J. D. Fitzgerald

Sydney Morning Herald, July 27, 1912.

Following the announcement in May, 1912 of the outcome of the Australian Federal Capital Competition, exhibits of the entries were scheduled for Melbourne and Sydney. By the end of July, 1912 Sydney residents could examine the plans in the exhibition held in the lower level of the Sydney Town Hall. J. D. Fitzgerald reviewed the display for the leading Sydney newspaper. Although not an architect, surveyor, or engineer, John Daniel Fitzgerald (18621-1922) had long been deeply involved in municipal affairs as journalist, editor, barrister, and politician. He began work as a compositor, became active in the trade union movement, and was elected president of the Typographical Association in 1887. Traveling to England in 1890, he met a number of radical and liberal politicians and labour leaders. He also visited other European countries on this trip. After his marriage to a French woman while in London on a second trip his interests broadened to include architecture, music, art, and literature. Returning to Australia, he served as editor for two periodicals, but by 1897 was in London again to study law. After his admission to the New South Wales Bar his writings and civic interests began to focus on urban problems. It was while serving as a member of the executive of the Labor Party from 1911 to 1916 that he wrote the review of the exhibition of competition plans.
The exhibition of the plans for the Federal capital city, in the basement of the Sydney Town Hall, is most interesting to those who welcome the acclimatisation of modern town-planning upon Australian soil. In viewing these we are able to measure the progress which city beautification has made; for they contain few original features, and are only proposals to adapt well-known designs to the contours of the Federal city site, and to the features of the landscape. the site should bring joy to the heart of the city planner who is fortunate enough to have a virgin area to work upon, and who is unhampered by considerations which, in the past, have huddled towns together for defensive purposes, within a ring of walls.

An undulating plain is backed by ranges of hills, with peaks jutting out to heights of over 6000ft, and, in winter, snow-clad. Two peaks near the site, viz, Ainslie (2762ft) and The Black Mountain (2568ft), can be worked into the design. In the distance, the peak of Tidbinbilla rises to 5115ft, Gerroral to 5266ft, Morgan to 6144ft, and Bimberi to 6264ft--quite a respectable mountain peak for Australia. Through this undulating plain run some streams, which, flowing in low-lying flats, can be used--will be used--decoratively in the planning, when the accepted scheme is being worked out. It is a surprise to the visitor to this exhibition to find that a site which has incessantly been declared waterless by its opponents, will have as a dominating feature the lakes which may be created by embanking and locking the local streams. the main site plan in each of the exhibits is supplemented by sectional drawings (shows the relation of the main buildings to the contours of the site), proposed decorations, buildings, and gardens. So we not only have the plan showing the laying out of the Parliamentary and administrative business and residential centres, parks, gardens, and streets, but we may have an idea of the completed city, or, at any rate, of the principal parts which lend themselves to beautification. Some of these will be described in detail here.

Beginning with No. 20 which is the first prize awarded in the majority report, we find here an adaptation of several well-known principles. First of all, there is a suggestion of Ebenezer Howard's "Magnet" principle, adopted in the first garden city in England. Then, unhappily, another feature is a suggestion of William Penns well-known Philadelphia "gridiron" plan, crossed twice by long diagonal avenues on the scheme of Christopher Wrens famous plan of London, which he proposed should be built up to after the Great Fire, but which, unfortunately, was not carried out. The defect of this is the retention of the square block, and the absence of diagonal roads for traffic progression without going "round the block." The American planner flamboyantly calls his a design for the "City of the Southern Cross." The grouping of the official and administrative centre in this plan is, however, beyond praise; and the sectional drawings finely suggest the "lay" of the city when it will be built in relation to the site. Thus the sections showing the "easterly side of land axis, Ainslie to Red Hill," and the "northerly side of the water axis, Black Mountain to Lake Park," make the spectator realise how the contours have been used in the plan; and, as the perspective is emphasised with thick gold paint,the effect is impressive. The "gridiron" part of this plan should be discarded as the city is building, and some better features introduced.(1)

Against the first prize of the majority there is the first of the minority. This is an Australian production, and in the highest degree creditable. In this plan, as in the American, French, and Finnish (especially in the French), the planners have "put their goods in the shop window" most adroitly. the Australians main decorative features of administrative centre, lake front, grouping of public buildings, are beautifully drawn in water-colour, so that the eye is pleased at the prospect at the first glance. Of course, these fancy sketches, alluring though they be, are only "side issues" in the judgment of the work. The first impression given by this plans is that it is too scattered. The capital would, even more than Washington or Paris, be a city of "magnificent distances." The public buildings are well placed. On the whole, though the plan lacks symmetry and the compactness is sacrificed to preserve the contours, it is nevertheless a fine one, and deserves consideration in the building of the city.

