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Parliament House Canberra, 1927


2. The Design Competition, 1914–24

The saga of the architectural design competition for a permanent Parliament House lasted for ten years from 1914 to 1924. The competition was actually only active for a few months in 1914 and again in 1916. Attempts were made to revive it several times in the ensuing years. The competition was never cancelled but postponed indefinitely until a more opportune time. It was not until 1980 (66 years after the first design competition was launched) that an international competition for a permanent Parliament House came to fruition.

The correspondence on the early competition is spread through many series. This guide identifies those series which contain the most comprehensive information. The correspondence reflects the desire of the Australian Government to build a Parliament House that would be the dominant feature of the new capital and be admired internationally. Several files contain correspondence from interested architects who were excited about being associated with the development of a completely new city, not a common occurrence in the twentieth century.

Also of interest in the correspondence is the disruption caused by World War I. When trying to contact architects in 1923–24 to award compensation it was discovered that some had died, others could no longer be contacted and some had had their plans and, in some cases, their businesses destroyed by the war. Attitudes had changed in Australia – for example, the war debt meant that interest in building a new city of monumental and international proportions had waned.

The winding down of the competition also excited correspondence from architects throughout the world who thought they were being treated badly. Although the competition is now largely forgotten it was closely followed by the media and Parliament of the day as shown by extracts from newspapers and Hansard reports. The letters turn to ones of gratitude when compensation was awarded. Although the amount of compensation was small, ranging from £10 to £100, the architects were grateful they had not been summarily dismissed. F W FitzPatrick of Chicago wrote:

Howbeit your Administration deserves the praise and commendation of the Architects of the World for the just and equitable manner in which you propose to adjudicate and settle the matter. It is so easy for a Government to call such a competition "off" and let it go at that, dismissing it with a wave of the hand.26
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1903-38

This series was the general filing system of the agencies shown above. The series covers a wide range of subjects and contains thousands of files. Several files have been identified that cover the construction and opening of Parliament House.

Some items are listed on RecordSearch and paper listings are available. Reference staff can help researchers use the lists and other indexes to locate further information.

Series: A1
Quantity: 184.92 metres in Canberra
Recorded by: 1903–16: Department of External Affairs (I) (CA 7); 1916–28: Department of Home and Territories (CA 15); 1928–32: Department of Home Affairs (II) (CA 24)
Canadian Trade Commissioner. Parliament House Competition Federal Capital 1916/30690
Payment to G. Whiteford for Esperanto translation of conditions of Federal Parliament House Architectural Competition 1917/5333
Federal Capital Parliament House Competition. Resumption 1919/1663
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, FCH/FC FEDERAL CAPITAL SERIES, 1906-17

The series documents the administration of the Territory for the Seat of Government (including Jervis Bay) and the design, planning, naming and construction of the Federal Capital.

Series: A110
Quantity: 2.6 metres in Canberra
Recorded by: 1906–16: Department of Home Affairs (I) (CA 8); 1916–17: Department of Works and Railways (CA 14)
Applications for copies of Conditions for Competition for Parliament House, Canberra FC1914/808
Federal Capital Parliament House Architectural Competition, withdrawal owing to European Crisis FC1914/1063
Federal Capital Parliament House Architectural Competition, extract from Hansard FC1914/1126
Parliament House Competition, Canberra FC1916/340
Suggested postponement of Parliament House Competition
The above two files contain correspondence with the Federal Council of the Australian Institute of Architects and George Taylor, editor of the Building and Real Estate Journal about the resumption of the competition in 1916
FC1916/455
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 'FCL' SERIES, 1913-24

This series contains correspondence relating to acquisition and leasing of land, layout of the city, surveys, afforestation and other land matters to do with the Federal Capital Territory.

Series: A192
Quantity: 12.8 metres in Canberra
Recorded by: Lands and Survey Branch (CA 737)

Federal Capital – Parliament House Competition

FCL1921/608
Parliament House Competition, Canberra
This file contains a summary of the history of the competition and a copy of Federal Parliament House Architectural Competition (booklet of competition conditions).
FCL1922/194
ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 'FCW' (FEDERAL CAPITAL WORKS) PREFIX TO 1917, THEN 'FC' (FEDERAL CAPITAL) PREFIX, 1910-31

This correspondence series documents public works projects in or associated with the Federal Capital Territory. The files cover such topics as the provision of essential services such as road building, bridge building, railway links, water supply, and sewerage, as well as plans, maps and designs for such major public works as Duntroon, Parliament House, Hotel Canberra, and the Mt Stromlo Observatory.


Series: A199
Quantity: 3.45 metres in Canberra
Recorded by: 1910–13: Department of Home Affairs (I) (CA 8); 1913–16: Public Works Branch, Melbourne (CA 783); 1917–26: Department of Works and Railways (CA 14)
Esperanto translation of architectural competition details (Parliament House) FC1918/337
CORRESPONDENCE, REPORTS, ETC., RELATING TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY (FCT), 1906-21

This series consists mostly of copies of outwards correspondence and printed reports which have been pasted into large leather bound volumes. Entries are arranged
(basically) chronologically within each volume. There is an alphabetical index at the start of each volume.

Matters dealt with include the choice of the Yass–Canberra district as the site for the Federal Capital Territory, procurement of land, the need for sea access, the proposal for a competition to design the Federal Capital Territory (a copy of the guidelines for the competition is in Volume 7), and other administrative and personnel matters.

There is a small amount of correspondence about choosing the site and design for Parliament House in relation to developing the design competition for the city and the intention to hold an international competition.


Series: A208
Quantity: 9 volumes in Canberra
Recorded by: Department of Home Affairs (I) (CA 8)
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ALPHABETICAL SERIES, 1909-19

This series appears to be the first system created by the Federal Capital Office, Melbourne. The records deal with various matters concerning the Federal Capital Territory particularly the siting and planning of buildings such as Parliament House, the Arsenal (an ill-fated proposal to build a munitions factory in Canberra), churches, hotels, schools and the railway.

Series: A214
Quantity: 0.36 metres in Canberra
Recorded by: 1909–13: Department of Home Affairs (I) (CA 8); 1913–17: Federal Capital Office (CA 601) (CA 601)
Parliament House Design Competition – correspondence
This file is mainly about the reissue of the competition in August 1916 and its subsequent withdrawal in November 1916. There is a good deal of correspondence from Walter Burley Griffin.
3
Parliament House Design Competition – programme and conditions with translations 4 part 1
Parliament House Design Competition – programme and conditions with translations
The above two files document the development of the competition booklet in 1914.
4 part 2
Parliament House Design Competition – miscellanea 6
PH (Parliament House) Competition – questions and answers
This file contains letters from potential competitors requesting further information and the answers that were sent to them.
14
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 'DSG' (DISTRICT SURVEYOR GENERAL) PREFIX, 1916-25

This series consists of files generated by the offices of the District Surveyor General and the Lands and Survey Office. The files cover a wide range of topics such as fencing, rent, rates, repairs and acquisitions of land in the Federal Capital Territory, including Jervis Bay. The files also cover routine administration details of the government such as the hospital, afforestation branch, hostels and hotels, telephone lines, agistment fees, accommodation for visiting members of Parliament and firewood supplies.

Series: A361
Quantity: 8.80 metres in Canberra
Recorded by: Lands and Surveys Branch, Canberra (CA 745)
Parliament House Competition
This file contains 2 pages from Walter Burley Griffin asking for approval of expenditure on the competition. The estimated cost of the competition was £8,500. However, due to the withdrawal of the competition in 1916, Griffin was only asking for approval of £25.
DSG17/806
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, OCCASIONAL SUB-NUMBERING, 1921-26

This series comprises the main body of records of the Federal Capital Advisory Committee. The records cover the whole range of the Committee's concerns from such matters as modification of the approved city plan, sewerage and water supply, administration buildings and cottages to expenses of the Committee and preparation of reports. Many files contain sketch plans and maps of the early city of Canberra.

Series: A414
Quantity: 1.98 metres in Canberra
Recorded by: Federal Capital Advisory Committee (CA 292)
Parliament House Competition
This file mainly contains correspondence from 1921 to 1924 concerning the decision not to revive the competition and to build a provisional building and whether to provide compensation. Copies of correspondence from previous years is also present to provide evidence for the postponement.
42
Final Report of Federal Capital Advisory Committee
This report contains a brief summary of the history of the competition. It is also available in Parliamentary Papers 1926–28, Volume II, pp. 1037–1080.
92
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 'G' (GENERAL)PREFIX, 1913-

The files in this series record activities undertaken by the FCT branch in carrying out its responsibility for the administration of the Federal Capital Territory.

Series: A430
Quantity: 4.14 metres in Canberra
Recorded by: 1930–32: FCT Branch, Department of Home Affairs (II) (CA 756); 1932: Civic (ACT) Administration Branch; to 1939, the Department of the Interior (I) (CA 757)
No. 2 File. Federal Capital Permanent Parliament House Papers re concluding architectural competition. G1276
Architectural Competition for Design of Parliament House (Permanent). Canberra
These two files contain extensive information relating to the decision to postpone the competition indefinitely and pay compensation to the competitors. There are lists of names and addresses of the registered competitors and how much each was awarded. There are many letters from the registered architects making inquires and expressing appreciation for the compensation. These files also contain several summaries of the history of the competition.
G1277
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 1910-21

The records in this series deal with subjects related to the construction of the capital city, ranging from the general administration of the department to the building of the city, including railways, water sources, roads, city plans, specific buildings (eg Royal Military College), afforestation and telephone communications.

