A Last, Languid Look at Lima: Indian Markets, Chifas and Catacomb

Travel
HP site Mirafores
HP site
Mirafores

The tour bus took us out in the direction of the city, but we had gone scarcely any distance at all, still in Miraflores, we come to our first stop and first highlight. Huaca Pucllana is Lima’s most famous archaeological site, containing a large adobe and clay step pyramid at least 1,500 years old. It is in essence a pyramid but it is not triangular in shape. It looks to me like the apex of the pyramid has been flattened down over much passage of time. Compared to the Inca trail in Cusco I was comparatively underwhelmed by the site (although it was pointed out, it is much older than the Peruvian structure that is the cynosure of all tourists’ eyes, Machu Picchu). Found out that the ‘Pucliana’ comes from a Quechuan term, “ritual games”, a clue to one of its uses during the Wari Civilisation.

Govt House: Changing of the Guard
Govt House: Changing of the Guard

The tour group was your usual eclectic mix of different nationalities – Brits, Americans, Carribbeans, Romanians, Chinese, Spanish (surprise me!), and a few other unidentified nationals. Headed into Centro from there, passed something called a Chifa on the way, more of this transcultural phenomena later. We stopped at the main city squares, Plaza San Martin and at Plaza Des Armas (second time there) where I managed to get a good shot of the old man’s eccentrically-decorated dog this time. Saw the display of highly-polished uniformed guards at the Government Palace, Peru’s version of Buckingham Palace. I bought a city map from a street vendor in Plaza Mayor for 10 Sols (turned out to be so rudimentary as to be pretty useless).

Convento
Convento
Convent garden
Convent garden

We started our walking tour of the city from the Plaza, going past Lima Cathedral and on to the Convento de San Francisco with its distinctive yellow facade, famous for its catacombs. The Church looked pretty dusty and faded from the outside, pigeons housing themselves on every ledge of the facade. Inside, or more precisely inside and downstairs, rather gruesomely, were the inhabitants of the catacombs, the skeletal remains of to 25,000 commoners. We were issued a prohibition against photographing the countless piles of Pol Pot-like skulls, a redundant warning for me as I had not the slightest notion of it. Coming out of the ‘combs I managed to bang my head on the very low underground ceiling. The convent also houses a museum of religious art (The Last Supper with Peruvian banquet catering) and an attractive central garden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUpon my return to Miraflores I got out at the start of Av Petit Thouars & wandered through the various native markets in the street. I was surprised to find them called “Indian Markets” as everyone in Peru seems to refer to the indigenous population as the ‘community’, Christopher Columbus’ word doesn’t appear to be in use. I had gone to the Miraflores tourist strip to get a souvenir of Amazonia. Whilst I was in that vast eastern jungle I had “ummed-and-ahhed” about getting an Amazonas shirt, coming close to buying a suitably inscribed sweater in the Posada shop but deciding that they were asking too much for it. So in the end, typically, I didn’t buy anything there, now I was trying to make amends by finding a late memento of the place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhilst searching in vain for the Amazonas T-shirt I noticed they had “Cholo Potter” and “Cholisimpsons” T-shirts, so The idea came to me to see if I could find a Tintin T-shirt with a Peruvian motif as I had for equivalent Tintin’s in Istanbul, Beijing & Tibet previously (I also knew there had been a comic book “Tintin & the Inca Prisoners”). I tried explaining the concept of Tintin to the stallholders … small, neat blonde boy with a kiss-curl and a little dog, looks a bit like a juvenile Kevin Rudd, the boy, not the dog! They didn’t have a clue about Tintin! I explained how globally famous Tintin was, one guy was interested in the marketing op and said he’d try to produce a “Tintin in Peru” T-shirt for next year. I didn’t introduce the thorny subject of copyright, but I figure that he would have viewed that with as much concern as he probably gave to the Cholo Potter venture!

Peruvian burqa
Peruvian burqa

Headed from the market down to a small mall that seemed to specialise in computing equipment, I found a little empanada kiosk in the mall that had a good variety of these morsels. As a reminder of some sort of technological time warp I note that Peruvian shopkeepers (and even larger enterprises) still use carbon copies for receipts! The kiosk had a small seating area reserved for customers, which I observed being used by locals with no intention of buying anything. The shop staff apparently viewed this benignly and had no interest in chasing them off, exhibiting what I imagine to be characteristic Latino insouciance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack in the Antigua I gravitated to JJ’s bar once more, this time steering well clear of the Pisco sours I tried a couple of the local craft brews in preference to the standard industrial cerveza, Cusquena. One, called Pilsner Callao, was OK but the strong-tasting Barbarian was too dark and bitter for my liking. JJ informed me that Barbarian was very popular at rugby restobars in Lima, which I can believe. This night the bar was more popular with the Aussie tourists and I exchanged a few stories of the Peruvian experience.

Afterwards I walked down Ca. Grau to a nearby Chifa (Peruvian/Chinese cuisine very popular in this country). The place was a cod-ordinary looking nosh house with food to match! My choice (very little in the way of choice really) was a rather pitiful-looking dish comprising rice with some strips of chicken engulfed by an omelette. I amused myself during the meal talking to the waiter who was actually Chinese (from Guangzhou) in my extremely modest Cantonese by referring to my whiteness self-deprecatingly as ‘Gwei Lo’ and ‘Bak Gwei’, to which he laughed, a little uncomfortably. The rest of the Chifa staff (all Peruvians) looked on bemused by our fragmented Sino-English conversation. One worker with a particularly blanco complexion tried to second-guess what we were saying in Cantonese but he was hilariously wide of the mark!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next morning I walked down to the beach park (Playa Waikiki) to glimpse a look at the Ocean. Unfortunately a more or less permanent mist sitting about 100 metres offshore precludes any decent view of the Pacifico. The number of neatly-groomed dogs haring happily around the ocean parks tells me how popular a pet they are to Peruvians. On the way back I pass the Liverpool Restobar, a Beatles-themed shrine of remembrance for the fabled ‘Fab Four’ (still big in Lima?).

The Lover's Kiss
The Lover’s Kiss

I’m back in Santiago later that afternoon, but my baggage is not on the carousel at the airport. When I enquire I find LAN has shipped in across to the departures for the following day without telling me. I make them fetch it back so I can get some stuff I need for the night and so I can be sure that by taking it myself to the check-in the next day that it will be on the same flight home as me (testimony to the degree of trust I would place in LAN after my experiences). The Holiday Inn airport hotel has me on Level 0, room 077! Never been below ground level before in a hotel (they should call it “the Coalminer’s Suite”!)

I have the relative luxury of not having to get to the gate for the Sydney flight until midday. On the flight had an interesting talk to a Chilean/Italian wine salesman whose sells Chilean wine to the Chinese. He said the biggest drawback of his work was the unsophisticated approach of wealthy Chinese punters to wine, that they drink wine the same way they drink beer (ie, guzzle it straight down!), this necessitates a lot of drinking on the job by him as he has to match the alcohol consumption of his Chinese clients.

Footnote: the exchange with the young convivial Chilean wine salesman put me in mind of the character of Miles the depressive Californian wine-snob from the brilliant Sideways movie. Later, I tweeted Rex Pickett (writer of the Sideways novel) and suggest he write a follow-up with Miles venturing off on a wine escapade to China with the comedic possibilities of seeing his appalled response to the crassness of nouveau rich Chinese businessmen about wine. Pickett heartily agreed, adding that someone should finance a research trip to China for him. As things transpired Pickett eventually decided to send Miles to Chile instead (the book Sideways 3). Maybe he ran into my Chilean wine-man at Santiago airport?

