SOME THOUGHTS CONCERNING THE FEDERAL CITY.
G. Sydney Jones, A.R.I.B.A.
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):22-25.Jones joined his fellow conferees in Melbourne to discuss how Australia should proceed to create a new capital for the federated Commonwealth government that had just come into being. In addition to suggesting that a competition be held, he put forward eight general architectural guides that he believed important whatever the nature of the final town plan. As to that matter, he sensibly pointed out: "Until the site is decided upon it is largely useless to talk much concerning the details of laying out and arrangement of buildings."In looking at this subject from an architectonic and architectural point of view, it seems to me that the most one can hope to do is to make abstract suggestions.
Of this, however, we are, I am sure, all certain, viz.:--That we have before us an almost unique opportunity--an opportunity which has occurred only a few times previously in the history of the world, an opportunity which is allied to that of the founding of Washington, and to a lesser extent to Wren's in the re- planning of the City of London in the 17th century. Let us beware lest we lose this unique opportunity.
Until the site is decided upon it is largely useless to talk much concerning the details of laying out and arrangement of buildings.
We are probably all agreed on general principles as to what the plan should be--for instance--that the streets should be wide and tree-planted, that the circus, the square and the boulevard, straight and curved lines, park lands, gardens, and the like should find their proper places; that the public, semi-public and private building blocks should be disposed in due relation one to the other on sites best adapted for each, and with due regard to the future expansion of the City.
But concerning other points, such as whether the radiating plan or the chess-board plan is the better, or the amalgamation of both is not better than either, we are not perhaps agreed. All depends upon the site however, and seeing that we probably all have somewhat different ideas as to what the finest city we can conceive should be, it seems, as I said before, almost useless to stand at this point of view.
Looking at the matter practically, in order to obtain the best conceivable or jointly conceivable plan, it seems to me that the best method is, that designs be called in competition, shewing how the city should be laid out, the best manner of disposing its streets, public, semi-public and private buildings, parks, gardens, etc., and the areas which should be allotted to each
Seeing therefore that until the site is decided upon we cannot deal with details from the Architectonic and Architectural points of view, I propose in this brief paper to put before you, maybe for consideration, a few suggestions which, in my opinion, should be incorporated in this city--which city it will surely be our joint endeavour to make the most beautiful of the modern world.
Firstly, then, as to the spirit which should characterize the architecture the City. What should it be? Surely it should be the commonsense 20th Century spirit of the Australian, that owns no style, or rather should I say that is free from any style (and by this remark I do not mean the licentious use of styles of other countries) that can produce simple and true construction, that can produce dignity and truth of exterior from excellence of plan, and above all that can produce that refined thoughtfulness of design which is so conspicuous in the best work of our time and race.
The Architecture of our city should, I repeat, be essentially Australian. Let us, for heaven's and the people's sake, not slavishly copy the art of past dead centuries, even though it be the purity and grace of the Greek, or the mystery and impressiveness of the art of the middle ages, or the magnificence and display of the great age of the Renaissance. With thought and care and study (of which there seems but little in some directions now-a-days) it is possible to create Architecture which is purely Australian, which, while possessing the best of the characteristics of the above-mentioned great ages of the art, shall reflect also the best, in thought and spirit, which in so comparatively short a time has made us what we are.
Some one will probably remark it is easy to talk about these things, but quite a different thing to do them--true; but nevertheless, I take it to be our bounden duty as architects, who have the guidance of the public in architecture as one of our responsibilities, to see to it that this is so; and thought, and work, and study, and opportunity (and it is here) can make it so.
(2) It should, I think, be insisted on that, without necessarily producing a dull monotony some uniformity of spirit of design should be compulsory . Nothing worries the eye more than in many of our modern cities to see maybe a Gothic front here, having perhaps on one side as a neighbour a Moorish design, and on the other a fantastic Renaissance front in cement. Each kills the intended effect of its next door neighbour, and the combined effect is remote from pleasant to the passer-by. To avoid this, the haphazard planking down of slavishly copied styles should be prevented. Otherwise we shall have in our city a magnificent variety instead of the varied magnificence which should be our aim.
(3) The heights of buildings within certain street lines should be limited. Who that knows New York or Chicago can admire the "sky-scrapers" (in themselves, no doubt, good) whose lines interfere with and largely dwarf buildings which are by no means insignificant; in the vicinity of these "sky- scrapers" the relative lines of nearly all buildings are spoilt. In our Federal City this should be impossible.
