The Italian who designed Australia's parliament house has died

Australia’s parliament. Photo: Andrew Sheargold/ Getty Images.

Romaldo Giurgola, the Italian-born architect and academic who moved to Australia and won the competition to design the nation’s new Parliament House in the 1980s, has died. He was 95.

Aldo, as he was known, was born in Rome in 1920, moving to the USA after WWII, where he continued his studies in architecture at Columbia University. He married an American, Adelaide, and launched his partnership Mitchell/Giurgola Architects in 1958 as part of what became known as the Philadelphia School of Architecture.

His first major commission was the Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Centre for the US National Park Service in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Giurgola spent much of his life as an academic, becoming chair of the Columbia architectural department in 1966. In 1979, he was invited to join the judging panel for Canberra’s new parliament, but declined, deciding to enter the competition instead with Australian, Richard Thorp, who’d joined Giurgola’s practice in 1977.

Thus began the new partnership MGT. Their design was chosen from among 329 entries. Thorp moved back to Australia in 1980, followed by Giurgola, who decided to make Canberra his permanent home by the time their $1.2 billion home for the nation’s democracy opened in 1988.

The Italian’s wife, Adelaide, died after more than a decade with Alzheimer’s disease in 1997 and Giurgola became an Australian in 2000.

While the parliament house, with its giant flagpole, attracted plenty of critics, Giurgola and Thorpe received their profession’s highest honour, the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Buildings, for their design. Giurgola would receive the honour again in 2004 his design for St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta.

His career delivered him numerous global honours for his work, including the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1982.

He also designed St Thomas Aquinas in Charnwood, Canberra, having been challenged to produce a building for $500,000.

More recently, Giurgola was critical of repeated security upgrades around Parliament House, which he believed sought to cut off the building from the public. He declined an offer to be part of the post 9-11 works and more recently said the latest round of proposed security measures failed to understand the building’s “full message about openness and accountability”.

“It is easy to misbehave if you are not looking at people directly in their faces. People want to see their representatives working well, and want to be proud of their choice of representative – isn’t this what democracy aspires to?” he said.

Giurgola is survived by his daughter, Paola, who lives in Canberra

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