THE FEDERAL CITY. A FEW SUGGESTIONS.
G. C. Inskip
Proceedings at the Congress of Engineers, Architects, Surveyors and Others Interested in the Building of the Federal Capital, Held in Melbourne, in May, 1901. (Melbourne: J.C. Stephens, Printer, 1901):30-32.The author, a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, was at one time President of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects. At this conference held to discuss how the new Commonwealth of Australia might best proceed to create a new capital Inskip briefly stated some of the principles that should govern its site selection and planning. Unlike some of his architectural colleagues, Inskip willingly assigned an important share of the responsibility to engineers. However, by omitting any reference to professional surveyors he could scarcely have endeared himself to members of that field who regarded themselves as at least as competent to plan a city as architects or engineers.It is highly desirable if we are to have a city worthy of the new nation, and one that future generations will look upon with pride, that the mistakes that have been made in the past shall not be repeated. It is therefore absolutely necessary that some competent control should be exercised over the selection of a site, and the laying out of the city, and also in the erection of its buildings, for everything depends upon the selection of a good site, the Federal City being, not only for those now living, but for those who are to live after us. The selection of a site should be left to properly qualified experts, and not to unqualified persons who may happen to occupy seats in our Federal Parliament, but at the same time the ideas and suggestions of intelligent laymen must not be ignored. A report from independent experts recommends itself to everyone, knowing as we do the various influences that are at work. The lack of public interest in this matter is surprising, the only persons up to the present who really appear to interest themselves are those who are striving to secure the advantages of having the Federal Capital in their neighbourhood. It is very important that the best talent should be obtained in the laying out of the city and in the erection of its buildings. Nothing so much proclaims the great city as its buildings. The Federal Capital should be an object lesson to the whole of Australia, therefore none but trained experts should be employed in its erection. Public taste greatly depends upon the architect. It the buildings of a city are of good design the public taste will be improved, and it therefore follows that the architecture of our cities must (as it always has done in the past) exercise a vast influence upon the community. In the erection of the greater number of the buildings in every city, no architect is employed, hence the majority of them are hideous and vulgar, and have done much to vitiate the public taste. Great improvements have no doubt been made during the last few years in the quality and style of the buildings erected in Melbourne and other parts of Australia, but much remains to be done. Owing to the lack of proper control in regard to the style and the height of the buildings, the appearance of Collins and other Melbourne streets has been ruined. The beauty of our streets is a matter that concerns everyone, and it is disgraceful that a few greedy landlords should have been permitted to destroy the appearance of some of the finest streets in the world. In Italy, each city elects a Council of Experts to control building operations, and the plans of all new buildings have to be submitted to this committee, who examine them from an esthetic point of view, and if they consider the building would be likely to disfigure the city sanction is refused. Such a committee should be appointed to supervise the erection of the Federal City, and so prevent greedy speculators, who might wish to put up buildings with the sole object of making as much out of them as possible, from destroying the appearance of the city. It is impossible to overestimate the advantage to health and happiness of living in well planned and well ventilated houses, with good sanitary arrangements, yet most people are content to live in shoddy houses without proper ventilation, light, or drainage. If we cannot, however, insist upon the employment of architects in the erection of private dwellings, it is to be hoped that the highest talent will be employed upon our public buildings. In the erection of the Federal Capital, the following matters are of the very greatest importance.-- In the first place the site should be convenient as regards Melbourne and Sydney, in a healthy position, on high ground, with picturesque surroundings, and one that can be easily supplied with water, and easily drained. If on the bank of a flowing river so much the better. Any attempt to remodel an existing town would be unsatisfactory. The width of all streets and the height of all buildings should be regulated. Perhaps straight streets would be best, but it would not be advisable to have all straight, graceful curves might be given to some. No buildings except public buildings should exceed say 80 or 85 feet in height. The public buildings should be grouped together and placed in a commanding position, and all should have large clear spaces in front of them, especially the Railway Stations. In these open spaces fountains should be placed in prominent positions, and drinking fountains for man and beast should also be placed in various parts of the city. Private houses should, as far as possible be detached, with room to move round about them, letting in light and air. The housing of the working classes is a question not to be overlooked in the erection of the new city. The height of the buildings in each street should be regulated according to the width of the street. All very lofty buildings should stand by themselves, so that light and air would be obtained on all four sides, and so that proper means of escape in case of fire would be provided. By keeping the very lofty buildings separate and away from other buildings the appearance of the streets would not be destroyed as is the case in Melbourne. Treeplanting in the streets is of great importance in a climate like this, but the trees should not be planted too near the buildings, as they would shut out the light and air. In very wide streets the centre would perhaps be the better position for them. Open spaces should be provided in a systematic manner. The old fashioned mode of building squares with fencedin gardens should not be followed, but all spaces should be left entirely open as is now being done in Victoria Parade, East Melbourne, laid down with grass and planted with shrubs and flowers. The public would soon become accustomed to this mode of laying out the ground and neither shrubs nor flowers would be destroyed. The city should also be surrounded with woods, parks, and recreation grounds. Kiosks of ornamental design for the sale of newspapers, etc. should be erected in all the principal streets, and comfortable seats should be provided for weary pedestrians. Public conveniences and lavatories, easily accessible, but not thrust into prominence, should also be provided. Electric power should be supplied wherever possible, and coal should only be used where absolutely necessary. Factories should not be permitted within the City, but should be kept at a distance, and confined to one locality, so that the atmosphere of the city would not be polluted. All pipes for water, electric wires, etc., should be placed in subterranean passages, out of sight but easily accessible, and so prevent the roadways from being continually broken up as is now the case in most towns. Verandahs, lamp posts, etc., should all be erected under proper control. Advertising should not be permitted upon any public building or railway station. Hoardings might be erected by the municipality in various parts of the city of good design, divided into panels or spaces of various shapes and sizes, to which advertisers should be compelled to conform. This would still leave them to their own devices, but they would be confined to the hoardings, and so prevent the whole city from being disfigured. These hoardings would be a source of considerable profit to the municipality. In the erection of the Federal City, architects should design the architectural portions of the work, and engineers the engineering portions, for not many architects are good engineers, and few engineers are good architects. Sculpture must not be overlooked in the beautifying of the new city. It should, however, nearly always be in connection with buildings, for sculpture alone without architecture is to a great extent lost; only in rare cases should statuary be placed away from buildings, architecture being necessary to shelter it. Architecture, sculpture and painting should go together. Architects should take advantage in building the new city of the effects to be obtained by the judicious use of colour in external decorations, this having been altogether neglected in the past. The planning and building of this new city will be watched with interest by architects and engineers in all parts of the world, and it is to be hoped that the great opportunities afforded Australian architects and engineers will not be lost, that all will work together in harmony, so that the Federal Capital may be worthy of the new nation, and a city that future generations will look upon with pride.
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