Commonwealth Avenue Bridge

Heritage Assessment

ACT Government and National Capital Authority

Canberra, ACT

Crossing the iconic Lake Burley Griffin, Commonwealth Avenue Bridge forms a key gateway linking Canberra’s north with its Parliamentary Zone.

GML recently undertook research into community-held aesthetic and social heritage values of this mid-century designed bridge, on behalf of the ACT Government and National Capital Authority. To complement this work, we have commenced an assessment of the engineering heritage values of the bridge.

Although Commonwealth Avenue Bridge is not individually heritage listed, it forms part of the wider heritage listing of Lake Burley Griffin as well as other listings within the Central National Area of Canberra. Commonwealth Avenue also forms one side of the Parliamentary Triangle.

In-depth community engagement formed an important part of GML’s research into the bridge’s social values. Working with special advisers Chris Johnston and Dr Steve Brown, we undertook an online survey among Canberra residents, visitors and special interest groups as well as targeted focus groups for deeper qualitative data.

Its recent popularity in landscape photography, social media hashtags, and even as a backdrop for a book cover and television series have made Commonwealth Avenue Bridge something of a Canberra icon of late.

The engineering significance of the bridge is also remarkable. In line with the brief for its construction in 1959 by the National Capital Development Commission, the bridge designers, William Holford and Richard Maunsell, were acutely aware of the need to find a contemporary technical solution that suited the setting and Lake Burley Griffin, which was also then in its design infancy. They viewed the lake as the:

‘feature of the landscape that has had the most influence on the design of the bridge’, with its ‘lowness of the relief in relation to surface distance’ and ‘for the most part the attenuated undulations of the landscape are apparent in [bridge] lines that lie close above one another in the region of the horizon.’

(‘Report on Commonwealth Avenue Bridge to the NCDC’ by Holford and Maunsell in October 1959.3F[i])