(Sir) Walter Burley Griffin & Marion Mahoney: Canberra, Castle craig & Nolli maps.

If you hadn’t noticed, I put the brackets for sir in Walter’s name because really he does deserve that honour. Why you ask? he didn’t bring much to the architectural landscape in Australia did he? Well, to answer that question is a bit complex. In one way he did with the elephant in the room, Canberra the capital of Australia.

Walter and Marion Burley Griffin? Marion Mahoney & Walter Burley Griffin 🙂

The Griffiths saw Australia as a potential location to perfect American civic ideals and dreams. The newly formed federation of Australia’s states in American eyes was seen as a declaration of independence, but in Australia, it was based on imperialism and this degree of liberty was not received well. The ideals that were given towards the development of American governmental areas was the notions of grandeur and statehood, of nationalism and defiance of the old world. The levels of bureaucracy also lead to the jaded outlook on Australia’s willingness to let go of the system, crushing the Griffins belief in a new Australia.

When working with Frank Lloyd Wright, the perception of design was developed by mimicking the idea that the roof lines where low and horizontal, mirroring the prairielands. This idea, was translated by The Griffiths towards the idea of “Better design would matter in improving the quality of life” and that it was needed to have architecture makes itself visible. Marion adopted the Japanese style of drawing that included nature into the drawings which created atmosphere and a sense of place. In doing this it soften the appeal of the drawings rather than being architectural drawings. After winning the competition to develop Canberra through the use of 12 metre panel sections, they dove into the political landscape which was negative and bureaucratic as politicians and rival architects (whom then became advisors to the board) raised objections to the design.

Walter had said at the time ” You become one of three things, a parasite, a panderer or a recluse. An architect can’t be a recluse“.

The current thought was for man to dominate the landscape, by sculpting it, removing unwanted mountain tops to form its own capital. They had a tremendous relationships with the understanding of soil and habitats as well as of local plants and how to use them. They understood the Genus, the plants colouring and time of bloom. it was a high admiration of Australian nature.

The Griffins as a couple, developed “Castlecrag estate”, housing constructed using a knit-lock system that was Incidental to the landscape a natural community atmosphere that it felt like that it rose from the ashes. It was a rock bound woodland that offered a possibility of developing a community than the usual subdivision. Became a focal point of bauhinia lifestyle of the 1920’s. A  balance between life and work which was unheard of in that time and place.

Walter Burley Griffin master planned community 1932. Features Marion’s illustrations showing a typical front yard. Also features a floor plan

The organic nature of the master planned community featured walking paths in the back yards as well as roundabouts at the end of culdesacs.  This type of street pattern evolution was before the warped parallel street design of the 1960’s, loops and lollipops of the 1970s and the lollipops on a stick of the 1980’s as mentioned by Southworth.

Castlecraig flies in the face of the evolution of street design showing gradual adaptation of the car.

The Griffins wanted the capital and the projects they worked on to be fitting into the subtle nature of the landscape, as the landscape was the natural asset that Australia’s built environment where as from when they move to India they adopted the local vernacular.