Canberra is renowned internationally, but opinions about Canberra as a city and a place have always varied – from ‘inspired design’ to ‘soulless’. Underpinned by the Walter Burley Griffin/Marion Mahoney competition winning design, for half a century, it struggled to demonstrate that it was a real capital city, but over recent decades it has blossomed and matured. And now it is celebrating its centenary!
In 1911, designers from around the world were invited to share their vision for a truly planned city. Just like the decision as to where to locate the new capital, the city’s final form was also controversial – and apparently the Royal British Institute of Architects attempted to boycott the competition, because they didn’t like the control that the Federal Government was retaining over the result. Despite the controversy, 137 entries were lodged from across the globe. Now, a century on, those that made the shortlist are back on display.
To coincide with the centenary, the winning entry – Design 29, by Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony Griffin – and some of the rarely-seen finalists have gone on show at the National Archives of Australia, a display showing the turn-of-the-century designs in a new light for the digital era.
Visitors can collect iPads and take them around the exhibition with them, unfolding and unlocking a whole new layer of content. The technology allows people to see what Canberra could look like if the design of Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony Griffin had not been selected. You can layer a contemporary Canberra map over one of the design maps and get a feel for how the two relate to each other, or not, as the case may be, and also explore aspects of the Griffin plan which were never implemented.
One of the lesser-known aspects of Griffins’ design was a planting scheme to cover different hills with pink cherry blossom, red bottle brush or yellow broome. Despite attempts to look forward, the designs are a reflection of their time and place, and they didn’t imagine the scale of population or the dominance of the motor vehicle.
For details of the address and opening times of the exhibition, see www.naa.gov.au