Monday, April 05, 2010

Second Marion Mahony Griffin Lecture in Canberra

"Marion, Miles and The Magic of America" is the title of the second annual Marion Mahony Griffin Lecture by Jill Roe, at the National Library of Australia, 21 April 2010.

Marion, Miles and The Magic of America
a talk by Emeritus Professor Jill Roe who will focus on the association of Marion Mahony Griffin and Miles Franklin in Chicago and Australia, with particular reference to Progressivism, Anthroposophy and a glimpse of the Limestone Plains.

Jill Roe, AO, is Emeritus Professor of History at Macquarie University, Sydney. She is the author of the recent award-winning biography of Miles Franklin.

Free entry

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Remaking of Canberra

Senator Kate Lundy talked on "Creating a New Nation’s Capital – the international origins of the Griffin Canberra Plan" today. This far ranging talk on Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin's design for the city of Canberra was made more relevant, as it was at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra, located in the centre of the city the Griffin plan created. Several of the restored original renderings of the design are on display in the archive. Senator Lundy chairs the parliamentary committee which recently delivered recommendations on planning Canberra: "The Way Forward – Inquiry into the role of the National Capital".

This was not the average politician's talk, written by a staffer with snide remarks about the opposition. Senator Lundy discussed the detail of the origins of the Griffin plan for Canberra in scholarly detail, combined with personal anecdotes about living in the city. Kate argues the Canberra plan was a joint work by Walter and Marion Griffin. She courted controversy by suggesting that Frank Lloyd Wright's town planning designs were derivative of the Griffins (my criticism of Wright brought dismissive responses from US academics).

The Lundy thesis is that the Griffins expressed a detailed theoretical blueprint of the role of government in a democracy via their plan for Canberra. Some parts of the plan survive, despite the intervention of the federal public service and changes in requirements. At question time there was some quibbling over details in the talk. My only correction would be to say that the flagpole on new Parliament House, which has pyramidal legs reflecting the Griffin's original design, is made from stainless steel, not aluminium.

One questioner asked about getting Canberra planning "back on the rails", referring to the splitting of the process between the federal planners and ACT Government. Senator Lundy will be setting up a blog on her web site in the next few days for discussion of recent proposals from the federal committee. I wanted to ask a more literal question about rails, as to if there was prospect for a light rail (tram) along the approximate alignment planned by Griffin and linked to a high speed Sydney rail terminus (perhaps Australia could swap Chinese made trams and high speed trains for some more LNG?).

National Archives of Australia will be providing an edited podcast of the talk in the next few weeks. Hopefully the text of the talk will also be provided. Perhaps the blog discussion can be expanded to encompass the "Public Sphere" web based consultation process which the Senator is pioneering.

After the talk I walked towards Lake Burlie Griffin, with Old Parliament House to my left and the Portrait Gallery ahead and national monuments all around glowing in the spring sunshine.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

International origins of Griffin Canberra Plan

Senator Kate Lundy will discuss "Creating a New Nation’s Capital – the international origins of the Griffin Canberra Plan" in a free talk at National Archives of Australia in Canberra, 11am, 20 September 2009. One interesting aspect of this is that of the plan was being done today, how would modern technology and ideas on planning make the result different? As an example, Senator Lundy has been pioneering web based public policy consultation for government. How might more early public input change planing of a city? How might access to the Internet by government change the idea as well as the function of a capital city?

Creating a New Nation’s Capital – Senator Kate Lundy discusses the international origins of the Griffin Canberra Plan

Senator Lundy will present a personal perspective on the design of Canberra, making reference to the renderings submitted by Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin to the 1911–12 international design competition. The renderings are a treasured part of the Archives collection. A selection of the Griffin designs will be on display before and after the event.

