|List||Commonwealth Heritage List|
|Legal Status||Listed place (22/06/2004)|
|Place File No||8/01/000/0017|
|Summary Statement of Significance|
Australia's first Federal Parliament building was designed as the grandest element and central focus of a fully planned capital city.
Old Parliament House is a place of outstanding heritage values related to its history, design, landscape context, interiors, furnishings, courtyards and gardens, collection of movable items, social values and associations.
As the original focus of the Commonwealth Parliament and Government in Canberra, Old Parliament House is intimately associated with the political history of Australia, and the development of Canberra as the capital of Australia, from its opening in 1927 until the opening of the new Parliament House in 1988. The Old Parliament House was the second home of the Parliament which was located in the Victorian Parliament House in Melbourne from Federation in 1901 until 1927, and was the first purpose-built home for the Australian Parliament.
Old Parliament House was the venue for and witnessed both the course and pattern of the nation's political, social and historical development through the major part of the life of the Commonwealth to date. The movable items associated with the building are also intimately associated with these events. Apart from serving as the seat of Commonwealth Parliament, the building bears witness to the physical encroachment of the executive arm of government into the legislature's proper sphere. This was the primary cause for the extensive additions and modifications that had to be made to the building. These additions and modifications are manifested in such elements as the southeast and southwest wings, the northeast and northwest front pavilions, and a great number of internal changes.
The relocation of the Parliament to Canberra was the focus of an intense period of development of the nation's capital. The opening of Parliament heralded the symbolic birth of Canberra as the capital. The intended importance of Old Parliament House is reflected in its design, its prominent siting in the landscape of the Parliamentary Triangle, and in the treatment of the areas around Old Parliament House, particularly the Senate and House of Representatives Gardens, and the National Rose Gardens. (Criterion A4)
Among parliamentary buildings in Australia and in other parts of the western world, Old Parliament House is an uncommon place in that it eventually housed both the legislative and executive functions of government.
Research carried out to date suggests that the furniture in Old Parliament House is part of a rare, intact surviving record comprising both furniture and documentation. The documentation (held by others) relates to initial design concepts, specifications, quotes and detailed drawings for manufacture of items. (Criterion B2)
Old Parliament House is a good example of the Inter-War Stripped Classical style of architecture. The building reflects the embracing of classical symmetry and forms without the adoption of the full classical vocabulary and in this way it expresses a modest but refined architectural style. Key features of the style displayed by the building include: symmetrical facade, division into vertical bays indicating classical origins, vestigial classical entablature (being the horizontal decoration towards the top of the walls including the cornice), simple surfaces and spandrels (the panel between the top of a window on a lower level and the bottom of a window on a higher level) between storeys subdued to emphasise verticality.
The essential character and symmetry of Old Parliament House have remained intact despite several substantial additions. The design of the building and its spaces, and the movable items associated with its operations demonstrate the customs and functions of the Commonwealth Parliament. The divisions within Parliament and the hierarchical system of government are reflected in the categories and styles of both the rooms and furniture available to individuals of different status. (Criterion D2)
Within the building are rooms with significant intact interior features dating from the early period. These are King's Hall, the Library, Senate Chamber, House of Representatives Chamber, Dining Rooms, Senate Opposition Party Room, Ministerial Party Room, Clerk of the Senate's Office, Member's Bar, Government Party Room and Leader of the Government in the Senate's Office.
The building is also of interest for surviving features consistent with, if not influenced by, Garden City ideals. These include the courtyards with loggias and pergolas, and verandahs, a principal feature of the garden city ideal to link internal spaces with the landscape setting. They also include adjacent Senate and House of Representatives gardens that contain formal plantings and an array of recreation facilities, enclosed by high cypress hedges and flanked by fine stands of Maiden's gums. (Criterion F1)
The Old Parliament House is an important landmark in Canberra, Australia's national capital. It is part of the significant cultural landscape of the Parliamentary Triangle, partly reflecting Griffin's design which placed the Government Group of buildings in this corner of the Triangle. This scheme represents in physical form on the ground the conception of the principal components of parliamentary government - the legislative, executive and judicial - the strict separation of these components and the hierarchical relationship between them. Old Parliament House is highly significant as an integral part of this scheme and, standing near the apex of the Triangle, symbolises the primacy of parliament or the legislature over the other two components.
