NCA blocks the axis view

The National Capital Authority has responsibility for the care of the capital’s design features.

High on its heritage list is the land axis vista – the view from Parliament House to the lake through the Parliamentary Triangle, across the lake and then up Anzac Parade to Mount Ainslie.

Many people are more familiar with the view in the opposite direction from Mount Ainslie to Parliament House. Same vista – same importance.

This vista is the stand-out feature of Marion Mahony Griffin’s drawings for the 1912 winning design competition submitted by the Griffins.

It was to the top of Mount Ainslie that Marion returned after the death of Walter in India, for a last look at the city she and Walter had designed. After that she returned to the US.

To quote the Commonwealth government’s summary of significance about this vista: “It is highly significant for its symbolic representation of the democratic interchange between the people and their elected representatives and its use of the natural landforms to generate a strong planning geometry.”

Given that its heritage and aesthetic values are fully documented by federal, ACT and non-government agencies, it would follow that the NCA would ensure that this vista was top of its stewardship actions.

This does not happen.

My photograph here is the latest in an ever increasing number of things being plonked down on this site as the NCA thinks these activation events promote the national capital.

This was the large circus tent used by the commercial organisation Van Gogh Alive! There it sat in its bloated glory making money by doing very strange things with images based on one of the world’s most talented artists – being dead and unable to curse those doing such things.

That tent was allowed by the NCA to completely block the view from the steps of Old Parliament House. There’s land at the airport and elsewhere for such commercial circuses.

The NCA should have pointed them there. And it has better parking.

The NCA has a history of not taking care of this vista. Think of those weird bureaucratic blunders for the Women’s Centennial sculpture in 2004 that tried to land a giant swinging red fan behind the Old Parliament House building.

There has been other NCA stupidity in this space.

The designers for the 2002 Commonwealth Place had to allow for the Griffin’s vista and, therefore, delivered a path between the ramps either side. This was to allow for the view from the foreshore back to the new Parliament House.

Unknown to these designers, there was another NCA project team working on the site immediately behind Commonwealth Place.

This was Reconciliation Place – being the mound with the circular path around it. Sadly, for the first set of designers and the prescribed view, the Reconciliation Place mound blocked the view allowed for dutifully by the Commonwealth Place design team.

One set of NCA bureaucrats was not talking to another NCA team and the importance of that axis as a design element was lost through NCA incompetence.

Fast forward now to the vague brief for the recently announced Ngurra – The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Precinct on the shores of the lake.

This was a welcomed announcement but the published design brief leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to how the new institutional building designers need to ensure the vista’s heritage and cultural values are retained.

The central area of the parliamentary triangle that includes this important cultural vista is being constantly hired off by the NCA for bread-and-circus events. The now normal behaviour of the NCA is for parklands to be activated for money-making reasons.

The NCA operates as if it has sidelined the important heritage and planning requirements of the areas for which it has important stewardship responsibilities. It does not understand the aesthetic values of open-space parklands.

Kim Rubenstein, ACT candidate for the Senate, says there is a need to examine the governance and performance of the NCA. Its failure to look after the Griffins’ national capital design feature reinforces that this should be a priority for the next federal government.

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This article is a version of the piece originally published online with City News

Paul Costigan is a commentator on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday matters.

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