Statement by Tony Powell, AO
PROPOSED WORLD WAR I AND WORLD WAR II MEMORIALS LOCATED SOUTH OF THE ROND POND ON PARKES WAYAccording to press reports, in 2005 a group of like-minded people who felt that the loss, suffering and sacrifice caused by the two world wars was not adequately represented by the Australian War Memorial, banded together as the self-styled Memorials Development Committee (MDC) to garner support for separate but complementary memorials to World Wars One and Two in Canberra's National Triangle.
Last year the MDC published the intended design of these memorials. Basically they take the form of 20 metre high stone obelisks arranged in two clusters of three to be built on Parkes Way south of the Rond Pond, which by virtue of their great height (roughly equal to a seven-storey building) will intrude into the Anzac Parade view corridor on either side.
My concerns as a town planner are twofold,
It has taken 98 years for the combined efforts of individuals and organisations, both professional and political, to design and construct Canberra's National Triangle as closely as possible to Griffin's philosophy and original intentions, mainly by the NCDC starting with the development of the Lake (completed in 1964) and the design and construction of Anzac Parade. These efforts are worthy of respect or at least something more than ignorantly plonking down a structure of any kind where there seems to be a vacant piece of land that might satisfy the desires of any polyglot group that happens along.
Griffin's concept of a land and water axis derives from the Chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte that was built in 1658-61 by the Marquis Nicholas Fouquet who was Louis XIV's finance minister, the garden of which was designed by the landscape architect Andre Le Notre. It turned out to be the defining baroque garden that has been endlessly repeated throughout the manmade landscapes of Europe and the Americas and is generally recognised as a work of genius.
In essence the chateau is situated on a raised land platform overlooking a linear garden that extends, or seems to extend, to infinity. At about two-thirds of the way along its 3kms length it is crossed at right angles by a pair of natural streams contained within a canal structure that is depressed and concealed from view until it is reached on foot. Beyond the canal the land rises up a grassy slope until it disappears from view in the background forest.
Griffin's plan refines the garden of Vaux in the sense that while it offers the same prospect of an infinite view along the line of his land axis (approximately 3km) from Parliament House to the War Memorial, it is terminated primarily by geography in the form of Mount Ainslie at the subordinate or prospect end and the Red Hill Ridge and distant peaks of the Bimberi Range at the other. In built form terms, the land axis is terminated by Parliament House and the War Memorial and, like Vaux, with no other structure intruding into the view corridor between the two.
It is notable that MDC prefers to show pictures of their scheme taken from the Parkes Way site looking north towards the War Memorial in order to conceal the adverse impact on the whole of the land axis when viewed from either end, particularly the view from the Parliament House end. The view northwards towards the War Memorial is extremely subtle because of the building's colour and the extent to which it merges with the treed slopes of Mount Ainslie, which means that the eye will always be distracted by the MDC obelisks standing in the way. The front face of the War Memorial receives the light of the sun 'at the rise and at the going down' during the summer solstice, this is the season in Europe when most of the great battles on the Western Front were launched, it is a rare sight and would also be degraded by the presence of the proposed obelisk clusters.
As constructed by the NCDC, no provision has been made for large numbers of visitors to congregate at the Rond Pond terraces, which were envisaged as being part of the Lake foreshores walkway network. The NCDC, in keeping with Griffin's intentions, considered that the Anzac Parade section of the land axis should terminate at Constitution Avenue. That intention has recently been confirmed by the development of the New Zealand War Memorial marking the start of the processional approach to the Australian War Memorial. The MDC scheme would devalue and detract from the role of the New Zealand memorial in this regard as it would become less effective as a start point marker. In addition, the MDC structures would not be accessible for pedestrians from the southern end of Anzac Parade and, by virtue of their abstract shape, would also be an object of confusion as to what they were why they were there.
With regard to my second concern, the whole planning and development of the National Triangle and the extension of Griffin's land axis to the War Memorial, has been based on the assumption that there would only ever be one place, roughly 200m in diameter, that would accommodate the shrine, the museum and the archive as envisaged by Charles Bean and which would be the unique location beyond which no family or friend of those who have served and died for Australia in overseas wars would want to see another ad hoc form of commemoration a little bit further down the road.