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    Revealed: Harry Seidler’s forgotten Parliament House design

    With the 30th anniversary of Canberra’s Parliament House coming up, the National Archives of Australia has revealed, for the first time, Harry Seidler’s rival design for Parliament House. 

    Parliament House was designed by Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp Architects, and was officially opened on 9 May, 1988. There were over 300 entries in the design competition held in the late 1970s, one of which was from Harry Seidler. 

    architecture Harry Seidler
    Parliament House, designed by Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp Architects. Image: Pexels

    Seidler’s vision was for a building with four wings and central pavilions, which would accentuate perspective lines and highlight the building’s natural bush setting. The building would also utilise curved forms to create “distinctive silhouettes”.

    “As soon as one enters the foyer on either level … one perceives a vertical explosion of space with a consequent comparative confinement horizontally, that offers, partly hidden, tantalising through-vistas in every direction,” wrote Seidler. 

    “The visitor senses spaces which cannot be fully-appreciated until he explores further.” 

    Australian architecture
    A birds-eye view shows Harry Siedler's concept for the building. Image: Tom McIlroy

    Seidler’s concept placed the House of Representatives chamber on the left side and the Senate on the right. Executive government and opposition offices were to face outward toward nature around ceremonial spaces of “exotic character” to reflect the history of European settlement in Australia. Each MP would also have private, unobstructed view of manicured gardens from their office, planned to obscure roads and tourist areas. 

    Seidler felt the building should be “light, almost white in colour”. He chose light-coloured granite slabs for some of the main interior and exterior areas (such as the reception hall, entry areas and chambers), and polished, acid-etched reconstructed stone for other exteriors. He felt that tinted, glare-reducing glass in frames of bronze or dark aluminium should be used throughout. 

    “A parliament building must be built to last indefinitely,” wrote Seidler. 

    “It should be constructed entirely of proven, permanent, non-absorbent and maintenance-free materials.” 

    He designed the rear of the building to be “open-ended” for future expansion. 

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