Dreaming the Ideal Community: the Brilliant Collaboration of Mahony and Griffin

Biographical, Built Environment, Heritage & Conservation, Social History

Lucknow in India’s “North Territory”
Walter Burley Griffin’s untimely death in India in 1937 provoked only passing comment, even in Australia where he and Marion had lived a high-profile existence, practicing their particular craft for over 20 years. Mahony returned to Chicago from Australia around the end of 1938, and set about a valiant but ultimately fruitless task of trying to consolidate Walter’s reputation. The vehicle for the restoration of WBG’s name (principal among which was defending Griffin against the poisonous invective of one Frank Lloyd Wright) was Marion’s epic memoir (The Magic of America), a massive work of over 1,400 pages and 650 illustrations [www.artic.edu]. Marion was dissuaded by a family friend from her intention to try to have The Magic of America published. Regrettably, the ‘friend’ advised her than there was insufficient interest in Burley Griffin in American architectural circles at that time (1940s).

Burley Griffin’s main period of productivity in America amounted to a narrow corridor of time, from about 1905 when he went into practice on his own to 1914 when he and Marion left to take charge of the Capital City project in Australia, entrusting their US work to new partner Barry Byrne. Griffin spent the entire second half of his life living and creating structures and communities outside of America, denying himself the opportunity of recognition and esteem that he would otherwise have likely received from his countrymen and women had he stayed.

Consequently a note of ambivalence about the extent of the Chicagoan’s architectural significance persists in America. As recently as 2002 and 2003 two of the early Illinois houses designed by Griffin were demolished without any real public clamour (it is difficult to imagine this happening to one of Wright’s houses in this era without a resounding hue and cry) [‘Silence deafening as home by noted architect razed: Elmhurst teardown fails to stir outcry’ (N Ryan) Chicago Tribune, 19 May 2002)].

Notwithstanding this, Walter’s lavish abilities as a planner, designer and landscaper are more widely recognised today. He is acknowledged as an outstanding innovator in domestic architecture, and is credited with having invented the carport, developed the L-shaped floor plan and the use of reinforced concrete. WBG was a pioneer of open plan living and dining areas. His work in the Prairie School was characterised by his attention to vertical space, contributing critically to the development of split-level space interiors (not in widespread use until after WWII) [M Maldre & P Kruty, Walter Burley Griffin in America]. As I enlarged on in an earlier blog, Griffin also invented the Knitlock construction method in Australia in 1917 which had the practical advantage of enabling houses to be built quickly and cheaply [M. Walker, A. Kabos & J. Weirick, Building for Nature: Walter Burley Griffin and Castlecrag].

Marion L Mahony, as a pioneering woman in the field of architecture, encountered all of the prejudices and assumptions that was commonplace about female professionals in the day. The first staffsperson to be released from her cousin Dwight Perkins’ architectural office when there was a downturn in business. Despite Frank Lloyd Wright’s (perhaps) begrudging praise of the sublime quality of her architectural rendering, Marion was never treated as anything close to an equal by the great architect. After Mahony returned to her homeland at the end of 1938, her efforts to turn her talents to community planning and to re-enter architecture in the US met largely with discouraging indifference.

Marion’s silkscreen watercolour of Walter’s plan for Griffith, NSW
Since the 1990s there has a renewed focus on the work of pioneering women architects, especially in the US [eg, “The 10 Most Overlooked Women in Architecture History”, www.archdaily.com], and Marion has been a beneficiary of this, receiving overdue acknowledgement of her contribution to modernist art and architecture. American architecture expert David Van Zanten made the case that Mahony’s extraordinary delineating talent ranked her as “the third great progressive designer of turn-of-the-century Chicago after Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright” given that the Chicago School placed an extraordinary emphasis on drawings [D Van Zanten in D Wood (Ed), Marion Mahony Griffin: drawing the form of nature].

After her marriage to Griffin, Mahony was perfectly content to live in the shadow of her more illustrious partner, to be “a slave to my husband in his creative work” [quoted in J Wells, “The collaboration of Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin”, www.griffinsociety.org/]. Notwithstanding Marion’s freely-chosen subordinate role, she and Walter worked smoothly and cohesively as a team. The respective strengths each brought to architecture and planning were different, but on specific projects these abilities were pooled together to produce a harmonious and advantageous fusion. WBG’s imagination allowed him to conceptualise complex ideas and solutions for building problems and plan intricate landscaped communities, but his talents as a draughtsman, a delineator of great schemes, were at best modest. MMG with her superb draughting technique filled this void perfectly. Former Castlecrag resident, Wendy Spathopoulus, recounted the pair’s peculiar style of co-working, “silent communication … a kind of fusion … expressing the same ideas, the same philosophical ideas, but coming at them from a different angle” [interviewed in ‘City of Dreams: Designing Canberra’ (2000 documentary).

The Griffins were part of the Prairie School style of architecture, the best-known practitioner of which was the prolific and highly-revered F L Wright. An interesting point of comparison between Wright and Griffin is that the greatest architectural achievements of Wright’s career, theFallingwater house in Bear Run, Pennsylvania (chosen by the American Institute of Architects in a national survey in 1991 as “the best all-time work of American architecture”) and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, occurred long after FLW had turned 60, the age at which Griffin died. It remains a speculative consideration but a reasonable question to ponder, what more might WBG have accomplished had he lived on into old age as FLW did? (productively working to the age of 91)[‘The Griffins – Canberra’ (PBS broadcast), www.pbs.org; www.griffinsociety.org].

A balanced evaluation of the achievements of the Griffins in Australia as architects and planners reveals a mixed legacy. The plan for a capital city in Canberra was stunningly original in its vision of an unseen land, and the pictorial and diagrammatical representation of the city by Marion was an artistic accomplishment in itself of the highest order. As we know the implementation of Griffin’s plan for Canberra remained unrealised. This can be attributed to a combination of factors, bad luck and timing, political opportunism by both sides of parliament using WBG as a pawn, outright sabotage by vested interests (sectors of the public service, envious Australian architects), and idealism and naivety on Walter’s part. As a result, the shape of Griffin’s original plan was heavily distorted by successive politicians and bureaucrats, key components of the plan were excised altogether in the name of expediency. Perhaps worse of all, not one of the designed buildings for Canberra on WBG’s drawing board were ever constructed!

Castlecrag: Griffin Country
If we turn to Castlecrag, the Burley Griffin imprint on the ‘would be’ suburban bush utopia again met with mixed results. The Griffins did manage to engender a sense of community and cultural affinity in Castlecrag from adherents who like Walter and Marion came to cherish the virtues of living in a natural environment. This was realised by WBG’s careful planning of houses within a thriving organic landscape. Having established the aesthetic miliéu conducive to artistic activity, Mahoney provided a great deal of the community leadership (and the infrastructure) that led to the flourishing of creative energies. To top this off, Marion and Walter, far from being remote leaders of the community perched high above everyone else in an ivory tower, were committed participants in the everyday life of the early community. They joined and were actively involved in the Castlecrag Progress Association from its inception in 1925.