20 September 2009 – 11.00am

Menzies Room
Queen Victoria Terrace
Parkes ACT 2600

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Design of Leeton and Griffith

Perspective for the City of Griffith. Walter Burley Griffin Society Incorporated Collection, courtesy Bob MeyerLarissa Sakardi and Roy Lumby will talk on "Cities in the Bush", 24 April 2009 in Sydney. This is about the designs for the Australian towns of Leeton and Griffith by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. An interesting aspect of this is the role of Marion Mahony Griffin, who was previously though of as just an illustrator of her husband's designs. Also the idea of reforming society through planning which has gone out of vogue has been partly now resurrected in the National Broadband Network, which resembles an invisible version of the Griffin's designs. Australian cities to be fitted by fibre optic cables in patterns which resemble the circles and junctions of the designs for Leeton and Griffith. The Griffin's Canberra has already been fitted with such a system.
Cities in the Bush

Canberra was born out of divisions emerging out of the federation of Australia’s six states and was blessed with a superb plan designed by two of the twentieth century’s most gifted architects, Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. The couple designed a visionary city symbolising national aspirations, a place in harmony with its splendid landscape setting.

Griffin built on the precedent of Canberra and designed the cities of Leeton and Griffith a year or so after coming to Australia. However, the infant Canberra was soon to founder on bureaucracy, public indifference and conflicts of personality while the promise of Leeton and Griffin was only partially fulfilled.

This joint presentation by Larissa Sakardi and Roy Lumby will examine the city plans devised by the Griffins and the reality of the cities that began to emerge during the formative decades between the two world wars.

Friday 24 April 2009 from 7.30 p.m. ...

From: Cities in the Bush, The Twentieth Century Heritage Society of NSW Inc, 2009.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Spirit of Marion Mahony Griffin in Canberra

Dr Anna Rubbo, Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Sydney, just finished the inaugural Marion Mahony Griffin Lecture here, at the National Library of Australian in Canberra, this evening. It was an illustrated talk "Marion Mahony Griffin: 21st century avant gardiste or 19th century dreamer?" . The first half of the talk concentrated on Marion's work in America, after she left Australia. Dr Rubbo, made a strong case that Griffin maintained a consistent world view and remained failtfull to her humanistic views. One book recommended was "Women Building Chicago 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary " (Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast, Indiana University Press, May 1, 2001). Unfortunately Dr Rubbo spent too long in the second half of the talk detailing her own work on "Global Studio 2005 - 2008". However, to see someone so passionate about helping people though planing, was in the spirit of Marion Mahony Griffin.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Inaugural Marion Mahony Griffin Lecture, Canberra, 12 February 2009

Dr Anna Rubbo, Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Sydney, will be giving an illustrated talk "Marion Mahony Griffin: 21st century avant gardiste or 19th century dreamer?" This is the Walter Burley Griffin Society's inaugural Marion Mahony Griffin Lecture on Thursday 12 February 2009, 6.00pm at the National Library of Australia Theatre, Canberra. The talk will be followed by light refreshments. Cost: Members $10; Non-members $15 RSVP: 9 February

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Magic in Castlecrag

Jack Perry Brown, Director of the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries, at Haven Amphitheatre, Castlecrag, Sydney, 20 January 2007. Photo by Tom Worthington.The Walter Burley Griffin Society created magic in Sydney today, with a talk by Jack Perry Brown, Director of the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Institute released a web version of Marion's book The Magic of America, last August and this talk about the book was held in the Haven Amphitheater, designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin.

The Haven Amphitheatre is at the corner The Scarp and The Barricade, Castlecrag is in a bushland gully with native trees. The seating is on rock terraces, with a wooden deck and bush backdrop.

The Magic of America was completed in 1949 by Marion Mahony Griffin after the death of Walter Burley Griffin in India. The unpublished work is half original text by Marion and half transcripts, newspaper clippings and other materials. Jack Brown argues that it is her final work of art, covering the time of her her husband's work in India, Canberra, Castlecrag and Chicago.

Unfortunately I had to leave the excellent talk early. The question I wanted to ask, but did not get the chance, was could Marion's work now be published. The manuscript was not in a form suitable for use other than for scholarly research. Placing the manuscript on the Internet has made it available for research, but it is still not something readable by a wider audience. Could the material be edited into one or more books suitable for online and print publication? By the time the material which was from other sources (and so would be difficult to obtain copyright clearance to include) was removed the work would be a more manageable size. With other editing, could it it be made into something with more of a conventional narrative, or would that destroy its essence?