(4) I should like to see it one of the building conditions of the City that the main cornices and main string molds of buildings in street blocks, while not necessarily being of the same profile, should be at the same level. The value of this, though perhaps seeming to some but a small thing, is really great. If one has in one's mind s eye the extraordinarily eruptive and zigzag effect, and in consequence the disconnected and restless effect which emphasize so many of our modern street fronts, the dignity of a street block is impossible under such circumstances. I would not advocate the dull uniformity of a Regent's crescent, for instance, or that of the Rue de Rivoli in Paris, where long blocks are treated as in one design; but it is possible to obtain connected and distinct dignity, at the same time retaining individuality in each building by doing what I have advocated. Instance as examples of what I mean, where good effect is gained even where two or three buildings only which are adjacent are treated in this manner: the National Liberal Club and Whitehall Court in London (Thames embankment front), as to large buildings, and in a smaller but equally effective manner, Heath's shop in Oxford-st., London, and Dalveen's next door to it; the features of each separate building are distinct, and at the same time they are connected, but not too prominently so, by the cornices and string molds being run through at the same level; a series of connecting lines is thus obtained which very much helps the effect of each, and of the two combined.
(5) I should like to see the side path arcade a compulsory feature in the streets, excepting in special instances. Who that knows Bologna "the city of arcades," and its arcaded street-ways, is not aware of the artistic value of such. In a hot climate like ours these are necessary from a utilitarian point of view. The Federal City should surely be free from such ugly effects as are produced by the ever-varying design and height of the iron-roofed, covered footpaths, which offend the eye in all our State cities!
I would make it a building condition that all arcades, though in each street they might be distinct and might vary, should be substantial and necessarily part and parcel of the design of the building they front.
(6) Whatever ultimately may be the plan of the city, it is devoutly to be hoped that spaces for advertising posters will have their allotted places and be allowed in no other. We may then be spared the advantage of constantly gazing on the side walls of buildings on which statements setting forth the value of somebody's pink pills, or somebody else's embrocation, are emblazoned in white on a bright blue ground. The Federal City, of all others, should be free from such modern barbarism. It is necessary, we all know now-a-days, to advertise (and it was once well said "that the man who does not advertise will soon be advertised for"), but in the Federal City, of all cities, let it be done in an orderly fashion--on spaces specially allotted and specially constructed for advertising purposes. We shall then for once have a city free from this modern barbarism.
(7) Though possibly a small matter, that of suitably naming the streets and thoroughfares, is in my opinion, one very necessary to bring before the public as being important. This is too often left to the surveyor or the owner of an estate, who, in a fatherly fashion, names many of his streets after his daughters, Alice, Maud, &c., and occasionally a son is favoured in this way; but the practice is to be deplored, and I hold that the naming of the streets in the city should be carefully thought out, having, as they should, some historic reference and especially Australian value. I refer, of course, more particularly to the smaller streets, for I take it that the larger thoroughfares will, as a matter of course, bear appropriate names. However, whatever is done should be done thoughtfully, having a serious, or comic, as the case may be, object in view.
(8) I should like to see color schemes made an integral part of the architectonics of the city, as well as of the buildings themselves.
Heraldry should form a carefully thought out part of the general design. All of us are aware of the value of order and method, and order and method in color are as valuable as in any other direction. With a view to obtaining harmony and at the same time variety, I would therefore have the coloring of the continuous features in each street similar, e.g., the shutters or iron railings of each building in the one street might be painted green, in another street red, and so on. These colorings harmonising as they will do, with the lines of umbrageous, bright and dark green foliaged trees and with brilliantly flowering trees (notably the jockeranda and coral trees), such as I shall hope to see also planted in the streets and squares, would produce not only delicate and delightful harmony of color, but also magnificently rich effects.
I sincerely hope, too, now that the Australian public has come to see the value of and to delight in modern pageantry, that such will be provided for in the new city. That decorative masts, for instance, will be planted, not temporarily, but permanently; and not only in public thoroughfares and squares, &c., but that they will also form part of the design of private garden fronts.
Who, that has seen the square of St. Mark's, Venice, in full array of color on a gala day, would doubt the value in the addition to the decorative ensemble, of the fine masts at the far end of the square in front of the church; and in Australia, the brightness of the skies and the clearness of the atmosphere, would enhance the effects even beyond those of Venice.
I distinctly hold that the indirect influence of such displays on the national spirit is healthful and beneficial. However, whatever is done in color should be done thoroughly and under strict surveillance of authorities, and with a view to the public weal.
With a clean city, free from the presence of gutter-snipes, snobs, and crushed figs, and also free, it is to be hoped, from an atmosphere penetrated with fine manure, we shall, if we do well in this matter of creating the Federal Capital, materialise visions of a city which shall be in beauty second to none in the world, of which we shall be proud, and which shall be truly Australian.
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