National Archives of Australia

Issue 10 April 2013

Inside Design 29: the visitor experience

Design 29: creating a capital, an Archives’ exhibition celebrating the centenary of our national capital, allows visitors to view Canberra in a new way – through an iPad app. Your Memento takes you inside the exhibition with three perspectives on the augmented reality experience of Design 29.

Design 29: creating a capital offers a once in a century opportunity to view up close the original designs of the 1911 Federal Capital City Design Competition finalists. Exhibition visitors can use the specially developed free iPad application to further explore the winning entries. Through augmented reality technology – involving a range of films, sound, photographs and documents – visitors can immerse themselves in the history of Canberra’s creation.

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Part of a slideshow on the Design 29 app, showing an Australian parliament house as imagined in the Griffiths Coulter Caswell entry, against the background of the Griffins’ design of the Government Group.

The ‘tech geek’: Joel Barcham, The-RiotACT

With other members of the media, I was invited to explore Design 29 and, while I did find the content of the gallery somewhat interesting, the real star of the show is how the Archives has presented that content. It might be the tech-geek in me, but I was much more interested in getting my hands on their iPads and checking out the augmented reality software than I was in looking at the maps.

I might have been too enthusiastic. A member of staff chased after me keen to explain how the software worked. While it was a nice gesture, she need not have bothered. It was all very straightforward.

I approached one of Walter Burley Griffin’s maps and held up the iPad. For a moment I simply saw the map on the wall while the software scanned the picture. A second later, I was greeted with a small image of the map, along with several icons. One poke of my finger and I was flipping through a letter from Griffin to the Minister of Home Affairs; another couple of presses and I was listening to a voice discussing the landscape of Canberra.

I kept playing, finding a series of photos – some of Canberra, others of the Griffins working on their designs. I went back to the map and hit a new button, and I was greeted by a satellite photo of the city. A swipe of my finger caused the map to fade away, leaving only the outlines of Canberra’s roads and buildings.

Taking a step back, I looked through the iPad and aligned this outline of Canberra over the map in front of me, examining the differences and similarities between Griffin’s design and our present. I tapped on Parliament House and a photo of the building popped up. I kept pressing further and discovering more. I realised I had spent quite a lot of time standing in front of one map. I also realised I was having a lot of fun.

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An interactive map of Canberra from the Design 29 app.

The ‘older generation’: Andrew McEntee

As someone who was born well before the advent of the World Wide Web, I seem to have spent all of my adult life running to catch up with the technology of PCs, smart phones and iPads. So it was with a sense of anticipation that I approached Design 29, with the iPads and – a phrase I’d never come across before – ‘augmented reality technology’. I’ve always been very interested in the story around the design of our beautiful capital city and the impact of both Walter and Marion Griffin.

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Andrew McEntee using an iPad to view the Design 29 exhibition. Photographer: Tracey Clarke

At first sight it all looked very simple and easy to use without the usual expectation of assumed knowledge, although the latter did help. I followed the colour chart earnestly using the iPad in its camera mode and focused on the labels to explore the winning Griffin entry and other proposed designs. The stories and audio content, as well as the silent films, were all excellent. One could sit comfortably digesting all this information without having to stand for an hour in the gallery – something that is particularly relevant for the older generation!

As an acupuncturist friend once said concerning the debate between eastern and western medicine, the best outcomes for good health can be achieved when both systems are combined. In the same way, I believe that the use of iPads and the more traditional viewing of exhibits leads to a more satisfying and entertaining experience of the Griffins’ vision for Canberra.

The Canberra adoptee: Melanie O’Hanlon

I never planned to call Canberra home when I first arrived in our nation’s capital. Like so many before and since, I had originally planned to stay only as long as my university studies lasted. Eighteen years later I am still here, perhaps by default and choice in equal measure. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the city, particularly its relationship to the natural environment.

As I entered Design 29 I was struck by the scale of the artworks. Despite their utilitarian origins, the designs are both fanciful and beautiful. Viewing the original designs I discovered details that are far too subtle to be appreciated in mere reproductions.

The exhibition can be appreciated on so many levels, depending on how you choose to engage with the content. The iPad offers much more than just additional information on the competition. Images and video footage reveal how the city has been realised during the last 100 years: how the trees have grown, the suburbs sprung up and eventually, Lake Burley Griffin filled – the last significant landmark to tie the design together.

Finalist Eliel Saarinen planned the city to be built over parts of the Molonglo. The app includes an animation of what might have happened to the city if the Molonglo flooded.

With the tap of a screen I was transported from information on the designs to 1970s video footage showing how Canberra’s drivers coped with the reality of roundabouts and merging traffic lanes. Another tap and I was watching the 1913 film footage of Canberra’s Foundation Stone being laid. The camera scans the crowd waiting in all their finery for the official procession of Lord and Lady Denman, with the sheep paddock in the middle distance and cattle dogs running through the crowd. It really looked like the beginning of something special.

Inside the Design 29 app: white city

The Design 29 iPad experience includes film footage that captures aspects of Canberra’s history, such as this ABC vision of heavy snow in Canberra on 1 October 1968. Decisions about the site of Australia’s capital in the early 20th century were informed by geography and weather. The preferred site was inland and at altitude, supported by the popular theory that a cool climate would produce sharp thinkers and decisive leadership. As this footage shows, chilly Canberra fit the bill perfectly.

(Courtesy of Australian Broadcasting Corporation Library Sales, from the collection of the National Archives of Australia.)

Design 29: creating a capital is showing at the Archives in Canberra until 8 September.

Joel Barcham is a contributor to The-RiotACT, an independent news website. This is an edited excerpt of an article that appeared in The-RiotACT.

Andrew McEntee is a former teacher and gallery host and is currently Communications and Programs Support Officer at the Archives.

Melanie O’Hanlon is a Communications Officer at the Archives.

Want more?

Visit the Design 29 website

Read about the work done to preserve the Griffin designs on our preservation blog

‘Unearthed Griffin treasure returned to the Archives’, in Your Memento issue 3

Fact sheet 95 – Walter Burley Griffin and the design of Canberra

Buy the new edition of A Vision Splendid: How the Griffins Imagined Australia’s Capital at the e-shop

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