Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 28 August 1980
Page: 967

Mr BRYANT (Wills) - I approve of the proposal and the general concept of the design of the new parliament house and the way it fits into Capital Hill. It certainly makes the hill the appropriate place on which to build our parliament house. It has been a long, slow step to reach this stage. By the time this Parliament is in its permanent home it will have taken 88 years to get there.

There were a long struggle and many debates in this Parliament about where the building should be sited. In the first place the lakeside site was suggested. There were suggestions that it ought to be built on Camp Hill or on Capital Hill. Eventually the Joint Committee on the New and Permanent House recommended that the lakeside site be chosen, but a number of people on the Committee thought that it ought to be located on Capital Hill. The then Prime Minister moved, and the then Leader of the Opposition seconded that the lakeside site should be chosen. An amendment was moved. Finally it was decided that the new parliament house would be built on Capital Hill, and that is where it will be built.

As soon as I saw the model I asked myself: Who now would put it back on the lakeside site?'. I think to the extent of its siting the building is eminently successful. It think it is about time honourable members got hold of the plans and had a good look to see whether the statements made about the building's functional effectiveness are correct. I am a sceptic by nature; perhaps to say that I am an agnostic would be better. I have read of the building in glowing terms, lt has been said that the design was an exciting and stimulating solution which was functionally efficient, eminently buildable, extremely sympathetic to the site, brilliantly blending together the requirements of architectural quality, sensitivity to location and so on. Such words are not just approval; they show ecstacy. I have serious doubts about such remarks coming from the people who are responsible for the assessment. Whilst we accept the general principle of the design and most of its features we should look very closely to see whether the building suits members of this Parliament.

I was a member of the committee which examined parliament houses around the world. None of them worked. They all had great disadvantages. There has not been enough input at various levels about members or enough consideration of the work of the Parliament. The building does not have absolute approval from everybody. The comments of Mr Seidler were pointed out to me today or yesterday. He cannot be written off as an uninformed commentator. He said:

Do not think what I am going to say is sour grapes. My design was one of the last 10 considered, and I'm quite happy about that.

But the winning design is a disaster ... I am prepared to hold forth in detail . . .

He said that the building did not make the most of the views which are available. That is my own opinion. I think the design is conservative and inward looking. I think it is unobtrusive to the point of being almost self-effacing. I am not sure that that is what it needs to be. I am offering opinions from which we might have to consider some issues. The building is expansive; but is it expandable? Does it make the most of the site which offers space, light, distance and accessibility? It certainly makes the most of the accessibility. 1 think the idea of underground parking and so on is very important. The general design, layout and usage of public spaces seem to me to be appropriate and first class; but does this apply to the other features of the site? The site of Capital Hill looks across one of the most expansive countries, a country which has the most effective natural light and where - whoever thought of this phrase ought to be congratulated - on a clear day you can see forever. What have we done about that?

I want to make several other points before I get round to the aesthetic aspects. I have here the plans. The building is as good as we can get with the material we have, but the distances between its sections offer a serious challenge to members. The building is spread out horizontally. These days it is much easier to deal with things vertically. I have before me the second floor plan. It shows that the Parliamentary Library reading room is one floor up from the chamber and at least 60 yards away. I think that is too far. The plan also shows the general layout for members. I am thinking about other honourable members as they get older and more harried and harassed. As my friend, the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) pointed out, we started at the far end of this building. Unless my arithmetic and the scales are incorrect, the furthest distance a member will be situated from the House on the main floor will be 150 yards. The closest party rooms will be 50 yards. Some of the other places are further away. 1 do not think that is good for this Parliament. I think that somehow we should ask that the building be concentrated more vertically - we can still use all the horizontal aspects if we wish - because we will need to put into the place many functions which at the moment we do not consider. There will be many more members. The Parliament will have a different lifestyle. I am suggesting to honourable members from 25 years of experience in this very demanding institution - I do not suspect that it will change all that much - that we look very thoroughly at the details of the design. I hope that those honourable members who are on the various committees do not become shy, diffident or nervous because they believe they are only amateurs or only politicians. They are the people who will live and work in the building.

I think it is fair enough to accept this design because it is the appropriate design. But I have not seen the others; we were not given the advantage of seeing the others in concept. I disapprove of that as a way to treat the Parliament. I have felt from the very first consideration of a new and permanent Parliament House that the chambers should be so sited that they look out across the country which honourable members have been chosen to govern. How can we do that without upsetting the general concept of this proposed building? I think the chambers can be brought forward. The front part of the building which is to accommodate shadow Ministers, the Speaker and so on could be put on another floor or at the rear of the building. Surely that is not an architectural and building challenge that is beyond the capacity of Australians to design. I think the building could be raised by 1 0 or 1 2 feet.

