Australia launches hypothetical international design competition for new capital city

A new international ideas competition for a hypothetical capital city has been launched in Canberra, Australia. With total prizes in excess of AUD $100,000, the CAPITheticAL competition asks the world’s best designers, architects, artists and thinkers to imagine what an Australian capital city might look like if created today.

CAPITheticAL is designed to provoke new thinking about the nature of national capitals and planned cities internationally. Entrants are being asked to consider current global challenges such as climate change and urban density, while celebrating the past, present and future of Canberra.

The CAPITheticAL competition is part of the Cenetary of Canberra celebrations. It comes 100 years after the original call for design entries for a capital city for the newly federated Australian nation, which resulted in the establishment of Canberra, designed by competition winners, American architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. In 1911, in stark contrast to this online competition, prospective entrants from around the world were sent via ship a metre-long wooden box containing competition guidelines and all items which might be needed to design the nation’s capital. Attendees of the competition launch witnessed the opening of one of the original 725 boxes, which were sent to the 1911 competition entrants. More information on the competition box is available at

Speaking at the launch event, Centenary of Canberra Creative Director Robyn Archer said: “Core to our celebration of Canberra’s origins is the recognition that 100 years ago the desire for a new capital for a new nation was bred of a genuinely altruistic nation-building spirit. A century later, CAPITheticAL provides an opportunity for the world’s best thinkers and designers to let their imaginations soar once again – to consider and present 21st-century ideas addressing the kinds of design challenges that would be faced if they were placed in that situation today.”

The competition will ask entrants to look forward to the big ideas that will shape the world’s future cities in the 21st century and beyond. Ms Archer added that “Many of the challenges that 2011 entrants will have to take into consideration will be different from those faced 100 years ago; climate change will be at the top of that list, but so will the digital and communications revolution. What will remain the same are the universal questions that the original international competitors faced: what does a capital mean, what should it consist of, and is it more than just a seat of government? Walter Burley Griffin’s winning designs responded clearly to these challenges.”

Australian Institute of Architects National President Karl Fender said, “The competition offers an invaluable opportunity for members of the arts and architecture disciplines to develop creative, dynamic and energetic responses to the very real issues we are facing. How do we develop our urban spaces within the context of today’s challenges, including the imperatives of climate change, increasing densities, a highly urbanized population, as well as straining resources and infrastructure? As a hypothetical competition, CAPITheticAL opens a window to the future and the potential for entries which might outline new satellite-based cities or those based on the ocean floor, as entrants examine key issues facing built and unbuilt environments today.”

The winners of the CAPITheticAL competition will be announced in March 2013, a century after the official naming of Canberra.

Stage One competition entries are due on January 31, 2012. Entrants and interested parties can register for the competition at: