By a twist of history, fate, and International competitions, Canberra, the Federal Capital city of Australia, and the Australian Parliament House have been designed by two remarkable architects.
In 1912 an American (Chicagoan) Walter Burley Griffin was awarded first prize in the international design competition for the new federal capital of Australia ..Canberra. He designed a city built into the landscape, with buildings and suburbs in corridors of greenery. The Brindabella mountains provide a beautiful amphitheatre to the city.
Walter Burley Griffin’s wife, Marion Mahony Griffin, also from Chicago, was the first licensed female architect in the US. She did many of the design drawings for the project, and they were a true partnership in that they shared similar ideals, with an emphasis on nature, democracy and social reform.
As fate would have it, Romaldo (Aldo) Giurgola was an Italian student in Rome during the second world war, and he was fascinated by the design of Canberra, created by the Chicagoan Walter Burley Griffin.
“It remained in my mind…you can imagine when there was only war and destruction around us. It was a really wonderful thing.”
Aldo Giurgola won a Fulbright Scholarship and moved to the US, and he eventually co-founded Mitchell/Giurgola Architects in Philadelphia. He had an outstanding career teaching and practising architecture in the United States.
In 1979 he was invited to help judge the Parliament House competition in Canberra, but he preferred to compete, seeing this as an opportunity to contribute to nation building through architecture.
The firm went on to win the competition beating 328 entries from 29 countries, and Australian Parliament House was opened in May 1988.
When he arrived in Canberra Aldo looked at the view from Mt Ainslie before beginning; he wanted to fit in with Burley Griffin’s plan of Canberra.
He always believed that the building should not be higher than the people, that true democracy rises from the state of things.
His aim was that every worker has natural light…
and the corridors and courtyards are balanced and also filled with light.
Guirgola also suggested the colour schemes, muted pinks, greens and greys, the colours of the landscape…
Several Americans including Harold Guida joined him to plan, document and oversee the construction. Harold Guida and Aldo Giurgola decided to stay in Australia, and live in Canberra.
”I have lived in New York. It is a fantastic city. But it is a city for the young. In Canberra he says, it is easier to find a measure between lifestyle, natural beauty and human ambition.
Aldo Giurgola remained a much loved and loyal Canberran, frequently invited to Parliament House for various events. He received an Order of Australia in 1989.
In his older age, he built a small holiday house for himself near Canberra, with views of the Great Dividing Range. The design is derived from Palladio’s villa at Vincenza, La Rotunda, and built by Andreolo Mario.
It was essentially a square room for himself, his daughter and her dog, for working, dreaming, reading and talking. A central skylight let in additional light, and at night they could look at the moon and the stars.
It seems the perfect retirement for a wonderful architect who, despite his early life in Italy and New York, was very much attuned to the Australian landscape and values. He remained an Italian citizen and became an Australian citizen….salute to Romaldo Giurgola!
He died in 2016, aged 96 years old.
Copyright: Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.
18 Replies to “Canberra’s good fortune…a twist of history, fate and International Competitions.”
A beautiful story Gerrie.
Thanks, glad you liked it …inspired by the book Kim lent me… Houses in Canberra.
Fascinating and beautifully illustrated, thank you so much
Thanks Susan, the history behind buildings is often fascinating.
Well, I’m not usually at a loss for words, but this is a wonderful historical post with an amazing flair. It must create great pride in the residents to know the care that was taken in creating this wonderful place. Impressive to say the least. Canberra surely has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world that you and other fortunate people call home. 🙂
Thanks for the lovely comment Judy. We owe a great deal to Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion…and many other Americans who participated in the establishment of Canberra.
Having natural light inside buildings makes such a difference to living and working quality.
Absolutely agree about natural light in the workplace, and not often recognised!
Stunning! And I cannot improve upon what Judy wrote. What a beautiful, beautiful place. If I were the traveling sort, I would come to Canberra. Thanks to your wonderful blog, I am now aware of what a fabulous city it is. Many thanks!
Thanks Laurie, we have an idealistic young American and his wife to thank for the design.
What an interesting post, I just love his work, brilliant! That little retirement house is perfect, I would happily live in that.xxx
Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have a house with a special window to look at the stars and the moon! My kind of place too!
A very interesting post, Gerrie. What a beautiful city you live in!
Thanks Clare, like all cities, it is going through some transitions as the population grows.
This is a fascinating history, and new to me. Giurgola and Griffin both sound like very admirable architects.
What a shame Walter Burley Griffin is not better known, even in his hometown.
Lovely and interesting post, Gerrie. What a wonderful legacy is left by these two architects. Beautiful designs. That little holiday home does look very inviting too.
I agree Sylvia …wonderful legacy from two great architects … and a lovely little retirement house, looking at the stars and the moon at night..