The competition for a Public Place by the Lake in Canberra produced much high calibre work. Inventive reinterpretations and allusive qualities characterised many submissions, according to Competition Registrar Stephen Frith.

This is an article from the Architecture Australia archives and may use outdated formatting


Above First Prize scheme by Durbach/Block Architects, in association with Sue Barnsley of Schaffer Barnsley Landscape Architects, NSW. The team included Neil Durbach, Camilla Block,David Jaggers, Lisa Le Van, and Sue Barnsley, with participation by James Mcgrath and Harald Straatveit.

The competition brief for the design of a Public Place in the Parliamentary Zone arose from the recommendations of a review committee established by the National Capital Authority. The need for the re-development of the site proposed by Walter Burley Griffin for a ‘Watergate’ was considered to be a high priority, and the competition was launched as a consequence. The review panel considered several ideas for a public place with attached exhibition and restaurant areas, and a ‘Great Verandah’ was also among the review proposals that became embodied within the brief for competitors. It was gratifying to the judges and to panel members that many competitors took these suggestions and re-interpreted them in creative ways. This was especially true of the winning proposal by Neil Durbach and Camilla Block and landscape architect Sue Barnsley and their colleagues. The proposal is a subtle design solution that resolves the Land Axis at the Lake’s edge by cutting and forming the landscape, rather than by instigating a large building program. It manages to provide a solution that allows for large numbers of people, but also permits smaller groups to enjoy performances of various kinds by the Lake. The jury noted that the design works with the existing landscape in minimal but effective ways, and it enhances the sense of place by allusions to the geometry of the new Parliament House, as well as its enhancement of the plantings and configuration of the landscape of the Land Axis. It is a proposal that intelligently engages with the tensions of symmetry and asymmetry that characterise the site. The second prize winning entry by architect Alex Popov proposed a series of earth berms that progress from the East-West Promenade towards the water’s edge along the Land Axis. In several respects the project demonstrates the strong continuing influence of Jorn Utzon in Alex Popov’s practice. The berm-like shapes transform at various points in the progression from earth and grass, to water, and to copper cladding. The berms also allowed for the development over time of a variety of uses, such as temporary market shelters, and are also designed as sky-lights to the exhibition spaces below the platform on which they are arranged. The berm-forms could also be transformed into shops and restaurants by the Lake, as well as ferry terminals or platforms on the Lake. However, the jury thought that the design would sever the connection of the Old Parliament House with the Lake along the Land Axis, and that the provision for large numbers of people on the site would be difficult.


Top Entry by Anton James Design, with Thierry Lacoste and Joe Tang, Lacoste and Stevenson Architects, NSW. Bottom Second Prize scheme by Alex Popov Architects, NSW. The team included Brian Bass, and Ann Bayliss

To celebrate the quality of the many schemes submitted, the jury recommended that the proposals should be published, and a book on the competition is now in preparation.

The scope of the approaches of the entries to the competition in some measure reflects the stress in contemporary architectural criticism of the tensions between a phenomenological attitude to site and to sense of place, in comparison to approaches that stress patterning of surface and the rhetorical place of architectural and landscape design in contemporary culture. From either of these two perspectives, however, the strongest characteristic of the architecture of the competition projects is their allusive quality. Whether the work comes from the more phenomenologically based practice of Durbach Block and Sue Barnsley, or from competitors whose stress is on the patterning of surface and on allusions to the popular culture of the beach - as seen in the scheme submitted by Anton James Design, with Thierry Lacoste and Joe Tang of Lacoste and Stevenson Architects - the most engaging architecture in Australia is knowing about its references to Australian and European history, culture and to Australian landscape. It is worth noting that the Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa, who was a judge in the competition, has written on the relation of phenomenology to architecture, and that the work of Glenn Murcutt, also a judge, is sympathetic with, if not emblematic of, this stream of practice in Australia. Many of the competition proposals raise questions about the relation of architecture to culture, and of the continuing role of rhetoric and of the embodiment of narratives in Australian architecture and landscape architecture.






Top Left Entry by Robert Peck von Hartel Trethowan, Melbourne office. Top and bottom right Entry by KLM Gerner Consulting Group, with Craig Guthrie, Samantha Parsons, Miesja Reynolds, and Laurence Blyton, with Frank Marioli Architect, including Malcolm Schapel and Graham Crist. Bottom left Entry by Woods Bagot, lead by Andrew Jeffries, Melbourne Office.



Published online: 1 Sep 2000
Words: Stephen Frith


Architecture Australia, September 2000

Related topics

More archive

See all
August issue of LAA out now August issue of LAA out now

A preview of the August 2019 issue of Landscape Architecture Australia.

Houses 124. Cover project: Garden Room House by Clare Cousins Architects. Houses 124 preview

Introduction to Houses 124.

Architecture Australia September/October 2018. AA September/October 2018 preview

Local and global recognition: An introduction to the September/October 2018 issue of Architecture Australia.

The August 2018 issue of Landscape Architecture Australia. August issue of LAA out now

A preview of the August 2018 issue of Landscape Architecture Australia.

Most read

Latest on site