Life On The Job



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WALTER BURLEY GRIFFIN (1876 - 1937) Town Planner, Architect, Designer of the Capital City of Australia - Canberra

Summary of his work and life

United States (1899-1914)
Australia (1914-1935)
India (1935-1937)


Architect, Landscape Architect, Urban Planner

Born: Maywood, Illinois, USA 24 November 1876

Died: Lucknow, India 11 February 1937
Buried at Lucknow, India

Legacy:
A landmark in Chicago and an artificial lake in Canberra are both named after Walter Burley Griffin.

Major works:

United States
W.H.Emery House, 1903
Adolph Mueller House, 1906
Ralph Griffin House, 1909
Joshua Melson House, 1912
Stinson Memorial Library, Anna, Illinois, 1913

Australia
Canberra plan, 1914 -1920
Leeton town plan, 1914
Griffith town plan, 1914
Eaglemont town plan, 1915
Newman College, University of Melbourne, 1916 - 1918
Café Australia, Melbourne, 1916
Portrait 

Introduction:

Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937), architect, landscape architect and designer of Canberra, was born on 24 November 1876 at Maywood, near Chicago, United States of America, eldest of four children of George Walter Griffin, insurance agent, and his wife Estelle Melvina, née Burley. Griffin attended high school at Oak Park, graduated B.Sc. from Nathan Ricker's renowned school of architecture at the University of Illinois in 1899 and was admitted as an associate of the American Institute of Architects.

He first worked as a casual employee of Dwight Heald Perkins and other architects in Chicago's Steinway Hall, then in 1901-06 as an associate of Frank Lloyd Wright at Oak Park. He also undertook private commissions, the most notable of which were the Emery house (1903) and the landscape designs for the grounds of the state normal schools of Eastern Illinois (1901) and Northern Illinois (1906). Griffin started his own practice in Steinway Hall in 1906 and by 1910, when his work was featured in the Architectural Record, was becoming recognized as a practitioner of what eventually became known as the Prairie School of architecture.

On 29 June 1911 Griffin married 40-year-old Marion Lucy Mahony (1871-1961), daughter of an Irish-born schoolteacher. They had no children.  (Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography)

"In the twenty years they lived in Australia, the Griffins’ remarkable architectural partnership produced over 250 project designs including the capital city, several towns, suburban estates, various civic buildings, a university college, cinemas, theatres, industrial and commercial buildings, domestic houses, furniture and interiors (Turnbull & Navaretti, page xvii).

Walter Griffin was appointed Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction and arrived with Marion Griffin and his relatives, the Lippincotts, in Sydney in May 1914. The federal capital Canberra was to be built on sheep grazing land, approximately halfway between the cities of Sydney and Melbourne. After six years of work, the frustrating obstacles created by bureaucrats and politicians became too great and Walter Griffin was forced to resign from the project on 31 December 1920.

When Walter Griffin terminated his work on Canberra, he focused his efforts on creating an urban development in Sydney that would demonstrate how sympathetic planning, and architecture that was subordinate to the landscape, would create an ideal suburb in harmony with its natural landscape. The Greater Sydney Development Association (GSDA) was formed in 1920 and within a few months it bought 650 acres (263 hectares) of land in Middle Harbour that became known as the suburbs of Castlecrag, Middle Cove and Castle Cove."
(Source: Walter Burley Griffin Society Inc)

preliminary plan for Canberra

Experiences:

"Both of the Griffins came from the American Midwest, and their relationship began in Chicago where they were practising architects, Marion working in the office of Frank Lloyd Wright for 14 years and Walter joining that practice in 1902. Most of Walter's work was residential and his role as an important "Prairie School" architect is now recognised.

In 1912, in a collaborative effort relying heavily on Marion's presentational drawings, Griffin won the international competition to design the Australian Federal Capital.The following year he came to Australia as its Director of Design and Construction. He was 36 and she 41 years old. While immersed in a seven-year struggle with the authorities over Canberra, the Griffins lived in Melbourne and worked on some important commissions including Melbourne University's Newman College, the Capitol Theatre and the Cafe Australia. Of some 72 design projects there, 48 were completed.