Griffin’s inventive use of windows and fireplaces in Castlecrag won praise from admirers and provided inspiration for later Australian architectural practitioners. Not everyone however had a favourable view of the WBG concept of the model house. Many home-buyers were not attracted to the utilitarian plainness and the restrictive compactness of the standard Griffin house with its flat, odd cubic shape. In addition, the quite puritanical covenants concerning individual property use, whilst implemented to protect the natural environment and for egalitarian purposes, served to turn many would-be Castlecrag residents off.

There were other issues with the form and character of the Griffin house which suggest that the American architect did not fully appreciate the local, Australian conditions. The absence of practical features like verandahs, eaves on roofs and hoods on doorways, did not address the exigencies of a harsh environment and climate. Similarly, some critics pointed out that Griffin did not apply himself sufficiently to the specific problems arising in Castlecrag such as drainage on horizontal roofs and the challenges of building on a rocky terrain [Walker, Kabos & Weirick, op.cit.].

Marion’s drawing of Walter’s design for an Indian-inspired “Sydney Opera House”
The final chapter of the Griffins’ life together, in Lucknow, India, saw the reuniting of the old creative team – with Walter as innovator and Marion as delineator. Their work in collaboration, produced a prolific harvest anew, a churning out of plans and designs for a host of new buildings which married the ancient architectural forms of India with the Griffins’ take on modernism. In less than 18 months the couple designed some 95 projects for India ranging from university buildings to exhibition pavilions to palaces to bungalows, even finding time to create a design for an ‘Opera House for Sydney’ featuring an Indian-influenced central domed roof [A Kabos, ‘Walter Burley Griffin’, www.griffinsociety.org].

Through the efforts of interested groups like the Walter Burley Griffin Society (NSW), the Walter Burley Griffin Society of America (St Louis, Mo.) and local historical and architectural groups in the Castlecrag/Willoughby (Sydney) area, the legacy of the Griffins’ have been preserved. These organisations, through their publications and websites, have promoted the couple’s accomplishments to newer generations.

The Griffin footprint in Castlecrag & Australia
The Griffins’ story, spanning three continents, has all the elements – drama, tragedy, political intrigues, obsessions, spurned love❈, the clash of great personalities – that would make it eminently filmable. At centre, two temperamentally different but like-spirited idealists, highly gifted if flawed artists striving against convention to articulate their distinctive beliefs and feelings of nature and democracy through the practice of their architectural and artistic pursuits. In Australia they were ground-breakers in a number of areas, as trailblazing environmentalists, as passionate landscapers, as creators of affordable, ready-to-assemble homes for the average person. Had the Griffins returned to the US as originally intended, after the expiration of WBG’s contract with the Australian Government in 1917, they would undoubtedly have left a much weightier artistic and cultural footprint on the built environment in America.

⊢────────────────────────────────────⊣
❈ there is a suggestion that Walter may have married Marion on the rebound. Griffin originally proposed to Frank Lloyd Wright’s sister, Maginel, but was rejected … this rebuff can hardly have lessened the growing animosity between the two rivals (WBG and FLW)

‘Westralia’: To Secede or Not to Secede?

Media & Communications, Politics, Social History

imageNow that Scotland have expressed an inclination, but not a preference, to secede from the Union with England, it is interesting to look at other secession attempts both further and closer afield. The impulse for secession by a part of the national whole in international relations is a recurrent feature of the modern, multi-ethnic state.

The enthusiasm with which so many Scots embraced the notion of “going it alone” and their, so it seemed up to polling day, excellent prospect of pulling it off, is a fillip for long-lingering secessionist movements around the world – Catalonia, the Basque Country, Québec, Flemish Belgium, Kurdistan (although some of the several Kurdish groups seek only autonomy, not outright independence) [“The Kurdish Conflict: Aspirations for Statehood within the Spirals of International Relations in the 21st Century”. www.Kurdishaspect.com.image]).

Much closer to home, on this very continent, a whiff of secessionism has tended to pervade the air in Western Australia, like the relieving breeze of the “Fremantle Doctor” from the Indian Ocean. The Western Australians, from the very outset in 1900, were reluctant to join the Commonwealth of Australia. A special provision (Section 95) guaranteeing that a planned inter-colonial tariff would only be gradually phased in, had to be added to the Constitution before the West would sign up. A further inducement was the prospect of a transcontinental railway to be built linking WA with the eastern states.

The proposed irredentist Goldfields Colony
The proposed irredentist Goldfields Colony

In the end, as argued by Tom Musgrove, what swayed WA in joining was the affinity with the East held by recent settlers lured to WA by the goldfields. The huge population surge in the 1890s in WA, due to the influx of these Eastern fortune-seekers made them more numerous than the established residents on the coast who were, conversely, distinctly isolationist in their outlook. The miners formed a pressure group advocating that the eastern goldfields area (calling itself the colony of ‘Auralia’) break away from the rest of WA and unilaterally federate with the Commonwealth. The WA Parliament eventually succumbed to the threat of being splintered and losing the goldfields, and committed to the Federation [T Musgrove, ‘Western Australian Secessionist Movement’, The Macquarie Law Journal, www.austlil.edu.au; ‘Separation Movement on the Eastern Goldfields, 1894-1904’, West Australian Historical Society 1949, 4(5) 1953]. So, even prior to Federation, a bent for Western secession was evident.

imageThe threat of succession by ‘Westralia’ had since this time been a recurrent theme, sometimes lying dormant for years before being triggered into prominence by some emerging economic upheaval or trend. In 1933 the issue of secession was actually put to the electorate of WA in a referendum held concurrently with the state election. The pre-conditions leading up to such a momentous development were brought about by the Great Depression. Wheat, WA’s top primary product export-earner was decimated (the price per bushel declined by less than half in three years) and unemployment in Perth reached 30 per cent. The WA Dominion League spearheaded by H Keith Watson agitated from 1930 for secession in the West. As a result of the League’s vigorous campaign (contrasting with the lacklustre campaign of the Federal League’s ‘No secession’ campaign), the referendum resulted in a greater than two-thirds vote (68 per cent) in favour of secession. Interestingly, the only region of the state to oppose the secession motion was again the goldfields!

1934 Black Swan Flag
1933 Black Swan Flag

Ironically, at the same time, the WA electors dumped the incumbent Nationalist/ Country Party Coalition from power (even though the NCPC had backed the ‘Yes’ camp), and elevated the Labor Party opposition, who had opposed secession, into office in the state. The apparent contradictory behaviour of the electors has been explained thus: support was given to the ‘Yes’ case because there was widespread dissatisfaction with WA’s situation vis-à-vis the eastern states (WA had long identified itself as the “Cinderella State” of the Commonwealth, it’s perception being one of it contributing more to federal funds than it receives back). At the same time, the unacceptable state unemployment situation in 1933 meant that the voters would also surely punish the incumbent conservative government by turfing them out (as was done federally to the Scullin Labor Government in 1932) [‘Secession 1929-39: Western Australia & Federation’ www.slwa.wa.gov.au].

Watson with petition in Westminster
Watson with petition in Westminster

The new WA premier, Philip Collier, after some prevarication, appointed a delegation which took a petition for WA secession to Westminster. The British Government after a lengthy delay informed the WA Government that it could not act on the petition without the assent of Canberra. By 1935 the economy had recovered somewhat, the secessionist movement and the Dominion League lost momentum and the issue petered way for ordinary West Australians as they got on with the day-to-day task of making the best of what they could [ibid.].

