Old Parliament House Canberra, known formerly as the Provisional Parliament House, was the seat of the Parliament of Australia from 1927 to 1988. The building began operation on 9 May 1927 after its relocation fromMelbourne to the new capital, Canberra. In 1988, the Commonwealth Parliament transferred to the new Parliament House on Capital Hill. It also serves as a venue for temporary exhibitions, lectures and concerts.
On 2 May 2008 it was made an Executive Agency of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. On 9 May 2009, the Executive Agency was renamed the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, reporting to the Special Minister of State.
Designed by John Smith Murdoch and a team of assistants from the Department of Works and Railways, the building was intended to be neither temporary nor permanent—only to be a “provisional” building that would serve the needs of Parliament for a maximum of 50 years. The design extended from the building to include its gardens, décor and furnishings. The building is in the Simplified or “Stripped” Classical Style, commonly used for Australian government buildings constructed in Canberra during the 1920s and 1930s. It does not include such classical architectural elements as columns, entablatures or pediments, but does have the orderliness and symmetry associated with neoclassical architecture.
Old Parliament House is a three storey brick building with the principal floor on the middle level. Murdoch designed it to be simple and functional, and this is reflected throughout the design, extending to the interior fittings and furnishings.
The façade originally incorporated a grid of recessed openings and balconies, with four bays having arched bronze windows and stepped parapets. The building’s front façade has strong horizontal lines, displaying only two storeys, with higher massed elements behind the façade on either side of the centre, indicating the location of the two debating chambers, with a lower mass in the centre where King’s Hall is located. Murdoch’s simplified classical design is based on a basic square, which provides the building with a regular proportion in terms of fenestration and other elements, including the (now enclosed) verandas and colonnades.