The building also occupies a prominent and strategic location at the southern end of the main Land Axis of Griffin's city design, and contributes to the planned aesthetic qualities of the Parliamentary Triangle. The axis is arguably the pivotal feature of the design. The Old Parliament House is one of four buildings sited on the axis. The other buildings being the Australian War Memorial, Anzac Hall and the current Parliament House. Accordingly, the Old Parliament House makes a major contribution as a viewpoint towards the Australian War Memorial which, together with the reverse view, are some of the most important views in the planned city. Its landmark status was recognised and enhanced by the design and siting of New Parliament House which integrated the building as part of the terminal feature of the North South vista along the Land Axis.
The success of the building in fulfilling this landmark role is due in part to its stark white colour and symmetry, its privileged siting on the Land Axis and the open landscaping between the building and the lake. The role of the Old Parliament House as a national icon is reinforced by its central location in the nation's capital.
Old Parliament House also represents a significant creative achievement. Intended as a provisional structure but occupying such a prominent location, it was deliberately designed as a plain yet dignified structure so that it possessed appropriate aesthetic and formal qualities for its location, but not to such an extent that it would enhance the possibility of the building becoming a permanent fixture in the landscape.
(Criteria E1 and F1)
Old Parliament House has been a strong symbol of Commonwealth Government in Australia, and of Canberra itself, for many generations of Australians. While its original function has shifted to the current Parliament House, the earlier building remains an important and familiar feature because of the memories of its former role, its new roles in the public realm, and its major contribution to the most familiar views in Canberra, from and to the building along the Land Axis. Elements of the building that particularly reflect this value are the front facade, the entrance portico, King's Hall and the Chambers. The facade of the building is significant as a widely recognised symbol of Commonwealth Parliament and Government from 1927 to 1988. The facade is also important as the backdrop for media interviews, protests and other events associated with the Parliament and Government. These events include the establishment of an Aboriginal Embassy in nearby Parkes Place in January 1972 and the address by Prime Minister Whitlam on the front steps of the building after his sacking by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, in November 1975. (Criterion G1)
As the home of the Commonwealth Parliament from 1927 until 1988, Old Parliament House is significant for its associations with Commonwealth Governments, Oppositions, political parties, individual politicians and the press. Specific rooms and spaces within the building are directly associated with events that shaped the political and private lives of prominent individuals in Australia's political and social history. Many of the surviving parliamentarians, support staff and media representatives feel strong associations with the building and its contents.
Old Parliament House is also significant as the most prominent example of the work of the Commonwealth's first government architect, John Smith Murdoch. To a lesser extent, it is significant as an example of the work of the Chief Architect of the Department of the Interior, Edwin Henderson, who devised the scheme for adding the southeast and southwest wings in their original two-storey form. (Criterion H1)
Following the federation of the Australian colonies into the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, the first Parliament met in Melbourne. At this time the decision on the location of the new nation's capital, and therefore the permanent home of the Parliament, had not been taken. It was not until 1908 that the vicinity of Canberra was chosen for the new capital. Until 1927 when the Old Parliament House, then called the Provisional Parliament House, was completed, the Commonwealth Parliament continued to meet in Melbourne.
Walter Burley Griffin won the competition for the design of Canberra in 1912. Griffin was appointed by the Government in 1913 to oversee the design and construction of the new Australian capital. As part of this task, a competition for the design of a permanent Parliament House was conducted in 1916 but suspended because of the First World War.