The fact that the full manuscript is already available should allow the work to be edited without doing it any great harm. An electronic abridged version could have a switch to allow the reader to see what had been removed. By using online collaborative tools, the editing need not be an overwhelming or lengthy task. By using the approach used in developing open source software, where disagreements between editors could not be agreed, different versions could be produced, with the result being a discussion and analysis of the work, a process and not just one supposedly final result.

Another was to look at the manuscript would be as
Marion Mahony Griffin's blog. After all, the Griffin's were early pioneers of multimedia, producing a film promotion for Castlecrag in 1928. ;-)

See also:

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Eric Milton Nicholls Collection of works by the Griffins

The National Library of Australia has advised that the Eric Milton Nicholls Collection, featuring works by of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin has been digitised. This has a 2500 drawings, lithographs, photographs, transparencies, postcards and negatives.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Marion Mahony Griffin's Magic of America

The Magic of America by Marion Mahony Griffin, Electronic Edition, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2007The Walter Burley Griffin Society will be having a talk Sunday 20 January 3.00pm, by Jack Perry Brown, Director, Ryerson & Burnham Libraries of the Art Institute of Chicago. They released a web version of Marion's book The Magic of America, last August. The talk will be held in the Haven Amphitheater, designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin:

Walter Burley Griffin Society Inc. invites you to

Marion Mahony Griffin as Author: The Voice of Magic of America

Sunday 20 January 3.00pm
Haven Amphitheatre
corner The Scarp and The Barricade, Castlecrag

Jack Perry Brown, Director
Ryerson & Burnham Libraries
Art Institute of Chicago

will talk about the Art Institute of Chicago's exciting project completed just last August that publishes on the net The Magic of America written by Marion Mahony Griffin when she returned to USA after Walter Burley Griffin's death in India in 1937. It was in part intended as 'a testament to their life and work together'. The website created to publish this important architectural document collates 1400 pages of text with approximately 650 accompanying illustrations from the three known copies of The Magic of America. Go to

How to get to the Haven: There is no parking at the Haven Amphitheatre so we suggest you leave your car in Rockley Street and walk the 500 metres along The Bulwark to the Haven. Alternatively leave your car near The Citadel and walk about 300 metres down the steps between 17 and 19 The Citadel then follow the roads downhill to the Haven.

Wet weather alternative venue: The Community Centre, Castlecrag.

Further information:
contact Kerry McKillop 02 9958 4516

See also:

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Walter Burley Griffin's Castlecrag

The_Crag_Castlecrag_1924-1938 Wanda Spathopoulos' book "The Crag: Castlecrag 1924-1938", about the suburb designed by Walter Burley Griffin, will be launched by Alan Saunders at gleebooks in Sydney 29 November 2007. The books isn't on yet, but you can buy it from Gleebooks.
This book tells a story of Castlecrag, the creation of Walter Burley Griffin, architect/landscape architect of Canberra fame, and his architect wife, Marion Mahony Griffin. Using her own recollections as a starting point, Wanda Spathopoulos gives an overall picture of life on Castlecrag during the first two formative decades. In drawing the various threads together she had attempted to present some kind of a coherent narrative, a chronicle of the events. The events and anecdotes themselves serve as the vehicle for conveying very simply some of the basic ideas of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, as the founders of Castlecrag. At the same time the reader becomes acquainted with the community, a vital and integral part of the experiment, which remained constant in concept but often changing in its composition.

From: Events, gleebooks, 2007

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Griffin drawings of Canberra displayed

Federal Capital Competition City and Environs plan: 1912, Delineator: Marion Mahony Griffin, From the Collection of National Archives of Australia: A710,38 1912 Section B-A Southerly Side of Water Axis: Government Group,  1912, Artist: Marion Mahony Griffin, From the Collection of National Archives of Australia: A710,43 1912Two of the original designs for Canberra were displayed by the National Archives of Australia on Sunday. These were two of the works by by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, submitted to the competition for the design of the national capital in 1911. Ian Batterham talked about his work as a conservator, spending years restoring the works.

Ian had previously written a detailed paper on the restoration process: "The Walter Burley Griffin Design Drawings of the City of Canberra".

