Given the public’s distaste for most things political, and Canberra, the notion of a wall around Parliament house to encircle the bastards does not seem so bad.
But this one is intended to keep the public away, not lock in the politicians. It’s a knee jerk reaction to security and the dangers of allowing people to freely populate our world.
The proposal is for a 2.6-metre-high glass wall surrounding about 1½ kilometres of Parliament House, which is serious, but not much of a wall in historical terms. In fact, some are calling it a pool fence. A $108 million pool fence.
A look at history will show us what a real wall is. Berlin (1961) was 155 km long and about 3.6 metres high in its concrete section. Hadrian’s wall (128AD) would keep the Picts out of Roman Britannia, 117 km long, stone, and up to 6 metres high. Zimbabwe built dry stone walls during the 11C to the15C to protect their rulers which were up to 5 metres high.
And of course the Great Wall of China, which was started around 200 BC, and built over hundreds of years to keep the barbarian hordes out, has various sections which measure over 20,000 km long and it is up to eight metres high.
Trump’s proposal for his Mexican standoff would be about 3100 km long, and it could be anything between seven to eleven metres high. During the election campaign he wanted concrete, over 12.5 million cubic metres of it, and the estimate was a cost of $USD12 billion, although he was certain the Mexicans would foot the bill.
Most walls are designed to deter invasion, they control borders, not just physically but also psychologically. They can be used to help collect taxes at their gates and of course control people movement either side of them and troop movement on top.
The proposal for Canberra is to limit access for terrorists so they can’t get on the roof of a place of government and cause harm. Up until now, since its opening in 1988, the green grass roofs on the building are used by tourists to walk around while their kids roll down the slopes.
But walls do not always achieve their designated goals.
Problems arise when people cheat and walk around them, find a weakness somewhere, or simply burrow underneath. It would be conceivable in these days of things that fly (like rockets, missiles and drones), that a wall is just a thing to pass over.
You might imagine that a clever radical terrorist might find a way to do their worst without even considering a ‘pool fence’ as a deterrent. Such a person might slip in with the laundry or slide in via the underground carpark, or worse – cleverly embed themselves over years as a politician, get elected as an MP, and enter the place via the front door.
In the process the architectural genius of Giurgola’s creation is being overlooked, the sanctity of his design which provides a public amenity over and above the houses of government was the outstanding idea. He designed for equity and equality in our democracy, simply by placing the hoi polloi on an equal footing with their elected reps.
Maybe that’s what has disturbed those underneath more than any security threat, but to substantially damage such an important part of our built heritage with a clumsy fence for dubious value, would appear to be utterly shameless.