Competition for a new official Prime Minister’s residence in Canberra

Prime Ledge

It is no easy task to design a residence for the Prime Minister.  On the one hand you know that the project will unavoidably be criticized for its perceived lavishness and cost, while on the other hand, the result needs to be impressive enough to convey the importance of the role of Prime Minister of Australia.

Emphasis has been placed on the Function Centre as a place befitting the entertaining of foreign dignitaries and guests whereas the Prime Minister’s home is given less prominence.  The physical manifestation of the various functions reflects their degree of importance in Australian democracy. The program has been divided into 3 parts reflecting the significant elements of the project: the private home, the function centre and its landscape setting.

The Home

The prime minister is a ‘normal’ citizen and as such she (he) should live in a ‘normal’ house.  The house should be first comfortable, cosy, enjoyable, restrained.  The home should incorporate normal features, large rooms but not lavishly huge. It should be an example of sustainability and recess (sit well within?) in the landscape.

The everyday entrance of the house is from a gravel driveway near the shore of the lake.  On arrival, the function centre is hardly visible, hidden by the canopy of existing trees.

The house is tucked into the shore of the lake, hardly visible from a distance but enjoying great views from inside.  The services are hidden behind a feature wall curved as if it is carved into the cliff.  This Kahnian duality of served and servant spaces reinforces the fluidity of the main rooms and circulation.  The living room and bedrooms all open to an outdoor terrace close to the water level of the lake.

The private home is directly connected to the formal entry level of the Function Centre and the landscaped roof.

The Function Centre

Unlike the house, the Function Centre is prominent.  It is a massive disk of 32m diameter inserted into the headland.  It is pure geometry, large but simple and sober. The arrival is striking and the first impression a lasting one.  As the sealed driveway slips under the hovering disk of the function centre, the soffit reveals an artwork of grand proportion and significance to Australian art.  The landscape continues under as if it has been untouched.  The expansive entry level allows views to the lake.  At the drop-off area, a large shallow stair is laid onto the natural slope leading to the main level.   A lift to one side also is associated with a discreet stair down to the Prime Minister’s residence.  Arriving at the top of the stair to the Function Centre, a large terrace embraces the view.  By pushing the building forward to the edge of Lake Burley Griffin, views are considerably enlarged.  On the eastern side the formal dining room sitting 40 guests, and on the western side, the formal function room accommodates more than 100 people.  Further along this side, a collection of other rooms are located for quiet meetings and discussions together with the Prime Minister’s study and support staff offices.  These offices open onto a small courtyard to facilitate concentration.  These spaces are accessible from the gallery, a large corridor space filled with top light where the best of the Australiana Fund collection are exhibited.  On the other side of the disk all services are tucked into the headland.

The Landscape

Part of the function centre has the ability to accommodate larger functions with marquees in the park.  The top of the hill is the perfect location for this.  It is flat, large and enjoys great views over the Lake Burley Griffin and beyond.

The roof of the function centre is entirely covered with water.  Parts of this pond are deeper, to accommodate lotus plants and other deeper aquatic plants judiciously located above smaller and less important rooms below.  Some parts rise above the water and become contemplative garden beds.  There is also a lap pool for the health of the Prime Minister and family members.  The pool is located on axis with the entry stairs reinforcing it with a lower ceiling height.  Underwater light wells provide aqueous light into some rooms below.

The roof is a formal continuation of the existing park.  A permanent shade structure becomes the main visible part of the PM’s Lodge, a light line hovering above the hill.

Team: Thierry Lacoste, David Stevenson
Date: 2013