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The built legacy of Romaldo Giurgola

The built legacy of Romaldo Giurgola


Above: Romaldo Giurgola, photo National Library of Australia/The Guardian.

This week, the architectural community lost Italian academic and architect Romaldo Giurgola at 95 years of age. Giurgola was internationally-renouned and known for his work on Parliament House in Canberra, after being invited to be on the judging panel for a competition to design the building in 1980. Instead, Giurgola decided he would prefer to enter the competition himself, which he won.

Parliament House, photo by JJ Harrison.

Parliament House, photo by JJ Harrison.


While Giurgola’s work on Parliament House earned him an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia, he also completed other significant works across the country. In 1989, Giurgola designed the St Thomas Aquinas Parish Church in Charnwood, ACT. Evidently a humble project compared to his previous project, the church’s greatness lies in its modesty.


St Thomas Aquinas Parish Church, photograph courtesy architecture.org.au.


A simple cream brick façade leaves way for a more detailed interior of timber pews and ceiling, alongside white walls and an array of cross motifs. The church’s design won the Canberra Medallion for Architectural Excellence award in 1990.

Photography courtesy architecture.org.au.

St Thomas Aquinas Parish Church, photography courtesy architecture.org.au.


In continuing the theme of religious venues, Giurgola, along with MGT Architects, was commissioned to restore and redesign St Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta in 1997 after the existing structure was ruined by fire. The new design embraced both new and existing elements of the church, bringing the original structure, which was built in the 1800s, up to date with a contemporary feel.

St Patrick's Cathedral.

St Patrick’s Cathedral.


Inside the church, white walls contrast against a stark grey floor, elements which are warmed by the extensive use of timber throughout. Large timber screens hang from the ceiling at the front of the building, while light sources are strategically placed behind them – adding a welcoming glow ahead of the bold red statement wall.

The legacy of Giurgola will continue through not only his buit works here and abroad, but also through the Romaldo Giurgola Award for Public Architecture, which is given to the best public building annually at the ACT Architecture Awards.

Beyond his built works, Giurgola was also a professor at Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and was appointed as the Ware Professor Emeritus of Architecture at Columbia. He also published several books on Louis Kahn’s work and philosophy.

ADR interviewed Romaldo Giurgola in 2011, on the year of his ninetieth birthday. Read the interview here.


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