The fabulous Capitol that Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin imagined for the federal capital city (and that would have imparted something Wow!-worthy to our skyline) was, alas, never built.
But now, thanks to the eerie wonders of modern animation and clever animators, we can examine it (and even fly over it, looking down on it like an architecture-appreciating eagle) as if it really had been built and is now decorating our city.
And the 90-second animation/tour is accompanied by deeply wistful music from the Adagio movement of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No.2. It asks us to do a little quiet grieving over what might have been, if only the Griffins' dream of a pyramidal Capitol had come true.
Griffins scholar Christopher Vernon says that ''of all the buildings depicted in their renderings [of their imagined city], Canberra's Capitol is the most spectacular. [It] was to be positioned atop the city's highest hill, Kurrajong [where Parliament House is today].
''The Griffins envisaged it ... as a ceremonial building, commemorating national achievements.
''Appearing to organically grow from the hill, the monolithic Capitol was to have been composed of reinforced concrete. The Griffins drew inspiration [for it] from William Lethaby's evocative drawing of a Babylonian ziggurat.
''The Capitol was to be capped not by the 'inevitable dome' but with a 'stepped pinnacle' or ziggurat. Atop its uppermost terrace, a sculptural figure, perhaps an allegory of Democracy, crowned the building.
''For Walter, the ziggurat was alluring as 'the last word of all the longest-lived civilisations' such as 'Egypt, Babylonia, Syria, India, Indo-China, East Indies, Mexico or Peru'.''
The animation is part of Australian Institute of Architects' Augmented Australia 1914-2014, created for the 14th International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia, under way now.
''The project,'' the Institute advises, ''has been brought to life using Augmented Reality technology, activated through an app for smart devices.
''It pushes the boundaries of architecture and technology, taking visitors on a virtual journey through a selection of Australia’s most intriguing unrealised projects. The exhibition showcases 11 historical and 11 contemporary Australian projects from the past 100 years which for various reasons were never built.
''The projects are brought to life via three-dimensional (3D) augmented models, images, voiceovers and animations, activated by a specially designed Augmented Australia app that is free to download on common handheld devices. Australia’s temporary pavilion [at Venice] for the exhibition, known as the Cloud Space, houses trigger images of each project, while real-world scale 3D models are geographically positioned around Venice.''
Readers can soar like virtual eagles around the virtual Capitol we might have had by looking at the YouTube animation on The Canberra Times website.
Coincidentally, while we're nattering about Kurrajong Hill and a Capitol, it emerges that King O'Malley, of legendary importance to this city, had strong opinions about the awful siting of the provisional Parliament House (today's venerable Old Parliament House). O'Malley was minister for home affairs at crucial stages of the conception of the new city.
In 1937 he expressed those strong opinions in a letter he wrote to the then commonwealth librarian, Kenneth Binns. Researcher Steve Flora has found the letter in the O'Malley papers at the National Library of Australia. Flora's article about the letter appears in the current Honest History Newsletter, indispensable reading for thinking Australians.
In the letter O'Malley recalls how (probably in 1913) he walked over the federal capital site ''with the Board of Decision, Kirkpatrick, the Architect, Cowan, the Surveyor and J.A. Smith, the engineer''. He says that they all agreed on ''Curragong [sic] Hill'' as the ideal site for Parliament House.
''If they had built Parliament House [there],'' he seethed to Binns in 1937, ''it would have been seen all over the Territory – it would have been a magnificent sight for people approaching Canberra ... But instead of entrusting the construction to the late Percy Owens, Director-General of Works in the Home Affairs Department in my time and one of the ablest men south of the Equator who put up the Post Offices in Melbourne and Sydney and many other important buildings, they handed it over to an Electrician in Tasmania [does anyone have any idea who he means?] as free from the knowledge of how to build a city as a frog is from feathers. The capital [by which he meant Parliament House, now Old Parliament House] now is in a swamp, where some time it may be flooded by the Monlongo [sic] and the whole city is an atrocity.''
And while we're haunting the Parliamentary Triangle, Josh Chaffey alerts us to his short ''hyperlapse'' (vastly speeded up) film of familiar Canberra places. Just etch ''Canberra In Hyperlapse'' into your search engine and up the whirlwind two-minute entertainment comes.
It's quite good fun (a few little sailing boats rocket across the lake) but generally the subject matter is unexciting. Josh Chaffey dwells on our monumental public buildings and of course they always just stand still, never getting a wriggle-on, however hyperlapsed our filming of it. them. Hyperlapse may be as wasted on somewhere as still as Canberra as it is on the dead. Hyperlapse would be more fun if used to transform something notoriously slow, like public servants working or senators struggling to stay awake in the Senate, or something already absurdly speedy, like the mighty CBR Brave hockey team rocketing across the ice.