Parliament House is located on Capital Hill in Canberra. The 226 members of parliament meet here to represent the Australian people and make decisions for the nation. Parliament House is a unique building which has become an enduring symbol of Australia's democracy.
Parliament House was designed by Mitchell/Giurgola and Thorp Architects, whose design was selected from 329 entries in international competition. Opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 9 May 1988, it replaced the provisional Parliament House. Old Parliament House, as it is now called, opened in 1927 and was only intended to be a temporary home for the Parliament. By the 1980s the Parliament had outgrown this building, with three thousand people working in a space originally designed to accommodate 300. It was decided that the Parliament needed a permanent home.
10 000 people worked on the construction of Parliament House, which is built almost entirely of Australian materials. It took seven years to complete at a cost of $1.1 billion. 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 4500 rooms. When Parliament meets, 4000 to 5000 people work in the building.
The design is based on two huge curved walls, each 460 metres in length, which separate Parliament House into four main zones:
- the House of Representatives chamber and offices on the eastern side
- the Senate chamber and offices on the western side
- a central zone which includes ceremonial and public spaces
- the executive government wing on the southern end of the structure.
The building is designed to blend with the environment. One million cubic metres of earth and rock were removed so that the central zone of Parliament House could be built into Capital Hill. It was placed within the two curved walls and covered over with grass to recreate the shape of the hill.
The Forecourt, which is the main entrance to Parliament House, is designed to invite people into the building to observe the democratic process. A large open space, it is framed by two walls that appear to be outstretched as if in a gesture of welcome.
The two curved walls in Parliament House also separate the two chambers. This separation represents Australia's bicameral parliamentary system in which laws can only be passed if both houses agree. The House of Representatives and Senate chambers are the largest spaces in the building. Members of parliament meet in the chambers to debate bills (proposed laws) and represent the people from their electorate or state/territory
The colours of the chambers are based on those used in the British Parliament, with red for the Senate and green for the House of Representatives. These traditionally rich colours have been adapted to reflect the Australian landscape. The green used in the House of Representatives and the red in the Senate are similar to the grey-green and red ochre colours of Australian native plants, such as eucalypts.
The distinctive flagmast marks the exact centre of the building, stands 81 metres high and weighs 220 tonnes. It is one of the largest stainless steel structures in the world. The Australian flag flies over Parliament House 24 hours a day and is about the size of the side of a double-decker bus.