An Ideal City?

Explore Further

c2600 BC Heyday of Ur, the world’s first city, in Mesopotamia (now Iraq)

c700 BC Settlement began that would later become Rome

c1450 Leon Battista Alberti redesigned Rome’s water supply

c1555 Giorgio Vasari remodelled central Florence

1666 Christopher Wren planned a new urban form for London after the Great Fire

1668–74 Louis XIV built his Palace of Versailles

1791 Pierre L’Enfant designed Washington DC

1837 William Light produced his plan for Adelaide, with green belts reserved for parkland

1853 Baron Haussman began to reorder Paris’ urban form

1857 Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s design chosen for New York’s Central Park

1889 Camillo Sitte published City Planning According to Artistic Principles, advocating curvy or irregular streets for ever-changing vistas

1889 Soap manufacturer William Lever began building Port Sunlight in Merseyside, United Kingdom

1893 Daniel Burnham, John Wellborn Root and Fredrick Law Olmstead designed White City for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago

1895 Marion Mahony employed in Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural studio in Chicago

1895 Cadbury began building Bournville, near Birmingham, United Kingdom. It was to provide quality housing for workers at the new chocolate factory and others

1898 Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City model of town planning published in Garden Cities of Tomorrow

1899 Walter Burley Griffin graduated from the University of Illinois as an architect and land planner

1899 Premiers decided at a conference in Melbourne that the capital would be in New South Wales, not less than 100 miles from Sydney

1900 Surveyor Alexander Oliver appointed by the New South Wales government to look for suitable sites for the federal capital

1901 January 1 — Australian Federation

1901 May — Congress in Melbourne on the planning of the new capital

1901 Charles Coulter painted a watercolour of the federal capital, as he envisaged it, at Lake George

1901 Walter Burley Griffin joined Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio in Chicago and there met Marion Mahony

1901 Chicago recognised as the centre of a new architectural movement – Marion Mahony’s evolving graphic techniques played a large role

1901 November — David Miller appointed head of the Department of Home Affairs. He was administrator of Federal Capital Territory from 1912 until his retirement in 1917.

1902 Capital Sites Enquiry Board began investigating suitable sites within the suggested capital areas

1902–03 Members of federal parliament toured some possible sites for the capital

1903 Letchworth, the United Kingdom’s first garden city, developed

1904 Dalgety, New South Wales, became first choice for the federal capital site

1906 Construction of the first motorways began in New York

1908 John Sulman published his radial plan for the capital in his book The Federal Capital

1908 December — Canberra–Yass region chosen as federal capital site, replacing Dalgety

1909 March — Charles Scrivener appointed to survey and identify a ‘seat of government’ and water catchment within the federal territory

1910 April 29 — King O’Malley becomes Minister for Home Affairs

1911 January 1 — Federal Capital Territory formally transferred to the Commonwealth. It includes an area of 2360 square kilometres in New South Wales and a seaport at Jervis Bay.

1911 Charles Coulter painted the panoramic views of the capital site that were later sent out to competition entrants. He also entered the competition, with Walter Scott Griffiths and Charles Caswell, with a plan that the minority judge preferred.

1911 April 30 — Competition for the design of the federal capital announced by King O’Malley, Minister for Home Affairs

1911 June 29 — Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin married

1912 January 31 — Closing date for competition entries. The date was ultimately extended a few weeks.

1912 February 29 — Federal Capital Designs Board appointed, comprising John Montgomery Coane, a fellow of the Victorian Institute of Surveyors; John Kirkpatrick, a New South Wales architect; and James Alexander Smith, president of the Victoria Institute of Engineers

1912 March 4 — Judging of the competition entries began

1912 May 14 — Judges submitted their majority and minority reports

1912 May 23 — King O’Malley announced Walter Burley Griffin as the winner of the design competition for the federal capital. Eliel Saarinen won second place and Alfred Agache third.

