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Decisions about the location and design of public memorials in capital cities shape national identity. They involve large financial and political investments, signature works by leading artists and architects, and permanent changes to some of the most prominent real estate in the nation. It is thus unusual that there has been little academic analysis of the design approaches and the decision-making processes that shapes the commemorative landscapes of capital cities. Commemorative planning plays a very high-level role in shaping Australia’s capital city, Canberra, proactively through physical masterplans and landscaping schemes for the public realm, reactively through review processes for individual commemorative proposals, and also strategically through published guidance for future proposals. In all these planning processes, the memorial landscape is understood as having considerable potential for reflecting the community’s changing historical consciousness and values. This nexus between form and values is complex. The aim of this paper is to analyse and test this nexus: to examine what kinds of commemorative forms and topics do and do not find adequate expression in Canberra’s landscape, and why; and to better understand the difficulties and possibilities of guiding and coordinating the various commemorative proposals which are put forward by various parties.
After outlining the issues to be explored and the types of data that can shed light on them, the paper provides a brief history of the major memorials erected in Canberra up until 2002, and the rationales that shaped them. The main focus of the paper is then new commemorative projects that have developed in Canberra since the publication of the National Capital Authority’s Guidelines for Commemorative Works (NCA 2002a). This involves analysing the masterplanning of four relatively new commemorative precincts, the design of several individual memorials recently developed within them, and two proposed memorials whose original forms and sites were rejected and revised. A concluding analysis identifies four kinds of difficulties that memorial proponents face, related to choice of site, type of artwork, subject matter, and how a memorial is judged against local interests.