Griffin left in 1920 leaving development under the control of the Federal Capital Advisory Committee chaired by the architect-planner, John Sulman. The Committee had been appointed to complete sufficient permanent buildings to enable Parliament to move from Melbourne to Canberra.
The concept for a provisional parliament house emerged in 1921 in response to the perceived need for a hall to house a constitutional convention. The convention never eventuated and the hall idea was transformed by the Advisory Committee into the Provisional Parliament House. The site for the hall became the site for the parliament house, on the Land Axis in front of Camp Hill, the latter being Griffin's location for the permanent parliament house. This was a major departure from Griffin's plan. The Provisional Parliament House idea was agreed by Parliament in 1923.
The provisional nature of the Parliament House was the outcome of a compromise to provide Canberra with a building for the Parliament. The government at the time was unwilling to commit the funds thought necessary to construct a permanent building and the notion of a temporary building was also unattractive. The provisional nature of the proposed Parliament building fell somewhere between these other options.
The Old Parliament House was designed by John Smith Murdoch, Commonwealth Architect, for the Federal Capital Advisory Committee. Murdoch also designed a range of furniture and fittings for the building. Site work commenced later in 1923.
In 1925 the Federal Capital Commission (FCC) was established under Sir John Butters. The Commission replaced the Federal Capital Advisory Committee. The FCC was responsible for moving the public service to Canberra and otherwise establishing the city in time for the opening of Parliament House.
The gardens on either side of Old Parliament House were established under the direction of T C G Weston, Canberra's first Superintendent of Parks and Gardens, at the same time as the building.
The Old Parliament House was opened by the Duke of York on 9 May 1927. The British Parliament gave the Australian Parliament a replica of the Speaker's Chair from the House of Commons. This chair became the Speaker's chair in the House of Representatives.
The building housed the Commonwealth Parliament from 1927 until 1988 when a new Parliament House was completed on Capital Hill. In that period the Old Parliament House was the focus of federal political activity and it was the scene for many important and colourful events, as well as the ordinary business of the Parliament. The building was the focus of public demonstrations, such as that by Aboriginal people in a campaign for land and other rights in the 1970s, and other events such as the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam Labour Government.
The building housed the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library which was also initially the National Library. The National Library acquired its own separate building nearby in the mid-1930s.
During the period of 1927-88, the building underwent numerous small and large changes. The most prominent changes were the various multi-storey additions made to the sides of the building at both the front and back. These changes were made as a result of the growing number of Members of Parliament, increasing numbers of support staff and a growth in other services. Other changes include the enclosure of verandahs and the construction of a two storey office annexe in the House of Representatives garden.
After 1988, the Old Parliament House was left vacant for several years. In 1992 the Government decided on a number of new uses for the building. The primary use of the building became a museum of political history run by the National Museum of Australia. Other uses for the building include display areas for the Australian Electoral Commission, National Archives of Australia and National Portrait Gallery, as well as a shop and cafe. At this time the building was re-named Old Parliament House.
The Old Parliament House is a three storey rendered brick building with the main floor on the intermediate level. The strong horizontal pattern of the white main facade was originally set with a crisp grid of recessed openings and verandahs, punctuated by four bays with arched bronze windows and the rhythm of stepped parapets. The balanced masses of the House of Representatives and Senate Chambers rise above the surrounding offices and other rooms. These elements contribute to the image of the building which is widely recognised by the public.
The building has strong symmetrical planning based around a number of major spaces. The major axis through the building, aligned with the Land Axis of the Parliamentary Triangle, features a series of spaces: Kings Hall, the Parliamentary Library and the dining rooms at the back. The cross-axis features the House of Representatives and Senate Chambers which are placed symmetrically either side of Kings Hall. All of these spaces are on the main or intermediate level. Surrounding these spaces are a series of smaller meeting rooms, offices and other service areas which are placed on the lower ground, main and upper floors.