Walter in 1912
Walter Burley Griffin 1912, at work.
(Source: Wikipedia)

In 1919 Griffin formed the Greater Sydney Development Association (GSDA) and resigned all his Canberra responsibilities. Backed by Melbourne businessmen, politicians and personal associate, the following year he secured an option over a large area of the Castlecrag and Castle Cove peninsulas and most of Middle Cove ('Covecrag'). Griffin described himself as a 'landscape architect' and these areas were not merely to be profit-making subdivisions, but examples of how to develop and build 'model suburbs' in harmony with the Australian bushland and local topography.

Griffin designed the Castlecrag subdivision on a contour plan and the GSDA commenced selling blocks on the Castlecrag Estate, which previously had only two houses. The Griffins settled here in 1925. Most of the blocks in the Castlecrag Estate and the neighbouring Haven Estate had been sold by 1928, but the GSDA was not successful in inducing owners to use Griffin's architectural services, to observe his covenants or to build. By 1932, with the Great Depression affecting the nation's economy, over 40 houses had been designed, but only 19 had been built, 16 of which were initiated by the GSDA and its associates. (Source: Castlecrag Community)

Did You Know?

Canberra, Australia's capital city, was designed by an American Walter Burley Griffin and aided by his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin.

"Within weeks of their marriage, the Griffins embarked on the design and presentation of their entry for the international competition for the design of the Australia’s federal capital. There were 137 entries from around the world, and the Griffins’ Entry No 29 was announced by the Minister for Home Affairs, King O’Malley on 23 May 1912 as the winner."
(Source: Walter Burley Griffin Society Inc.)

Walter Burley Griffin Society



The houses were, to say the least, unusual. They were ahead of their time in their orientation on the block to capitalise on views, their use of built-in cupboards, their flat roofs, their picture windows and their use of local sandstone in walls and monolithic fireplaces. By the late 1920s, with his architecture practice and professional esteem waning, Griffin helped form a company that designed and built municipal incinerators. Between 1929 and 1937, 13 incinerators were built to designs by Griffin and/or his partner Eric Nicholls, of which only five remain. One of the most outstanding examples is the Willoughby Council Incinerator near the Leisure Centre in Small Street, Willoughby. This incinerator is currently undergoing a $1.3 million restoration project.

In 1935 Griffin accepted an invitation to visit India to work on a design for the Lucknow University Library. He filled a local need for an esteemed architect, and was given many commissions - some highly prestigious. In the following year, Marion joined him, leaving his partner, Eric Nicholls, to run the Australian practice. Some 100 design projects were completed in India, but only 5 were built. None remains. Walter Burley Griffin died in India in 1937, following surgical complications, aged 60. Marion Mahony Griffin soon returned to Castlecrag and during the next year retired to the Midwest of the United States. She died in Chicago in 1961, aged 90." (Source: Castlecrag Community)

Map of Canberra
(Source: Google Maps)

Opportunities:

"Walter Burley Griffin was the original designer of Canberra. He won the Federal Capital Design Competition, launched by King O’Malley, Minister for Home Affairs, in May 1911.

Burley Griffin had developed in a professional environment of radical European and North American architects. He was greatly influenced by the City Beautiful and Garden City movements which dominated town planning in the late 19th and early 20th century. Scholars have also detected a strong classical influence permeating Burley Griffin’s design of Canberra.

Burley Griffin’s wife, Marion Mahony Griffin, also an architect, collaborated with him on the design competition entry, and is known to have prepared the design drawings that accompanied the Burley Griffin entry.

The design for Canberra

Burley Griffin (entrant 29) was one of 137 entrants in the Federal Capital Design Competition. His original design drawings (on cotton cloth) as well as those of three other entrants noted by the judges – D Alf Agache (rated third); Griffiths Coulter and Caswell, an Australian firm (rated first in a minority report of the chairman); and Eliel Saarinen (rated second) – are held by the Archives in record series A710."
(Source: National Archives of Australia)

Other Town Plans:

"...the town plans for Griffith and Leeton, New South Wales, and the Summit and Glenard estates at Eaglemont, Melbourne. At Eaglemont the Griffins built the only house designed for themselves, a modest 'one-room' dwelling constructed in Knitlock, a precast concrete building block, which Griffin had patented in 1917. (Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography)

His Death and Grave

"On February 11, 1937, following an operation for a perforated gall bladder, he died of peritonitis. [

Walter Burley Griffin's grave 
Map of Lucknow 

Walter Burley Griffin's grave remained unmarked until 1988. Upon learning that it had effectively been ''lost'', Canberran Graeme Westlake began a quest to find and mark it. Remarkably, thanks to locating the cemetery's records, he succeeded on both fronts."
(Source: Sydney Morning Herald)

His Legacy

Although at the time of his death Griffin might have been judged a failure, later generations regard his designs and ideas with a respect which would have astounded his contemporaries, and his surviving buildings are valued as part of Australia's architectural history.

