Parliament House Canberra green roof

canberra_parliament_green_roof1Seeing Green over new ground cover proposal for Parliament House

One way of promoting green roofs and investigating the question of their  accessibility is to look at some of the excellent examples which now exist.

Parliament House, Canberra is probably one of the world’s earliest and most successful green roofs. The Parliament House building was constructed in 1988 for $1.1 billion. The reason for the design of the green roof at the time was not due to sustainability as an imperative, rather it was conceived of “in order to preserve the shape of the hill on which it was built.” The Parliament building was constructed into the top of the hill and the roof was grassed over.

The issue of the grassed roof’s sustainability has been raised by the prolonged drought conditions of recent years. The architect of the original building, Romaldo Giurgola, is against all proposals to replant the roof with more sustainable hardy, native or drought tolerant plants. He believes that grass turf is an intimate part of the conception of the building and that any change “would completely destroy the form of the building.”

I suggest an online design competition to produce and debate alternative forms of cover which would satisfy the perceived need for a more sustainable ground cover and satisfy the demanding eye of the architect who rightly has regard to the heritage value of his work and to its design integrity. 

17 thoughts on “Parliament House Canberra green roof

  1. Tom Turner

    I sympathize with Romaldo Giurgola’s views but I also think he has grasped the wrong end of the stick. The Canberra Parliament Building is a prime example of a ‘landscape approach to architecture’ – and this should be taken further. Poems and paintings are traditionally made on white paper, though this may change. Architecture has a similar tradition, with many wonderful exceptions. But the landscape tradition is ‘design on the land’. Every act is but a step in an endless process of change. I wish Romaldo Giurgola could learn to tame his ego and take this approach into the future. There is further discussion of the principle at
    Footprints in the sands of time

  2. stefan

    good point. if your building is meant to be part of the landscape then it will have to change with the landscape. nothing lasts forever fella.

  3. Jasmine

    I do agree with you, Mr. Turner. Gardens and landscape projects are made from a changing matters. If I was Mr.Giurgola, I will take this issue as a challenge : to find another concept or plants to substitute the first ones.

  4. Christine

    I think the competition is a great idea! Apart from the obvious design challenge of coming up with an alternative ground cover to met Giurgola’s high standards there is also the very important question of heritage. In this instance the landscape as an integral part of the design of the building – something we are likely to see much more of…

    The issue also raises the question of the heritage value of plants themselves;

    1)Should we consider water thirsty turf as a heritage plant in its own right?
    2)Although we may no longer choose to turf our new sustainable gardens, what approach should we take to heritage plants that require a higher standard of upkeep?

    Many flowers (and hence flower gardens)are also in this high maintenance category.

  5. Tom Turner

    In morphological terms, there is a comparability between the Australian Parliament building and Hundertwasser’s work. I think it should be a planting design competition, since there seems little need for structural changes, though I guess the use of the space demands constant re-consideration. In the UK we remove topsoil to make grasslands more floriferous.

  6. Christine

    Maintaining gardens etc is a completely mysterious area of knowledge/skill for me…Being completely uninitiated an explanation as why removing topsoil would promote more flowers would be excellent.

  7. Tom Turner

    Soil substrates with a low nutrient status tend to be more floriferous. This is because on poor soils it is necessary for a plant to produce seeds as soon as possible, as when deserts bloom after a shower of rain. On deep rich soils plants can grow, like trees and shrubs, for many years before it is necessary to reproduce themselves. It could be a wonderful thing if part of the ‘Green Roof’ turned into a fabulous field of flowers after a fall of rain. There would surely be photographs on the national and international news – rather as news of the cherry trees flowering spreads through Japan each spring.

  8. Christine

    Apparently a group of American practising architects travelled to Malta in 1995 to visit ‘the oldest buildings in the world’.[] Architect Paul Hoag asks, before the invention of the wheel, what motivated stone age people to build megalithic temples? He says;

    “Lets go back through the possibilities. Fortress protection against attack? No. No weapons have ever been found at these sites. A place for a powerful chief? No. No burial remains of Pharaoh figures with afterlife treasures. Temples for oppressive priestly cults? Hardly. The only deity was the Earth Goddess – the Great Goddess. They were agrarian people who revered her for bringing the seasons and the rain, and enriching the soil which grew their main source of food. They sculpted beautiful figurines of her: gorgeously plump and fecund, forever pregnant with a newly dead soul who needed to be reborn into a happy afterlife, just as she saw to it that new crops appeared from the mystery of last year’s death.”

  9. Tom Turner

    Paul Hoag’s explanations are all possible but I would add another to the list: Megalithic temples had something of the role which books have for us: they explained the ‘nature of the world’ and helped in the organization of societies which were more than ‘collections of individuals’.

  10. Christine

    Grasslands seem to play an interesting role in the environmental equation. The following is a quote from ‘Methane and Nitrous Oxide fluxes in native, fertilised and cultivated grasslands’ published in the journal Nature (Vol 350 28 March 1991 p330);

    “Our data indicate that the semi-arid grasslands represent a
    significant global sink for CH4 (ref. 8). Methane uptake in the
    grassland ranged from 6 to 6111.g CH4 m-2 h-l, compared with
    uptake rates of 6-24,52,0-112, and 10-160 ll.g CH4 m-2 h-1 in
    tropical foresf 7, subtropical broad-leafed savannah 18, tundra 19
    and temperate forest soils6.8, respectively. If our measurements
    are representative of CH4 uptake by these grasslands globally,
    then 0.5 to 5.6 Tg of CH4 are removed from the atmosphere in
    these grasslands each year.”

  11. Tom Turner

    Ah yes! Grasses are wonderful plants but lawns by mowing machines are a dangerous element in garden and landscape design, because they are so over-used. People think that since indoor carpets have to be vacuumed outdoor ‘carpets’ have to be mown – and it just ain’t so!

  12. Christine

    What a beautiful image – outdoor carpets! It makes me think of the very best of urban picnics! And that wonderful sensation of lying on the most bouyant of grasses and staring up at the sky and watching the clouds float lazily by in a warm blue sky!

  13. Juanjo Gari

    The architect is right.
    Green lawns give peace and show the buildings sorrounding as in the old
    monasteries of Oxford,currently colleges.

  14. Kermit Axman

    We’re a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with valuable information to work on. You’ve done an impressive job and our entire community will be thankful to you.


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