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

In Griffin's original plan for Canberra, Parliament House was to be built on Camp Hill, just below where it is now located. Griffin reserved the Capital Hill site for a ceremonial public building called the Capitol, which would celebrate the achievements of the Australian people. Its elevated position above Parliament House symbolised Parliament is accountable to the people, who 'oversee' their representatives.

However, Provisional (Old) Parliament House was built just beneath Camp Hill. It would need to be demolished if Griffin's plan was followed. The federal Parliament considered both the Camp Hill and a lakeside site before agreeing to build Parliament House on Capital Hill.

Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp's design pays tribute to Griffin's original vision. The flagmast traces the outline of the pyramidal 'Capitol' building from Griffin's competition drawings. The grassed roof allows people to literally stand above their elected representatives.

Construction of Parliament House

The site was so large that during construction it was divided into project zones. This aerial photograph, taken in December 1984, shows the House of Representatives zone in the foreground, the main entrance on the right, ministerial wing on the left and Senate zone at the rear.

Parliament House Construction Authority

Griffin used the land formations around Canberra as the basis for his plan for the city and to define symbolic axes. These included a land axis that runs from Mount Ainslie through Capital Hill, the site of Parliament House. The central zone of Parliament House was placed in line with Griffin's land axis. It extends from the Forecourt to the ministerial wing, and links the people to the executive government.

The two chambers—the House of Representatives and the Senate—are located on a line known as the legislative (law-making) axis. It crosses the land axis in the Members Hall at the very centre of the building beneath the Australian flag, visible through a glass skylight. This intersection is half-way between the two chambers. It symbolically brings together the different elements that make up Australian democracy—the people, the members of parliament and the government—under the unifying symbol of the flag.

The Members Hall is a ceremonial space at the heart of the building. It is also an informal meeting place for members of parliament. In the centre of the hall is a reflective pool made from a single piece of South Australian Black Imperial granite. It is 3.5m2 by 250 millimeters thick and weighs eight tonnes. The pool reflects the flag above. The sound of water trickling through the pool prevents the conversations of members of parliament from being overheard.