The twelve Griffin Canberra design drawings were added to the UNESCO Memory of the World in 2003:
There are twelve Walter Burley Griffin (WBG) Canberra design drawings. Standard size is 760 x 1525 mm. The drawings are mostly on cotton cloth and are executed in inks and watercolours. The drawings were created by WBG and his wife Marion Mahony Griffin in 1912 for entry into the Australian Federal Capital Design Competition. The quality of the design as well as the beauty of the drawings resulted in WBG winning the competition. Griffin was appointed Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction in October 1913 and utilized the winning design as the basis for the new city. The design is considered an outstanding example of landscape design, utilising the natural topography and investing the city with ideas prevalent in the City Beautiful and Garden City movements which dominated town planning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The documents are also central to the development - both physical and conceptual - of Australia's national capital. ...

From: The Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin Design Drawings of the City of Canberra, Register no 006, UNESCO, 2003
Ian gave an interesting summary of the process used to select Canberra as the site of the national capital and then the Griffin entry for the design of Canberra. One of the criteria for the city was "ample water" which is currently an issue due to drought and climate change. Competitors for the design competition were supplied with maps of the location and required to draw their design on this map. In addition the Griffins supplied detailed notes with their entry, preserved by the NAA and available online.

Also the copy of the telegram received by the Griffins advising them of winning the competition is preserved. It was found in a copy of Marion Mahony Griffin's manuscript "The Magic of America". Marion had written on it "This undertaking awakened the world to town planning in modern times".

Ian explained that the images were prepared first as pencil sketches then made as lithographic prints, water colored by hand, with metallic paint and ink washes. This make conservation difficult, with pencil lines to be preserved as well as ink and paint.

Photographs of the work, taken at the time of receipt in 1912 aided the restoration work. These showed some works had already been damaged with holes in the fabric (the entry was labeled Griffin: 29). The works were lost between 1935 and 1953, then found in a shed in Canberra.

Analysis showed the works were on cotton (not silk or linen , as previously thought). These were originally stretched on wooden frames, but then pasted (with wallpaper paste) onto "masionite" and then "chipboard" causing damage. Three months were needed to clean each work, using an eraser. They were then removed from the boards using a sharpened plastic icing spatula (a line drawing was found on the back of one work). Polyester cloth and BEVA adhesive was used to repair tears and mount the works with a new margin before stretching on frames.

After the talk the two works "City & Environs" and "Section B-A Southerly Side of Water Axis Government Group" were displayed for thirty minutes. The works looked much smaller in reality than in various reproductions.

Ian mentioned the recent interest in Marion Mahony Griffin with the book "Marion Mahony Griffin : Drawing the Form of Nature". As an example the Walter Burley Griffin Society, now attributes Marion as the "delineator" or "artist" for the Canberra works, "envisaged" by Walter; whereas earlier listings, such as by the National Library of Australia, only attribute Walter.

Ian is now working on a project about "Office Copying in the 20th Century". furthering his thesis work on Thermographic Processes (old photocopying).

See also books on:

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Walter Burley Griffin Society Web Site

On 14 November the Walter Burley Griffin Society launched its new web site. This has information on the work of both Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony Griffin. The Griffins are best known for the design of the city of Canberra, but also undertook other town planning, architecture, and landscape design work in Australia, the USA and India.

From a web design point of view, the new web site for the society is a workman like effort, but not very exciting. It passed a Level 1 automated Web Accessibility Guideline test . It failed level 2 and 3 tests, but with only a few minor issues.

The web site gives a brief overview of the Griffin's life and work and the activities of the Walter Burley Griffin Society. The major, and most interesting, content is the Gallery, which has an extensive database of the Griffins work in Australia, the USA and India. Unfortunately the gallery has a very clumsy interface, making it difficult to navigate the extensive information.

But the major failing of the site is that it does not emphasize the first priority of any membership based organisation: signing up new members. The membership form is hidden away at the bottom of the web page on the "About Us" page, where almost no one will be able to find it. The society does not accept on-line applications, or even by fax, and requires the form to be printed out and sent by mail (that is PAPER mail). It almost appears that the society does not want any new members.

The WBG Society have created a good database about the Griffins work and an okay web site, but perhaps suffer from a lack of business skill which also plagued the Griffins.

ps: Back in July I tried to auction the chairs from the Griffin designed Capitol Theatre in Melbourne. It is a long story.

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