Series: A792
Quantity: 0.54 metres in Canberra
Recorded by: 1910–17: Department of Home Affairs (I) (CA 8); 1917–21: Federal Capital Office (CA 601)
Federal Parliament House Architectural Competition
This file contains miscellaneous correspondence on the competition including: letter and photograph from J Hugh Davies of a preliminary design; photographs (2) of work undertaken in Russia by M. G. Kalashnikoff; letters from the Atlas Portland Cement Company offering to provide cement for the new building and copies of the French translation of the competition booklet.
1917/934
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE FILES (BY YEAR), 1907-16

This constitutes the first record series raised by the High Commissioner's office, and the subject matter covered includes personnel, administrative and international affairs.

Series: A2911
Quantity: 3.6 metres in Canberra
Recorded by: 1907–10: Commonwealth Offices, United Kingdom (UK) (CA 976); 1910–16: Australian High Commission, UK (CA 241)
Competition Federal Parliament House, Canberra. Architectural competition 664/1914
Canberra Federal Parliament Buildings. Competition for designs

The High Commission in London was responsible for advertising and distributing the competition details in the United Kingdom, Europe and United States of America.

These two files document this involvement. There is correspondence from architects, embassies, consuls and legations throughout the world; lists of journals and newspapers where the competition was advertised and correspondence with the Royal British Institute of Architects which opposed the revival during the war.

1776/1915
FOLDERS OF COPIES OF CABINET PAPERS, 1901-

This series consists of copies of the following types of Cabinet, War Cabinet and Cabinet committee papers: agenda/business lists, submissions, minutes of meetings listing matters considered and related decisions and decisions on individual matters considered with or without submission. The series is an artificial accumulation comprising copies of papers located in the course of access examination, mainly in departmental files and personal archives held in National Archives.

This series has recently been microfilmed and reference copies are now available for public use in all National Archives' reading rooms.

This series is listed on RecordSearch. There is also a guide to Cabinet papers and an alphabetical index to these and other Cabinet papers in the reading room of the National office, Canberra.

Series: A6006
Quantity: 18.76 metres in Canberra
Parliament House competition 1916/12/31
Federal Parliament House architectural competition 1919/1/15
Competition for design – Parliament House Canberra 1922/3/16
Federal Capital – Parliament House competition 1922/5/29
Parliament House competition 1922/12/31
PERMANENT PARLIAMENT HOUSE DESIGN COMPETITION, 1914 - DRAWINGS SUBMITTED BY EDWIN ELLIOTT PRUITT AND ASSOCIATED RECORDS, 1911-53

These designs, by American architect Edwin E Pruitt, were prepared in response to the international competition for the design of a permanent Parliament House announced in 1914. The designs, along with other records of correspondence, reports and photographs, were donated to the Australian Government by his family.

Series: A7008
Quantity: 1 metre in Canberra
Recorded by: Edwin Elliot Pruitt (CP 489); Department of Home Affairs (I) (CA 8)
Printed Publication Commonwealth of Australia. Federal Parliament House Architectural Competition 1
Plan of proposed Parliament House. Front elevation from street 2
Plan of proposed Parliament House ground floor 3
Plan of proposed Parliament House main floor 1/16” scale 4
Plan of proposed Parliament House 2nd floor 5
Plan of proposed Parliament House 3rd floor 6
Plan of proposed Parliament House. Front elevation (close) and 2 sections showing side elevations 8
Mounted photograph Edwin Elliott Pruitt. 1873, Russelville, Arkansas, USA 1953 9
Folder containing correspondence with Walter D. Bingle and other information about the various postponements and resumptions 10
Folder with printed publications relating to Canberra and the competition and other drawings 11
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE OF GOVERNOR GENERAL (EXCLUDING WAR FILES), 1884-1937

This series consists of despatches, letters, minutes, memoranda, circulars, telegrams and press cuttings relating to all matters arising from the functions of the Office of the Governor-General. The range of subjects dealt with is very wide: Parliamentary proceedings, Commonwealth and Imperial defence, Imperial relations, international conferences, treaties and conventions, foreign consular services, Commonwealth Territories, relations between the Commonwealth and the State Governments, customs and excise, transport and communications, navigation, interstate trade, immigration, naturalisation, fiscal matters and the houses and offices of the Governor-General.

Series: CP78/22
Quantity: 29 metres in Canberra
Recorded by: Governor-General (CA 1)
Federal Capital Parliament House design competition
Correspondence with the Governor-General about the resumption of the competition in 1916, including telegrams announcing the resumption and later postponement.
1916/102
All notes

26 NAA: A430, G1277, Architectural Competition for Design of Parliament House (Permanent) Canberra.


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