We have this almost incalculable advantage of space and distance as part of the style and life of the nation and it ought to be incorporated in the building. That is why I say that this design is conservative. The building is well designed and it looks attractive. The photographs, the models and the ideas behind it are all of those things. But is that enough? I am not too sure, from seeing the pictures of the building, whether it will be readily identifiable except from the site. This building is readily identifiable but, of course, we become fairly skilled at identifying such features.

I make in all seriousness the aesthetic point about how the actual chambers ought to be fitted into the scene and the functional points about where the Library and the party rooms ought to be and about the distances of members' rooms from the chambers. I have looked at parliament buildings in Kuala Lumpur, Delhi, Rome and Bonn. I have looked at the Houses of Parliament in London and Ottawa and at the United States Congress. I have thought from the very first time I started to examine such buildings that none of them satisfactorily take on board the questions of the nearness of the working areas of members to the chambers, accessibility and so on. I do not think they are impossible problems to solve. I make these points in all seroiusness as one who was involved right from the beginning in the second phase of trying to get a new Parliament House.

Another point I want to make is: Have we made the most of Capital Hill from the aesthetic point of view? First of all, I take it that the flagpole was something designed in the first shot. I do not think we want such a contrivance. I have suggested to honourable members that we put up a single pole, perhaps one of the longest pieces of Australian timber. That might be inappropriate. I do not know how we will run up a flag of the dimensions required. It will be good for the flagmakers and I do not mind that. But why is it that we are so shy about putting something on the hill? Will the building really dominate if it sits on the hill? Does the Parthenon dominate Athens? Do other buildings which are sited on hills, even some very big ones, dominate their surroundings? Durham Cathedral sticks in my memory from seeing it sitting on a slight hill. Humanity has usually reached for the sky in these matters. The Muslims have managed to produce the minaret. Our ancestors managed to produce gothic spires on churches - things of symbolic beauty and aesthetically pleasing.

One of our great problems when approaching this question is the Opera House- John Thomas Bigge syndrome. The error made with regard to the Opera House in the first instance was that it was designed without regard to all the engineering and other considerations. 1 do not think it is successful as an opera house. That does not happen to be one of my lines of deep study. But it is certainly architecturally satisfying and a credit to the people who resolved the building problems.

The Commonwealth has had a great deal of experience in building. For instance there is the new railway line, built in quite difficult country. It is not difficult so much in the physical contest with the scenery itself; the distances cause the difficulty. That railway line will be completed on time and within cost. I was associated with the National Library almost from the day the holes were dug. By constant scrutiny and careful examination - the National Capital Development Commission has had a great deal of experience with this type of building - it was put up on time and within cost. I do not think that is a real problem. It may well be that there are problems that we have not solved at all. I do not know what amount of earth is to be scooped out of this site, but I suggest it will be a very large amount of earth. I do not know where it will be put. We cannot take two, three, four hundred million tonnes of earth, or whatever it is, away from that site and plant that around the countryside without getting some objections. Those are matters that I hope the House and members will examine.

I suggest that in all probability by the time the centenary of this Parliament comes up in 2001 people will be thinking: 'Can we not get some architect to put up something attractive on the hill as the crowning piece which has some architecturally aesthetic magnificence without being overpowering?' It should be a building such as the Taj Mahal, which would give some point to the actual hill itself. I am not taken with the idea that the building ought to be buried. I do not mind if the building is put into the hill, but I think it is one of the philosophical difficulties that we face. We are afraid to be out in the open and up on the hill. We still suffer from the fears of the Opera House. I go back to the last century and the time of John Thomas Bigge who came to Sydney, I think in 1890 or thereabouts, because people had been complaining about the extraordinary extravagance of Macquarie. Bigge took one look at the plans for Sydney and asserted that streets and buildings like that would never be needed, and the plans were mostly blue-pencilled. That is why Sydney is as it is today.

Those things do not worry me, but I do hope that members will take the plans and make a close examination of them to see whether there is some way in which they can concentrate on those areas to which they are always moving and place them so that they reach them with the least physical exertion and waste of time. I do believe there must be more accent on the vertical than on the horizontal in those areas while still maintaining the spacious look and the grace of the building. I must not say that I am as ecstatic about the building as the assessors' report and some of the members are. It is time to turn a very critical eye on anything that is to last for perhaps 1 ,000 years and serve the whole of the community for all of that time.

Suggest corrections