The Old Parliament House is an example of Inter-War Stripped Classical style architecture. Key features of the style displayed by the building include: symmetrical facade, division into vertical bays indicating classical origins, vestigial classical entablature, verandahs, simple surfaces and spandrels between storeys subdued to emphasise verticality.
The original building was rendered in white cement and had two partly enclosed courtyards located behind the front wing of the building which contained the two chambers. The original roofs were constructed of flat concrete slabs with a membrane waterproofing.
Significant interior spaces which survive include Kings Hall, the two chambers, library, two party rooms, three prestige offices, dining room/billiard room and bar. The 1974 Prime Minister's office is also significant for its historical associations. The interiors feature impressive Tasmanian Blackwood finishes and specially designed furniture constructed of Australian timbers. An important design feature was the way the main rooms opened directly onto the verandahs.
The Old Parliament House has undergone many small and large changes over its life. The crispness of profile and the careful composition of the side and rear elevations have been lost due to extensive re-roofing and later additions. There have been major additions to the building at both sides, front and back. These have generally maintained the construction, external finish, height and rhythm of the facade but changed the mass of the building. Other changes include: the painting of the external walls; introduction of low-pitched roofs over the flat roofs; enclosure of verandahs; and changes to and a loss of original finishes in many rooms, though not the major spaces.
Some rooms and spaces, or groupings of room and spaces, both within the house and in the landscape areas around it, have had their significance described as follows.
Southeast and Southwest Wings
The encroachment of the executive arm of government into the legislature's proper space, was the root cause for the additions that had to be made to the building, leading to the construction of the southeast and southwest wings. The expansion of the number of parliamentarians in 1948 and changing expectations for separate office accommodation were further contributing factors.
The southeast wing, comprising two blocks constructed in three phases, 1943, 1949 and 1965, and the southwest wing, also of two blocks constructed in three phases, 1943, 1949 and 1972, have some significance as major extensions in the several campaigns of extension construction to the four corners of the building. The wings, in retaining much of their internal layout and some fittings, are an unusual physical record of the difficult working conditions of parliamentarians, staff and press representatives over the period 1943-88.
The southwest wing is also significant for its association with some important phases or events in the political life of the nation, including the site of the temporary Prime Ministerial suite and Cabinet Room when the Whitlam Government took office in December 1972. This was a period of momentous change early in the life of the new government, and more infamously the site of the 'Night of the Long Prawn' in 1974 related to a failed Government ploy to gain control of the Senate.
Prominent individuals associated with the southwest wing include Senator Neville Bonner, the first Aboriginal parliamentarian, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, a number of women who were Government Ministers and/or Senators, and various other parliamentarians, including Ministers. More generally and perhaps more aptly, the wing is significant for its association with the holders of various high offices in government, such as Ministers, whomever the particular holder of such an office may have been at any one time.
The southwest wing also provides evidence of the distinctive accommodation provided for Hansard.
The southeast wing provides extensive and relatively intact evidence of the accommodation provided for Members at various periods, and also extensive evidence of Ministerial accommodation. The latter reflects the substantial presence of Executive Government in the building, and the southeast wing only rivalled the northeast corner of the north wing in terms of the area of Ministerial accommodation provided.
(text based on Gutteridge Haskins and Davey,1999).
Early Surviving Interiors (1927)
The building features the following rooms which have special architectural interest dating from 1927: King's Hall, Library, Senate Chamber, House of Representatives Chamber, Dining Rooms, comprising four adjoining spaces - the former Billiards Room, Dining Room, ante room and Members' Bar (with 1950s elements), Senate Opposition Party Room (Senate Club) Ministerial Party Room, Government Pary Room,,Clerk of the Senate's Office, and Leader of the Government in the Senate's Office.
In general, these early surviving interiors of the building reflect the austerity associated with the Inter War Stripped Classical style. The rooms tend to be simple spaces with little and subtle decoration. Subtle and repeated classical references, such as the use of Greek patterning, are found in these interiors. Some of the rooms have a certain grandeur being tall or generously proportioned with clerestory windows. The use of timber for wall or ceiling panelling and furniture also distinguishes some rooms.