HRH Prince Leo of HRP.
HRH Prince Leo of HRPP.

In 1970 WA wheat farmer Leonard Casley declared his 18,500-acre agricultural property south of Geraldton to be ‘independent’ of the Commonwealth and Western Australia when Canberra and the state government tried to limit the size of his wheat crop. In true “comic-opera” style, the eccentric Casley turned his farm into the Hutt River Province Principality, adopting the title of Prince Leonard I for himself, and in so doing spawning a whole new wellspring of tourism for the locality [M Siegel, “Micronation Master: Prince Leonard of Hutt River”, 17 May 2012, www.businessweek.com]. More seriously, millionaire WA mining magnate Lang Hancock tried to revive the state’s secessionist trajectory in the 1970s with his short-lived “Westralian Secessionist Movement”, in effect a political campaign against the allegedly ‘socialist’ policies of the Whitlam Labor Government.

The Press in WA helps to keep the issue alive with periodical appeals to the spectre of “secessionist redux” (with regular articles with titles like “Why the West should secede” and “Secession still on our mind”). Secessionism has remained a rallying cry for disgruntled Western Australians whenever they feel aggrieved about what they see as the excesses and encroaching powers of Canberra. Most recently this reared its head again in the concerted opposition to the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments’ mining taxes.

The Wizard of Castlecrag II: Keeping Faith with the Landscape

Biographical, Built Environment, Social History

The type of dwelling Burley Griffin envisaged as the model house for the new bush suburb of Castlecrag was based on a new technological innovation in building called Knitlock Construction, or as Griffin more grandly termed it, Segmental Architecture. The American had pioneered and co-patented (with D C Jenkins) the Knitlock system in 1917 whilst working on the Canberra Capital Project. The Knitlock technique was to become the archetype for all of WBG’s subsequent domestic architecture.

Griffin’s Segmental Architecture was a quantum step forward from previous building technologies used in Australia (eg, Mack Slab) [M Lewis, ‘Knitlock’, www.mileslewis.net]. Intended by Walter for use on workmen’s cottages in Canberra (before the disintegration of his Capital City dream), the technique heralded a variety of radical advances in construction. With a simplicity and economy of design, the Segmental Architecture method constructed walls from ‘segments’ of precast reinforced concrete which were easier and quicker to construct than other methods (Griffin was one of the early developers of prefabrication). The Knitlock bricks, machine-manufactured on the southern side of the ‘Crag estate in a shed set up on the corner of The Redoubt and The Rampart, were light yet compact and sturdy. The bricks were reinforced with a dual ‘vertebrae’ structure which forms a concrete skeleton. The sections were easy to transport, easy to assemble as walls and cheap to make [W B Griffin, Australian Home Builder, No 1 (August 1922)].

Knitlock segment
Knitlock segment

Added to this, another major advantage of Knitlock was the convenience. The bricks did not require cutting, bedding or plastering, working instead on an interlocking join to connect them together (the prefab concept). A further advance was that Knitlock technology allowed for greater diversity in shapes for features of the house [‘Landmarks: Urban Life’ (National Museum of Australia) www.nma.gov.au.].The beauty of Burley Griffin’s domestic construction using this system was that it could produce buildings that were simply designed and quickly constructed – non-standard workers’ cottages which were affordably priced. Affordability was an important requirement for the Griffins, the capacity of workers to afford their own home squared with their own espoused egalitarian and democratic principles.

imageThe prototype for all of the Knitlock houses built in the Castlecrag and Haven Estates by WBG was ‘Pholiota’, the Griffin’s own small, ultra-modest home set among red gums and bush in Heidelberg, Victoria, before they moved to Castlecrag. This most basic, pared to the bone, single-roomed, utilitarian house, provided an example that any layman self-builder could follow. As proof of this, ‘Pholiota’ was erected in double-quick time apparently by Walter and Marion themselves with the assistance of a local chicken farmer! [P Y Navaretti, ‘Melbourne’, www.griffinsociety.com; Jenny Brown, “Humble ‘humpy’ masters miniature”, (19 May 2012), www.news.domain.com.au].

Fishwick
Fishwick

Burley Griffin’s finest architectural achievement in Castlecrag is probably Fishwick House (15 The Citadel). Because of his client’s requirements (large budget, expansive house), Walter deviated from his usual prescription of a small-scale “no frills”, minimalist, unembellished cottage. Fishwick House is a more grand house, emphasising horizontal eaves and porticos. At the sides and rear of the house judicious placement of large picture windows and glass doors permits cascades of filtered sunlight to enter the living room from varying angles[www.griffinsociety.org/]. This aspect of Fishwick House echoes the interior courtyard of Stanley Salter House in Toorak, Melbourne, which some architectural specialists rate as WBG’s best residential building [eg, James Birrell, cited in ‘Stanley Salter House’, De de ce, www.dedece.com]. Griffin’s use of open-plan interiors demonstrates the architect’s belief that the house shouldn’t be a haven for withdrawal from the outside world, but rather “a place for reflection and engagement with the surrounding environment” [ibid.]. WGB defied the conventions of the day for home design, putting “living rooms at the rear and opening to the landscape and views, and had utility rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms fronting the street” [M Petrykowski, ‘Architecture’, www.griffinsociety.org].

Duncan
Duncan

The attitudes of pioneering residents of the Castlecrag Estate to the Griffin signature home were mixed. Some like Frank and Anice Duncan were delighted with the nature-centredness and functionality of Walter’s dwellings. The Duncans lived in no less than four of the houses over the years. The fourth one, the Duncan House at 8 The Barbette, specially commission by them, was the last Griffin-built home in Castlecrag.

However other residents were less sanguine about the houses – some with very good reason. The flat roofs on the early Knitlock constructed homes had a tendency to leak. Ellen Mower, first occupant of 12 The Rampart (Mower House), was plagued by leaking roofs and eventually Griffin had to buy back the house from the owner [www.griffinsociety.org]. Mower House, incidentally, was the last home Marion lived in after her return from India after Walter’s death in 1937. Similarly, Mrs A E Creswick, who commissioned the small house built at 4 The Barbette (Creswick House), was similarly dissatisfied with the standard of her home and the Griffins had to re-purchase this dwelling as well [Castlecrag Progress Association, www.castlecrag.org.au ].

imageDr Edward Rivett, who converted the King O’Malley House in Sortie Porte into Castlecrag’s first hospital, also commissioned the Griffin-designed 148 Edinburgh Road, however he altered the original plans to add a pitched tile roof and interior walls which were brick rendered. Griffin through GSDA, his company, sued Rivett for breach of Covenant and a lengthy legal battled ensued which was eventually won by Dr Rivett. Other potential buyers also had problems with the Covenants imposed by WBG and many turned away from Castlecrag, opting instead for the railway-serviced suburbs on the Upper North Shore which didn’t have restrictions on the size or type of house or on how or whether you landscape your property [‘Castlecrag’,sydneyforeveryone.com.au].Because of the restrictions and other contentious issues surrounding the construction of GSDA dwellings in the estate, banks became less willing to approve loans on Griffin houses. The onset of the Depression strangled the economy which affected development everywhere in Sydney, but subdivisions that were less popular like Castlecrag suffered its effects hardest [ibid.]. Castlecrag had to await the postwar building boom to achieve significant inroads in development.