1912 June — Board established within the Department of Home Affairs to prepare a plan for Canberra based on various designs submitted to the competition

1912 November 25 — Departmental Board plan for Canberra submitted to King O’Malley, Minister for Home Affairs. Soon afterward, O’Malley approved their plan and announced that construction would begin accordingly.

1913 January 21 — Walter Burley Griffin wrote to King O’Malley seeking to have his plan reinstated, and offering to explain it in person.

1913 February 20 — King O’Malley drove the first peg in the building site of Canberra

1913 March 12 — ‘Canberra’ named in an elaborate ceremony in the empty paddock that was Capitol Hill. Governor-General Lord Denman, Prime Minister Andrew Fisher and Minister for Home Affairs King O’Malley laid the foundation stones of a commemorative column that was never finished.

1913 June 24 — Joseph Cook sworn in as Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs

1913 August 18 — Walter Burley Griffin arrived in Australia to visit the Canberra site

1913 October 16 — Walter Burley Griffin offered the position of Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction

1914 May — Griffins moved to Australia

1914 August 4 — First World War began

1915 September 17 — William Morris Hughes sworn in as Prime Minister

1915 October 27 — King O’Malley resumed as Minister for Home Affairs

1916 Royal Commission on Federal Capital Administration held to investigate the performance of Griffin’s contract and the implementation of his design

1918 Traffic policeman Alker Tripp developed the idea of a road hierarchy

1918 November 11 — First World War ended

1921 Government of Prime Minister WM Hughes removed Walter Burley Griffin as director of construction at Canberra after disagreements over his supervisory role, and created the Federal Capital Advisory Committee, with John Sulman as chair. Griffin was offered membership, but declined and withdrew from further activity in Canberra.

1923 Country Club Plaza, the first car-oriented shopping centre opened in Kansas City, United States

1923 August 23 — Building of Parliament House began

1924 January 30 — The first Cabinet meeting was held in Canberra. The ministers were lodged at Yarralumla House, later the residence of the Governor-General.

1925 January 1 — Federal Capital Commission established by the Seat of Government (Administration) Act, 1924

1927 May 9 — Ceremonial opening of parliament in Parliament House. This was the deadline for completion of many other buildings, including the Hotel Canberra and Hotel Kurrajong, and the prime ministerial residence, The Lodge. As Commonwealth departments were transferred from Melbourne to Canberra, housing construction was accelerated in an attempt to keep pace

1930 May 1 — Federal Capital Commission abolished. Its functions were divided between the Department of Works and Railways and the Federal Capital Territory Branch of the Department of Home Affairs.

1935 Walter Burley Griffin travelled to India to work

1936 Marion Mahony Griffin travelled to India to assist Walter Burley Griffin

1937 Walter Burley Griffin died in India of peritonitis

1938 Marion Mahony Griffin returned to Chicago and lived there until her death in 1961

1938 December 22 — National Capital Planning and Development Committee established. An advisory body, it operated until 1957 but lacked any executive power.

1954 February 3 — Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Australia for a two-month visit that included Canberra. At this stage, the planned lake remained a paddock.

1954 November 11 — RG Menzies’ government established the Senate Select Committee on the Development of Canberra. Its influential report was released on 29 September 1955.

1956 Southdale Shopping Centre, the first climate-controlled shopping centre opened near Minneapolis, United States

1957 October 10 — National Capital Development Commission established. Among elements of the city’s original design implemented was the construction of Lake Burley Griffin.

1980 June 26 — Mitchell/Giurgola and Thorp won the competition to design the new Parliament House

1988 May 9 — Queen Elizabeth II ceremonially opened Australia’s new Parliament House on Capitol Hill in Canberra, above the provisional Parliament House opened by her father and mother in 1927. In 1901 her grandparents had opened Australia's first parliament in Melbourne.

1989 January 31 — National Capital Planning Authority replaced the National Capital Development Commission

1996 National Capital Authority dropped ‘Planning’ from its name