took seven years to complete it at a cost of about $1.1 billion.

Choosing a federal capital

Such was the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne over which should be Australia's national capital, it was decided to establish a new capital city. A provision was included in the Australian Constitution directing that the federal capital be located in New South Wales but not within 100 miles (160 kilometres) of Sydney. In the meantime, federal Parliament met in Melbourne at the Victorian Parliament House.

In 1902 the search for a suitable site began. At the time it was believed people function better in a cool climate, and sites with cool climates were favoured. The perfect site needed to have an adequate water supply and provide a setting for a garden city. Thirty five sites were suggested, including Bathurst, Bombala, Dalgety, Orange, Tumut and Albury, before Parliament chose the Canberra region in 1908.

An international competition was held to design the new national capital and in 1912 it was announced entry number 29 from American architect Walter Burley Griffin had been selected as the winner. Construction of Canberra began the following year.

Plans for a permanent Parliament House stalled during World War I and, in 1921, the federal government decided to construct a provisional building. Designed by John Smith Murdoch, the first federal government architect, it was a modest and functional building with 184 rooms. At the time some people criticised its lack of grandeur, saying the building was not imposing enough for a Parliament.