imageAnother factor holding back Castlecrag’s development at this time was getting to and from the Middle Harbour promontory! In the 1920s the Middle Harbour promontory was severely hamstrung relative to transportation options. Before the Sydney Harbour Bridge was constructed it was a very long haul by road to Castlecrag (cars in the 1920s were in any case still fairly scarce), and the eastern part of the Northern suburbs lacked a main arterial road (Eastern Valley Way was a post-war development). In addition, trams on the north side of the harbour did not go as far as Castlecrag in the interwar period [G Wotherspoon, ‘Ferries’ (2008), www.dictionaryofsydney.org/]. A story told by the son of Edward Haughton, Burley Griffin’s Melbourne estate agent and valuer, is instructive. The father and 10-year-old son came to Sydney to assist WBG in promoting the Castlecrag Estate. Haughton’s son later recalled how difficult it was and how long it took to reach Castlecrag (from the city: walk/ferry/elevator/tram/walk) [recollected for M Walker, et al, ‘forming the Greater Sydney Development Association’, www.teachingheritage.nsw.edu.au/].

imageBurley Griffin’s attitude towards building materials was every bit as rigidly purist as his attitude was to how the finished product should look. He championed the use of concrete and stone (particularly local Castlecrag sandstone which blended in with the natural setting). Conversely, he railed against the popularity of the standard building materials of the day, brick and tile, which he rejected.

Marion was equally purist in her aesthetic preferences. Bernard Hesling, a Castlecrag resident in the Thirties recalled Mahoney “scrambling the hills like a billy goat” and pointing southwards to the predominance of red roofs and lack of trees in Northbridge, exclaiming loudly in her thick Midwest American accent “It’s hoorabul, hoorabul! Walter and I wanna keep the Crag voigin bush!” [‘Willoughby Walking Tours’ (Willoughby City Council), www.walks.willoughby.nsw.gov.au].

imageThe proportion of Burley Griffin designs converted into houses by GSDA over a 14 year period was quite low. Only 15 built in the Castlecrag and Haven Estates (none built north of Edinburgh Road, the area known as the Wireless or Sunnyside Estate) with about four or five other houses designed by one of WBG’s acolytes but approved by him. In what is somewhat of a trademark feature of Griffin’s oeuvre, many houses proceeded no further than the drawing board. WBG designed in the vicinity of 35 or so others for the ‘Crag that were not carried through to completion [‘The Idealists: creating Castlecrag’, ABC RN, Hindsight, 8 July 2012]. There was a host of reasons for this as outlined above, but sometimes sheer bad luck played its part in Griffin’s fortunes. Global developments had a tendency to intervene to stymie his noble intentions. Just as his vision for a physical landscape in Canberra worthy of the capital city of “a nation of ‘bold democrats” ran smack into the war effort of WWI which redirected valuable Australian resources away from WBG’s project, the development of Griffin’s estate in Castlecrag had its momentum undercut by the crippling effects of the Great Depression [‘Creating a new nation’s capital: The Griffins’ vision for Canberra’, (National Archives) www.naa.gov.au].

When Walter’s private and GSDA commissions started to dry up, he increasingly took on industrial building design work. By the mid-1930s, frustrated by the lack of work in Castlecrag, Burley Griffin took up an invitation to design buildings for the University of Lucknow. The move to India, only intended to be a temporary one, served to re-energise Griffin’s architectural ambitions, allowing him to explore the fusion of ancient Eastern architecture with Western modernism. WBG engrossed himself in many new Indian projects but unfortunately, in a familiar story, the local colonial bureaucracy obstructed the realisation of most of the projects [G Sherington, ‘India’, W B Griffin Society, www.griffinsociety.org].

'Camelot'
‘Camelot’

EM Nicholls: Keeper of the Griffin flame
After the Griffins left Australia, his protege-cum-associate Eric Milton Nicholls took over the running of GSDA in Sydney and became the “keeper of the flame” for Griffin’s architectural vision. Nicholls soon started to design houses in Castlecrag in his own right. The pick of Nicholls’ work are probably Camelot (formerly called Pangloss) at 3 The Bastion, and the all-white Moriaty House at 215 Edinburgh Road. Camelot, with castle features including a Martello tower, is distinctively Nicholls’, but its circular stone design shows the clear influence of WGB’s earlier design for the Symington Parapet project [‘Castlecrag’, (Willoughby Dist. Hist. Soc.), www.willoughbydhs.org.au/].

Nicholls was a prominent architect in the Willoughby area, designing many domestic and public buildings in Sydney and Melbourne. An Anthroposophist like the Griffins, he was involved in the establishment of Steiner Glenaeon Schools in Middle Cove and Pymble [‘Eric Nicholls’, (Willoughby City Council), www.willoughby.nsw.gov.au]. Burley Griffin’s influence lives on in Castlecrag and elsewhere … The Griffin (8 Rockley Street), designed by Alex Popov in 1990, won the Robin Boyd Award (Australia’s leading residential architecture prize) – the building was described by the judges as “a reverent tribute to Griffin” [WDHS, op.cit (‘Castlecrag’).].

Miraflores: Flower Watchers, Weed Worshippers and Oddbod Gringos

Travel
Antigua Miraflores
Antigua Miraflores

The Hotel, Antigua Mirafores, has a kind of old colonial hacienda look to it, perhaps more accurately I might say, estancia, as it was probably not big enough to be considered a hacienda. Old it is, but it is in good shape and looks like it’s had a recent facelift. At the check-in desk I experience some more of the familiar communications problems that comes with trying to converse in Spanglish. The receptionist, who had ‘Anglicised’ herself to Tanya, seems to be saying that I am entitled to a complimentary aperitif upon arrival. After waiting for a short period, during which no such free drink materialises, I return to the front desk and query this. The woman at the desk (Tanya has disappeared out the back somewhere), explains to me that the complementary item refers to the fact that I have been given a larger room (larger than what I couldn’t be sure?). Not certain how one confuses an aperitif with room space?

imageWhen I arrived in Lima the first time round, the Costa del Sol at Jorge Chávez didn’t hesitate to offer me a complimentary Pisco sour. Nonetheless I decide to head for the bar anyway and encounter a warm welcome from the young Limanese bartender, this guy whose nombre was Juan José (‘JJ’ he proffers for guest convenience) turns out to be one super-laid back young dude. After conversing with to him for a short while I form a sneaking suspicion that possibly he is a struggling actor making ends meet behind the bar, such are is the exaggerated nature of his theatrical flourishes. Later on when I get accustomed to him, I think the hyper-talking JJ is just sort of high.

imageAs I sip my obligatory Pisco sour JJ (or Jota-Jota) is only too happy to tell me all about his hopes and aspirations to leave the provincial confines of Peru and escape to the US where the opportunities to succeed are plentiful (or so he believes). The more we talk (I have nothing better to do: arriving in the mid afternoon after a long flight and taxi ride and feeling too tired to go downtown), the more aware I am that the effusive JJ is something of a devotee of ganja weed. This becomes quite apparent when he starts asking questions about my homeland and the conversation somehow gets round to the weed-friendly town of Nimbin – the marijuana capital of New South Wales, something that interests him greatly. I let JJ play around with my iPad for a bit. “What are you interested in JJ?”, I randomly ask the question which of course when posed to my youthful interlocutor is a superfluous one. “I like weed”, is his instant, matter-of-fact and singular reply accompanied by a dense smile forming on his face. Next moment JJ is googling weed on the Net.