The use of clerestory windows and/or decorative skylights in many of these rooms and the lobbies are also features of some architectural interest.
(text from Pearson et al, 2000)
The Parliamentary Library is of historical and social significance because of its role from 1927 to 1988 as the home of the primary information service provider to Members of Parliament and Senators.
The Library was designed, and comfortably furnished, to suit the needs of a Parliament in which Parliamentarians had relatively little access to research staff, and relied on the Library as a research tool and place of work. It had what was described as a 'club-like' atmosphere, with large leather upholstered chairs, sofas and chaise lounges, and surprisingly few desks and work tables. Access to the main reading room was strictly controlled to maintain its capacity to service Members and Senators.
Changes were made to the Library progressively from 1938 to deal with both the increasing demands of an expanding parliament and executive, and the growth of the National Library collection, which was only separated from the Parliamentary Library in 1960. Additions infilled part of the courtyard, and a series of internal changes were made, some of which have been reversed in the 1998 refurbishment of the Library which was adapted to house the premanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery.
This history of development and deterioration suggests that the main heritage values of the Library fabric reside in those elements that it retained up to and including the 1958 extension.
(text from O'Keefe and Pearson,1998).
Later Period Interiors (1950s and 1970s)
The building features the following rooms which have special architectural interest dating from the 1950s: Members' Bar (with 1927 elements), and 1970s: Prime Minister's Office, Cabinet Room, Speaker's Suite and President of the Senate's Suite.
The 1950s Bar and 1970s rooms are modest though interesting representatives of architectural interiors of these periods. They are somewhat austere in character and rely for their effect on simple detailing but extensive use of timber panelling.
(text from Pearson et al, 2000)
The contents of Old Parliament House are significant for their historical value in providing evidence about the way in which the parliamentary functions were conducted within the building. The contents are evidence of the importance of the traditions and the people who carried out these functions, reflecting the everyday use of the building over an important period in the development of Australia as a nation. They also establish a hierarchy of importance of people engaged in parliamentary duties. The continued use of the contents of Old Parliament House in their original setting and for their original purposes for over sixty years enhances their significance beyond ephemeral furnishing for a structure originally designed as a provisional building. Recent additions to the original complement of furniture and furnishings reflect the increased demands that were placed on the building to accommodate new functions and an increasing number of occupants. These items are significant as evidence of changes to the form and function of the building.
The design of the contents of Old Parliament House is significant as an integral feature of the building and is representative of prevailing architectural trends in the 1920s. Their design reflects the role of John Smith Murdoch as architectural coordinator of a major architectural project of national significance.
The use of Australian materials and labour in the manufacture of the contents for Old Parliament House is significant for its contribution to the promotion of a sense of national identity and unity.
The contents of Old Parliament House include items presented to the Parliament from United Kingdom and Canada which underline the significance of Australia's role as a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and demonstrate the importance of the Westminster parliamentary system as the foundation of Australian Government. Of exceptional significance are the President of the Senate's Chair presented by the Dominion of Canada and the Speaker's Chair, presented by the United Kingdom Branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association.
The physical evidence in the contents and the supporting archival documentation of their design, use and modification represent a valuable research resource of national standing.
(text above is primarily from Pearson et al, 2000)
Senate and House of Representatives Gardens
The Senate and House of Representatives Gardens are a significant and integral component of Old Parliament House. Parliamentarians used the gardens for leisure and sport. The gardens supplied cut flowers to the Parliament and were the venue for formal events. The gardens relate to the building, featuring surrounding trees using a strong evergreen tree foundation, colourful deciduous trees, tall clipped hedges and patterned floral display beds. The gardens reflect the international movement of landscape design for public settings by the use of gardens beds cut into the grass sward, the creation of formal, pattern gardens, the extensive and dominant use of roses, and the creation of extensive open lawned areas.
