Parliament House is one of the oldest civic buildings in the state. As the seat of democracy, it represents the fundamental freedoms and rights of Western Australians, including freedom of speech, equal voting rights, a government elected by majority, and accountability for and scrutiny of the way government operates.
The building’s staged construction in many ways reflects changing social and economic times in Western Australia. Federation, a small population, two world wars, women’s entry into Parliament, and architectural trends all influenced its development.
Parliament House was built between 1902 and 1904, at a time when the population in Western Australia was fewer than 200 000 people and there was a level of uncertainty around how the newly formed Federation of states would affect the state’s development and prosperity.
The late 1890s was marked by considerable debate and division amongst members of Parliament about the location of the proposed new Parliament House, being either the site of the old Legislative Council or the old Barracks, both located on St Georges Terrace.
With support, Premier Sir John Forrest, MLA, and President George Shenton, MLC, persuaded the houses of Parliament that the old Barracks site on St Georges Terrace was the preferred location. The location of Parliament House subsequently shifted to above the old Barracks, occupied by the then Public Works Department, which was responsible for the construction of Parliament House.
It was determined that the main front of Parliament House would face east with some elevated feature in line with St Georges Terrace and that it would use local granite and freestone as well as polished timber for all internal joinery.
The initial design concepts for the building, limited to £100 000 for construction and drawn from an Australia-wide competition, were considered too palatial and hence rejected on cost. J.H. Grainger, Chief Architect, Public Works Department, was commissioned to prepare new plans for the building at a cost of no more than £100 000 with the first stage to cost no more than £20 000.
The building, which consisted of a Harvest Terrace facade and two chambers, as well as temporary buildings of wood and iron, opened on 28 July 1904 at a cost of £35 623. It was determined that the eastern facade would be added later.
Although the new Parliament House was an immense improvement on previous buildings, bringing together the chambers in one building, it remained unfinished for a further 60 years. This was principally the result of economic issues and other priorities arising from two world wars.
The impetus for the construction of an eastern facade was a visit from Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1954 and the indignity of having to lead the Queen to a garden party by means of a tradesmen’s entrance. Further, there was an urgent need to establish facilities to accommodate a growing number of female members and staff.
The 1960s plans were prepared by Edward van Mens as project architect under the direction of A.E. Clare and were scaled down considerably from the original 1904 plans with its elaborate and expensive elevations.
The eastern wing was constructed between 1958 and 1964 at a cost of £416 500. Further site works were undertaken in 1977 with the construction of two levels on the southern wing of the building allowing for 12 new offices for members. In 2004, a northern extension to Parliament House was completed, providing additional members’ offices as well as meeting rooms.
The staged construction of the building reflects two architectural styles—the grander Federation Academic Classical of the early 1900s and more classical lines and columns of the 1960s Stripped Classical style.