Later on other guests gravitate toward the bar. Most of the guests staying at the Hotel Antigua appear to be Gringos, as the Latin Americans say. I get talking to a cashed-up elderly Florida retiree and his daughter (granddaughter?) who closely resembles a young Shane Gould. The Floridians are followed slightly later by Judy and Stephen, a friendly couple of vegetarians from New Jersey but now self-exiled to Las Vegas. I get on quite well with Judy and Stephen, and I find each of these Yanks amiable enough company, but I am struck by the strident tone of anti-Obamaism freely expressed by them! I guess that I shouldn’t be too surprised given the widespread economic misfortunes plaguing America in recent times but they are not holding back on their condemnation of the Democrat President.

Potent Pisco
Potent Pisco

I finish a second Pisco sour by now, and then quite suddenly as I get ready to go out for a meal with Jude and Steve, the full potency of the Pisco hits me! I’m not sure what JJ put in it, whatever it is, I’m sure its a double, it packs a real wallop, no question about it! My head feels very fuzzy indeed, and I spend several minutes in the bar washroom splashing water on my face before I am anywhere near up to going downtown with the Vegans to eat. Next day one of the tour guides warns me the about the pitfalls of over-imbibing on Pisco (too late!!!).

Despite still feeling rather ‘Piscolated’ I stumble off to the “eat street” strip at Avenida Diagonal for a pizza meal with the Americans. Now, I’m not normally the quickest person at choosing from the menu but compared to these two I am positively express! The Nevadans appear to be on a very tightly-budgeted holiday and give the menu very careful scrutiny. After ordering, I sit back, bemused, observing Judy and Stephen as they mull at great length over the menu, discuss the various permutations of mixing and matching different items whilst firing umpteen questions at the exceedingly patient waitress – the cost of various pizzas with or without certain variables, what combination of ingredients they can substitute for the carne ones that they don’t eat, and how much of the substitute vegetable items they are allowed!

JFK statue in his eponymous park
JFK statue in his eponymous park

Finally they make a decision, and as we wait for the pizzas, I get another chapter of the Obama “No we won’t!” refrain from the Lost Vegans. Stephen, who up to that point I think the more reserved of the two, lets fly with a very impassioned denunciation of Obama as “illegitimate”, dredging up, much to my incredulity, the old conspiratorial theory “chestnut” that Barack is in fact (sic) foreign-born! Now, aside from the self-promoting Donald Trump and a hard core of Tea Party hacks, I didn’t think anyone in America was still peddling that hoary old tale … talk about Crank Yankers! But I guess, we are talking about America, so nothing really surprises. I certainly get a sense of the Right wing Republican backlash against Obama following the GFC from the sample of Americans I meet in Lima.

I get a sense that there’s something kinda “New Agey” naturopathic(?) about Judy and Stephen, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Stephen with his free-flowing and greying locks certainly looks the part of the ageing hippy. Interestingly, Judy tells me she’s a pop/rock music journalist which I find implausible as she doesn’t look hip enough…can’t imagine her popping up in the cast of Almost Famous! Based entirely on an intuitive and non-scientific hunch I make an assumption that she is some sort of self-medicator.

Parque Kennedy Flea Markets
Parque Kennedy Flea Markets

After the meal we wander across the Diagonal to the Parque Kennedy Night Markets, AKA Mercado de Pulgas, (the local flea markets) to look for bargains. These are pretty thin on the ground however as Miraflores is a quite upmarket part of Lima and the stallholders are fairly resistant to any attempts to haggle. The usual mix of decent and rubbishy things are on offer – silver jewelry, bracelets, earrings, trinkets, beads, garments, toy and puppet llamas, and some assorted oddities such as old Peruvian coins and rusty pieces of metal whose purpose I can’t fathom. Judy buys numerous junky items whilst Steve and I stand around looking unimpressed with the merchandise on offer.

This JFK park should really be called Parque El Gato y Perro…during the day every canine owner in town seemed to be exercising his or her dog in the park, now it is full of stray cats, everywhere we walk along each aisle of the stalls there are cats underfoot! By this time I have sobered up enough to make a rational decision – I finally spot something out-of-the-box that really captivates my eyes – a really gorgeous blue alpaca scarf with a bit of grey in it – I unhestitatingly buy it for a very reasonable 15 Nuevo Sols! As we walk back to the hotel I feel a tangible sense of relief that I have managed to salvage something out of the tatters of a misspent night with these two oddball gringos.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI breakfast with Stephen and Judy the next morning. Judy, confides that she is given to certain (unnamed) medical conditions and pulls out a multitude of different coloured pills and proceeds to progressively down each one with every separate morsel of breakfast. I think I just found the empirical evidence for my earlier assumption.

Judy’s mannerisms and eccentricities are beginning to look a bit like Yiddish theatricality, she displays an unnerving touch of the Bette Middlers bordering on Woody Allen paranoia in her over-the-top remonstrations about most things. Submitting her omelette to forensic scrutiny at the table, she loudly declares it devoid of cheese and after calling the waitress, aggressively defies her to identify any dairy products within the egg. When the girl tries to point out clear visual evidence of cheese on the plate, Judy summarily rebuffs the suggestion and insists that another, more cheesier omelette be fetched from the kitchen! While Judy waits and continues to complain about the ‘criminal’ withholding of cheese, her partner Stephen is obviously not so picky as he quickly wolfs down the rejected omelette. They then argue about their differing assessments of the offending omelette!

I am not disappointed when 9 o’clock ticks over and I have to take my leave of this slightly loopy American couple. As I go upstairs to fetch my bag and camera for the Lima city tour, Judy’s attention turns quickly and seamlessly from me to the newly-arrived replacement omelette. I hear her say “Finally, some cheese!” her voice trailing away as I mount the staircase.

The Wizard of Castlecrag I: Utopia in a Garden Suburb?

Biographical, Built Environment, Social History

imageWalter Burley Griffin had been captivated by the magnificent harbour of Port Jackson upon first sailing into Sydney. Now, free of the seven-year Canberra fiasco, he was able to turn his mind to the search for a new project. After investigating sites at Longueville and Beauty Point Griffin’s creative energies were given direction when he discovered a large and quite choice stretch of virgin ground situated on two peninsulas on the upper part of Sydney’s Middle Harbour. WBG managed to secure an option to buy 263 hectares of largely cleared land, which included nearly 6.5km of untouched water frontage (still forested), for a very reasonable amount of money (there is some disagreement about whether the amount was $25,000 or £25,000). The scoop netted the Griffins the entire south-west part of what was to become Castlecrag, a large chunk of modern day Castle Cove, and around half of Middle Cove [“The Legacy of the Griffins” (Castlecrag Community), www.castlecrag.org.au/history/history.htm].