No 18 won the majority's verdict for second prize. The first view of the general plan gives the sense of long curves in the avenues suiting the contours. There is a beautiful treatment, suggested for the administrative centre, with gardens and lakes; and in one lake an island, with gardens, ornate buildings, with porticos and peristyles etc. The suggestion for administrative buildings is quite solidly Egyptian in some places; and the curving, well-beautified avenues in front of these would make a splendid decoration. Garden spaces are a feature of this plan, but some parts of the city are set out in "gridiron" square blocks, with a curious feature which looks like a courtyard or open space in the centre of each block. This is a common shape of public buildings in Europe--an example is the Town Hall, Vienna--but the idea of buildings round an open square is novel.

No 4 won the third prize. It is by a French planners and is a beautiful design, beautifully presented, no detail being omitted which could show off the merits of the general scheme. The first impression is of a garden city scheme. The planner has used the contours finely, and has made a wise use of radial centres and circles. The French origin of the plan is unmistakable, as there are some parisian features in it, while it is inscribed "Plan projecte dune capitale Federale pour la Republique Australienne." The city of the future is divided off into "quarters," such as (1) administrative, (2) business, (3) places of public worship, (4) industrial, (5) residential, (6) university, (7) sports and play grounds, (8) places of general interest, such as the library, museum, arts gallery, public baths, gymnasia, schools. The decorative effects and general outlines of the plan are given in beautiful water-colour sketches. There is a garden decoration, with a colonnade, surmounted by statuary, and a bridge suggestive of the Pont Alexandre III in Paris over the Seine. Then a further verisimilitude is given by a view of the aviation ground; and a birds-eye view, "taken on board an aeroplane flying at a height of 3280ft," and another, "at a distance of 24,000ft from the Federal monument," showing the general grouping of the main buildings and decorative features of the plan. This is a very alluring plan, indeed; and some features of it are worthy of note in the working out of the city.

It is impossible to go through the fine exhibits on the walls of this collection seriatim. There are a number of plans which are designed on the "spiders web" principle. In 140 [by Thomas Seabrook Brown, Roanoke, Virginia] there is a touch of Wrens London plan--a chessboard with radials and sub-radials cut through. No. 66 [by Thomas Sunderland, Coventry, England] proposes to pull down the Black Mountain to fill in the level flats. A drawback to the winning design is the costliness caused by the flattening of contours, and in this the Australian planners have been more discreet, and there plan is not loaded with levelling operations. In many of the sketches of suggested public buildings the design of the Washington Capitol appears. No. 54 [by Arthur B. Wood, Moulamein, Australia] is a plan described as upon the principles of "a multiple hexagon," but no reckoning appears to have been taken of the contours, and an arbitrary plan is superposed on the site. "No. 15 [by Ernest W. Gimson, West Cirencester, England] is a picturesque plan, which only uses one side of the water, and makes the capital city a sort of New York situated on a peninsula. No 29 [by Walter Burley Griffin, Chicago, U.S.A.] is an excellent plan of radial centres and squares without radials. No. 7 [by Harold Van Buren Magonigle, New York City, U.S.A.], received honorable mention. Again in this plan appears a design of hollow blocks, with open courtyard. No 25 [by James Hine, Perth, Australia] is worth observation. The city is planned in inner and outer concentric circles, with radial streets. This is the Karlsruhe and Dalny plan. No 37 [by Andre Berard, Paris, France] looks like London or Sydney--a somewhat huddled plan, but there are squares used as radial centres. No 3 [by Edwin Pullman, Brighton, Victoria, Australia] is a sternly square or gridiron plan--hopelessly out of date. No 41 [by Arthur C. Comey], placed second in the minority report, apparently intends the city to develop from a germ--as it provides for a growth during a period of 50 and 75 years. It resembles the scheme of modern Rome, now being carried out in the Eternal city. No 47 [by Bernard Maybeck, San Francisco, California] is a plan which should not be overlooked. It is beautifully presented in water colours and black and white in perspective. One feature of it is noteworthy, described in the scheme as "a club-house for workingmen in a waste place," and shows a beautiful marble building--a kind of pantheon, not unlike the famous Harmonie Club of Batavia, in Java. No 81 [by Nils Gellerstedt, Stockholm, Sweden] is the only plan suggesting the skyscraper.

With few exceptions the plans submitted are up to the standard of the best of the modern attempts at city planning. The names of the worlds leading planners are absent, and this is probably because of the inadequacy of the premium offered. The Government of the Commonwealth may well congratulate itself upon a set of plans which would be admired anywhere, and when finally carried out future generations will be proud of the foresight of those who aimed at placing a beautiful capital city upon a supremely beautiful and suitable site.

1. This observer-critic's description and analysis of Griffin's plan is confused, beginning with his identification of it as "No. 20" instead of 29. Then he states "the American planner flamboyantly calls his a design for the "City of the Southern Cross," a title used instead on entry No. 53 by R. J. A. Roberts of Sydney. Fitzgerald's statement "its the retention of the square block and the absence of diagonal roads" indicates he could not be referring to Griffin's plan. Later in his very long essay he refers to No. 29 (Griffin's design) as "an excellent plan of radial centres and squares without radials." 

Selected, scanned, edited, provided with headnotes, and formatted as a web document by John W. Reps, Professor Emeritus, Department of City and Regional Planning, West Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. Tel: (607) 255-5391, Fax: (607) 255-6681, E-mail: 
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