Roses are the key plant element throughout the life of the gardens, and the Senate and House of Representatives Gardens are a key element of the National Rose Gardens which include plantings in Parkes Place.
(text based on Conybeare Morrison & Partners and others, 1998, and Patrick and Wallace 1989).
Rows of Maiden's gum (EUCALYPTUS MAIDENII) flank each side of the gardens. The eastern group on King George Terrace are regarded as exceptional (Pryor and Banks, 1991)
Further discussion of significance is in the conservation management plan (Pearson et al 2000).
|History Not Available|
|Condition and Integrity|
The Old Parliament House is in generally fair to good condition. |
The integrity of the fabric varies considerably as the building has been subject to numerous alterations and additions. Major changes include: the enclosure of the 1927 courtyards by later wings; the 1964 wing added to south-east corner; the 1970 wing added to south-west corner; the 1972 and 1973 wings added to the north-east and north-west corners; the enclosure of verandahs; roofing of original flat roofs; painting of original external white render; construction of an office annexe in the House of Representatives garden; and loss of original interiors such as the original Prime Minister's office and Cabinet Room. The major additions have been spatially unsympathetic to the site, with the exception of the annexe, which relates to the original building in colour and construction. Changes are being made to the south elevation of the dining rooms to provide direct access.
|About 2.5ha, comprising that area bounded by King George Terrace, Queen Victoria Terrace and Parliament Square, Parkes.|
The statement of significance and other documentation was primarily prepared from the following report: |
Pearson, M, Betteridge, M, Marshall, D, O'Keefe, B and Young, L, (2000) Old Parliament House Conservation Management Plan. Report prepared for the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.
Australian Construction Service:
(1988) The building in its setting : Old Parliament House redevelopment
(1991) Old Parliament House redevelopment study : design drawings.
(1991) Heritage strategy : Old Parliament House redevelopment.
(1991) Architectural character : Old Parliament House redevelopment
(1995) Conservation management plan : Old Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T.
Connybeare Morrison & Partners and others (1994) Restoration of Old Parliament House Gardens, Report on History of the Gardens, prepared for the NCPA.
Conybeare Morrison & Partners (1994) Restoration of Old Parliament House
Gardens: masterplan report
Garnett, Rodney and Hyndes, Danielle 1992, The Heritage of the Australian Capital Territory, National Trust of Australia (ACT) and others.
Gray, J. 1995 Poplar trees in the Garden Courts of Old Parliament House, Canberra : options for replanting
Gutteridge Haskins and Davey 1999, Old Parliament House South West Wing Heritage Study , report for DOCITA
Marshall, D 1995, Documentation on Historic Places in the Australian Capital Territory, 3 volumes, unpublished report for the Australian Heritage Commission.
O'Keefe, B and M Pearson (1998) Federation: A National Survey of Heritage Places, Australian Heritage Commission.
O'Keefe, B. (2000) Old Parliament House : heritage study for the conservation and refurbishment of the southwest wing of Old Parliament House
Patrick and Wallace (1988) Draft conservation study of Old Parliament House gardens, Canberra
Pryor, LD and Banks JCG 1991, Trees and Shrubs in Canberra. Little Hills Press. Canberra
Charlton, Ken 1984, Federal Capital Architecture, National Trust of Australia (ACT).
Dick, George 1977, Parliament House Canberra, AGPS, Canberra
Garnett, Rodney and Hyndes, Danielle 1992, The Heritage of the Australian Capital Territory, National Trust of Australia (ACT) and others.
Gibbney, Jim 1988, Canberra 1913-1953, AGPS
Howard Tanner and Associates 1986, Provisional Parliament House: The Conservation Plan.
Nelsen, Ivar and Waite, Phil 1995, Conservation Management Plan, Old Parliament House, Canberra, ACT, Australian Construction Services.
Report Produced Sat Jul 26 22:45:44 2014