The original Castle Rock
The original Castle Rock

Griffin’s focus fixed itself on the southernmost of these promontories (Castlecrag), which he decided to subdivide and develop into different estates (while Middle and Castle Cove were put on hold for the time being to be developed later). WGB formed his own public company, the Greater Sydney Development Association (GSDA), to build homes in the Castlecrag Estate (and later the Haven Estate) which he would design. Shareholders in GSDA were offered a free block of land if they bought a home off the plan. Walter planned the first estate using a similar geometric pattern to the Canberra design, with a series of parallel semi-circular roads rippling out from a central point (a high rock), which he thought resembled the castle rock of Edinburgh Castle in Scotland (hence the name ‘Edinburgh’ chosen for the main road dissecting the peninsula). This resemblance also accounted for Griffin’s choice of name for the rocky promontory, Castlecrag. The fortress theme extended to the connecting roads which fanned out from Edinburgh Rd, with each of the streets given names that were derived from the concept of a castle – The Rampart, The Parapet, The Bastion, The Citadel, The Redoubt, The Outpost, etc, etc.

Griffin’s town planning ethos reflected his Prairie School training, but in Castlecrag he was to take urban development to a degree that was quite radical and purist in its strictures. Walter’s approach to the model community experiment in Middle Harbour was to be characteristically holistic. The natural features of Castlecrag defined how the suburb took shape. WBG planned the streets to follow a curvilinear line to fit in with the rocky sandstone contours of the promontory, parallel-running roads would be linked by pathways.

imageGriffin mapped out the road and allotment pattern of the estate by foot, walking all over the rocky terrain and leaving markers for the surveyor to follow [Teaching Heritage, “Forming the Greater Sydney Development Association”, www.teachingheritage.nsw.edu.au]. He then placed the planned homes very carefully and very strategically so that they didn’t impinge on the natural setting. It was all about the harmonisation of the built and the organic environment. Griffin stated that “a building should be the logical outgrowth of the environment in which it is located” [Walter Burley Griffin Society, S Read, “Landscape Architecture”; M O’Donohue, “Castlecrag”, Sydney, www.griffinsociety.org]. The young Griffin was guided by the famous maxim of his fellow Chicagoan and architectural mentor, Louis Sullivan – “form follows function”. Intended to blend in with the natural world rather than clash with it like much of modern architecture, Griffin’s houses were designed to recede into the landscape.

Griffin Prairie style cottage, The Parapet, Castlecrag
Griffin Prairie style cottage, The Parapet, Castlecrag

One story recounted by one of the early Castlecrag residents emphasises the extent to which Walter went to pursue his own peculiar brand of the “back to nature” philosophy in architecture. When one of the cottages was being built, several branches of particular trees were encroaching upon the site. Instead of simply cutting the ‘offending’ trees, WBG tied them back until the cottage was completed and then released the branches so that they sprang back and engulfed most of the house [“Willoughby Walking Tours” (Burley Griffin’s Castlecrag), www.walks.willoughby.nsw.gov.au/].

Griffin summarised his vision for Castlecrag in what is an oft-repeated quotation of his: “I want Castlecrag to be built so that each individual can feel the whole landscape is his. No fences, no boundaries, no red roofs to spoil the Australian landscape: these are some of the features that will distinguish Castlecrag.” [Griffin, 1922, AHB, S Read, op.cit., www.griffinsociety.org]. The Castlecrag Estate (and subsequent subdivisions) were to be characterised by tree retention, roofs were to be flat, not pitched in shape. WBG insisted on the use of building materials with textures and colours which mixed in well with the sandstone and native bushland, using local stone where possible. WGB also planned for ‘traffic islands’ at the intersections of streets, small triangular oases of planted natives and bush which allowed pedestrians respite from the vehicle-dominated roadway.

Grant House
Grant House

All over the estate, strategically positioned between each clutch of houses, Griffin planned bushland reserves for the residents, created to preserve the major landforms and rocky outcrops of the terrain. These ‘internal’ reserves were easily accessible from the houses by specially allocated pathways and were meant to encourage the owner-residents to take an interest in the maintenance of the retreats [ibid.]. In the Griffins’ idealistic philosophy, by creating these ‘common spaces’ which accentuate the natural beauty of the bush, for all of the neighbourhood to use, Castlecrag would realise the high democratic ideal of a model urbanised community that Canberra had failed to be. WGB forbid development along the foreshore of the promontory so that it would be kept as public open space for everyone to enjoy, therefore, access to all of the natural beauty of Castlecrag would be democratised. He implemented a system of covenants which was intended to control land use in the estate so that out-of-character development didn’t occur, and flora and fauna could be protected [M Walker, A Kabos, & J Weirick, Building for Nature: Walter Burley Griffin and Castlecrag, (WBGS)].

Haven Amphitheatre
Haven Amphitheatre

The Griffins moved permanently to Castlecrag in Autumn 1925 with the intention of fully and actively embracing the local community. Whilst WBG set about creating his utopian vision for Castlecrag, MMG as usual provided the behind-the-scenes support. She assisted in GSDA’s work by preparing drawings, promoting sales, hosting VIPs, etc. Marion’s main role at Castlecrag however was to be a leader of the community, organising various cultural activities and meet-ups, from ballet classes to classical drama. She organised productions for the Haven Scenic Theatre in an amphitheatre in a rock-gully in Castlehaven Reserve, doing set and costume designs for plays [Peter Harrison, “Griffin, Walter Burley (1876–1937)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 9, 1983, http://adb.anu.edu.au; Bronwyn Hanna, “Marion Mahony Griffin”, Dictionary of Sydney, www.dictionaryofsydney.org, 2008].

Marion’s key role in the cultural and artistic life of Castlecrag allowed her to revisit her past interest in acting, she had been enthusiastically engaged in drama back in her undergraduate days at MIT. The type of people that were attracted to the Griffins’ new garden suburb, were an intriguing mix. Often, they were drawn from non-conformist circles, including literary types, artists, musicians, environmentalists, spiritualists, bohemians, people of ethnic background, people with radical political convictions and other outsiders [“The Idealists: creating Castlecrag”, Hindsight, broadcast 8 July 2012, ABC Rational National]. Certainly in her leading role in Castlecrag, Marion affected the appearance of a bohemian lifestyle with lavish, ostentatious costume parties, but as her friend Louise Lightfoot said, “Marion could be said to be a ‘square bohemian’ …. completely unconventional yet strict” [L Esther, The Suburb of Castlecrag: A community history].

MMG
MMG

Griffin and GDSA initiated a number of measures to try and promote Castlecrag and boost house sales on the estate. A brief silent promotional film made in 1927 and entitled “Beautiful Middle Harbour” was shown in local cinemas. In it, the Castlecrag model suburb is presented as comprising “cool forests”, “Sylvan Glades”, “verdant bush” and “picturesque stone villas”. The last part of the film suggests the theatrical touch of Mahony with maidens frolicking in the Middle Harbour bush and being carried off by exotic masculine types dressed like Rudolph Valentino in ‘The Sheik’ (a Hollywood movie phenomena of the day) [‘Beautiful Middle Harbour’ (Keepin’ Silent series of Australian doco films) www.aso.gov.au]. Griffin wrote articles for architectural and trade journals as well as detailed brochures, all extolling the merits of Castlecrag. Large advertisements for home sales for the estate were also placed in Sydney newspapers [Teaching Heritage, op.cit.].