In 1963, the fiftieth anniversary of the naming of Canberra, a commemorative postage stamp was issued with his portrait.

Stamp

The Canberra lake, built in the form to which he was so strongly opposed, was given his name in 1964. (Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography)

Lake Burley Griffin
Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra

YouTube: Canberra - the Griffin vision in the 21st century
https://youtu.be/Ny9kk-0xtHI

 

When the first registered woman architect Marion Mahony married a fellow architect Walter Burley Griffin, the event marked the beginning of one of the most outstanding artistic collaborations of the 20th century.

In 1912, this visionary American couple won a controversial international competition to design the new Australian capital in Canberra. Though the city of their dreams was never fully realized, the Griffins chose to stay in Australia and went on to design almost three hundred buildings around the country in the appreciation of nature.

This documentary weaves the couple's personal and professional lives, explores their remarkable and sometimes tempestuous relationship, their struggle with unyielding bureaucracy, and the philosophies that underscored their life and work.

Links:

Australian Dictionary of Biography - Walter Burley Griffin

Australian Dictionary of Biography
Walter Burley Griffin Society Inc

WBG Society Inc
Castlecrag Community

Castlecrag Community
National Archives of Australia

NAA
 An Ideal City? The 1912 Competition to Design Canberra

An Ideal City?
 Objects in Time

Objects in Time
 The Australian: 9th March 2013

Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin were drawn together on Canberra


The Australian
 Friend at rest alongside Canberra's designer

SMH article


Wikipedia

Wikipedia

 

Activities

Creating a Walter Burley Griffin Memorial

PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle  High SchoolSecondary

Critical & Creative ThinkingAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical & Creative Thinking

1. A competition for the design of a memorial, on Mount Ainslie overlooking the city [of Canberra], to mark the centenary of his birth [Walter Burley Griffin] was won by an American entry, but following a change of government in 1975, and with strong echoes of similar changes fifty years earlier, the project was 'deferred'. (Source: ADB)

2. Brainstorm with the class about what you know about the subject of the memorial and what adjectives you might use to describe the subject — you may want to write a list or create an idea map on the board.

3. Then break the class into groups of three to six students. Each group is to develop a sketch of their memorial and a one-page press release describing the memorial, the inspiration behind it, and the creative or artistic decisions that went into its design.

4. Look at the following images of Mount Ainslie - overlooking the city of Canberra. This is the spot where the memorial to Walter Burley Griffin is to go.

Resources:

Canberra Tracks: Mt Ainslie Lookout

Canberra Tracks

Gallery:

Mt Ainslie Lookout

Mt Ainslie Lookout

Canberra from Mt Ainslie

Canberra from Mt Ainslie

Another memorial on Mt Ainslie: Remembering the Aboriginal People who served in the Australian Forces

Aboriginal Plague

4. You are to create a design of a memorial to be place on Mount Ainslie, Canberra. But what sort of memorial would you erect here? Will it reflect Walter's design of Canberra with his use of circles as the main geometric shape?

Look over the following resources and decide on a garden, a statue, or...monument

Memorial garden designs

memorial garden photos


Memorial Garden Ideas

Garden ideas

Look at the Monument Australia website to see what other Monuments to People have been produced around the country side.

Monument Australia

 

5. Creating the monument

In your groups, you will need to think about the following questions:
a.What qualities do you want to emphasize in your monument? What message are you trying to send?
b.What will your monument or memorial look like? How big will it be? What colors, materials, textures, and shapes will you use?
c.Where will your monument be placed? How do you expect visitors to interact with it? Will you include a visitor’s centre, picnic space, a park, or other amenities to make the space educational or functional in some other way, or will the monument stand alone?

6. After you have created your ideas, present your designs to the class and take questions about the design process and your choices.

To decide on the "best" monument, form a “monument committee” and vote on the design that the class likes best. Also, create the press release to go with your design.  (Source: Learn NC)

 

Material sourced from 
An Ideal City? The 1912 Competition to Design Canberra
 Australian Dictionary of Biography

Castlecrag Community
 National Archives of Australia
Sydney Morning Herald

Walter Burley Griffin Society Inc
Wikipedia


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