Although road construction on the rocky promontory was difficult and therefore slow (not to mention costly) [‘Castlecrag’, Willoughby District Historical Society, www.willoughbydhs.org.au/], the GSDA methodically went about the construction of stone cottages in accordance with Griffin’s plans. Two demonstration homes were quickly erected in Edinburgh Road, one became Marion and Walter’s temporary home and the other was used as the Castlecrag office for GSDA. Others followed including King O’Malley House, later converted into a hospital and a small strip of shops (extended into what is today the Griffin Centre). Many in the community who agreed with the Griffins’ emphasis on the fusion of human life with the natural world began to refer to Walter as the “Wizard of Castlecrag”, but Griffin’s idealism was to be lost on some who had the experience of living in his ‘model’ homes.

The Burley Griffin Footprint in Australia: Buildings, Town Plans and Landscapes

Biographical, Built Environment, Heritage & Conservation, Social History

Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin travelled to Australia in 1914 armed with Walter’s blueprint for transforming the Canberra plains into a model “democratic” Capital. The Griffins as part of an early 20th century US movement known as the Prairie School (or as Mahony preferred, the “Chicago School”), introduced Australia to the new ideas of modern American architecture. The Prairie School practitioners, the most famous of which was Frank Lloyd Wright, employed low, horizontal lines (flat roofs) and lack of decoration in their buildings. The idea behind this primarily residential architectural style was that the built environment should blend in with nature. Specifically given the School’s origins in Chicago, its inspiration was the flat landscape of the American Midwest.

When the Canberra project turned sour for Burley Griffin, after hostile local forces and circumstances conspired to block the realisation of his Capital “vision”, the Griffins channelled their energies into their private practice. WGB’s focus on the business in Melbourne was productive with a regular supply of commissions coming in from clients wanting to have their house built by the celebrity American architect living within their community. Griffin designed houses in the Melbourne suburbs of Carlton, Canterbury, Surrey Hills, Toorak, Heidelberg, Kew, Black Rock, Ivanhoe, Armadale, Eaglemont and Frankston (the Frankston and Heidelberg dwellings were designed as residences for the American couple). MMG by herself was credited with the design of one Melbourne house in East Malvern [P Navaretti, “Melbourne”,http://www.griffinsociety.org/].

Palais Theatre,
St Kilda, Vic.
Burley Griffin, with assistance from Mahony, also designed a number of commercial buildings in Melbourne at the time, including Newman College (Melbourne University), the Palais de Danse and Palais Picture Theatre (both in St Kilda), the Kuomintang Club for the Chinese Nationalist Party, Café Melbourne, the Capitol Theatre (Mahony’s crystalline ceiling design comprising 4,000 coloured globes for the theatre was an absolute tour de force). The Capitol was described by prominent architect and academic, Robin Boyd, as “the best cinema that was ever built or is ever likely to be built” [The Australian, 24 December 1965]. Whilst in Melbourne, WBG’s exceptional flair for town planning was reignited and demonstrated in the imaginative plans he created for the Ranelagh Estate of holiday homes on Mornington Peninsula and the Glenard and Mount Eagle subdivisions in Eaglemont.

Rock Crest/Glen
Rock Crest/Glen

After coming to Australia the Griffins maintained their architectural office in Chicago working through a partner, Barry Byrne, to design some distinctive houses (Rock Crest/Rock Glen) in Mason City, Iowa. WGB would send back his plans for US projects for Byrne to follow through on but unbeknownst to Griffin, Byrne was altering Griffin’s plans to suit his own aesthetic and proceeding with his own designs on the business’ projects. WGB eventually twigged to what Byrne was doing and severed their partnership [James Weirick, “Walter Burley Griffin: In his Own Right”, US PBS program broadcast 1999 (www.pbs.org)]. As if the Griffins didn’t have enough headaches with the vicissitudes of the Australian projects already. Around 1920/1921 Walter let go of his personal vision of the new capital, cutting himself free from the Canberra project morass and turned his focus elsewhere.

Concurrently with the Melbourne practice, the Griffins through Mahony ran a Sydney architectural office from Bligh Street in the City. During the Canberra period the Griffins lived mainly on Sydney’s North Shore (at Cremorne, Neutral Bay and then Greenwich). Walter had been attracted to Sydney’s spectacular harbour from his initial arrival in Sydney in 1913. Whilst in Sydney WGB found time to to take on individual commissions, designing private homes at Pymble (two), Wahroonga, Killara, Avalon and Telopea (all of which exist to this day), plus two other residences in the South Sydney municipality now demolished. In addition, a few of WBG’s designs for commercial buildings were realised, such the facade for the Paris Theatre (cinema) in the Sydney CBD.

Plan of Leeton, NSW (1913)
Plan of Leeton, NSW (1913)

Whilst on the Australia east coast Walter maintained his strong interest in urban planning. Among the many, many town plans WBG created in Australia, were designs for new towns in Leeton and Griffith (part of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Project), Culburra Beach (Jervis Bay), North Arm Cove (Port Stephens), Milleara (Keilor East), Newcastle and St Kilda, as well as two university campuses in Sydney [J Birrell, Walter Burley Griffin, cited in Di Jay, “Urban Planning”, www.griffinsociety.org]. Disappointingly, the overwhelming majority of Griffin’s urban plans in this country were never implemented, or sometimes only ever partially so.

The downturn in the economy occasioned by the Depression adversely affected the Griffins’ building sales in the Castlecrag Estate. Needing a new source of finance to continue his residential work, WGB took an opportunity to venture into industrial commissions. At this time municipal councils in Australia were under pressure to find new solutions for the growing problem of waste disposal, instead of simply dumping refuse at sea as had been the prevailing practice. WBG joined up with the Reverberatory Incinerator & Engineering Co, headed by a former client of his. In the 1930s he designed 13 such incinerators in collaboration with Eric Nicholls in several states and the ACT. Griffin and Nicholls promoted their incinerators as being “hygienic, efficient and aesthetically pleasing” [“Burley Griffin Incinerator”, sydneyarchitecture, http://sydneyarchitecture.com/GLE/GLE27.htm].

Pyrmont Incinerator (demol. 1992)
Pyrmont Incinerator (demol. 1992)
Willoughby Incinerator (1934)
Willoughby Incinerator (1934)

The initial reverberatory furnaces built (Ku-ring-gai/West Pymble and Essendon) were relatively small structures and church-like or large residence-like in appearance and scale. Later Griffin/Nicholls incinerators took on a more monumental and imposing countenance, utilising Art Deco styles and Pre-Columbian motifs (eg, Willoughby, Glebe, Pyrmont). Simon Reeves argues that the catalyst for the change was the growing interest of Walter, and especially Marion, in the spiritual beliefs of Anthroposophy, describing the Pyrmont incinerator as representing “the geometric massing of archaic power, embellished with symbols” [S Reeves, “Incineration and Incantations” in J Turnbull & P Y Navaretti (Eds), The Griffins in Australia and India]. From the early 1930s Anthroposophical belief did appear to inform WBG’s architecture and planning, the American Anthroposophical Society affirms that “buildings should be ecologically sound and reflect the character of the region or culture …(and should enhance) … physical, psychological and spiritual well-being”. To this end Griffin’s work certainly possessed a crucial ecological purpose [J K Notz Jr, “A Beginning, an End and Another Beginning” (Marion Mahony Griffin, Architect), Chicago Literary Club address, 23 April 2001].

Burley Griffin’s industrial construction represented some of his most striking work in Australia. Marion considered Pyrmont with its distinctive Mayan influences and towering chimney to be Walter’s best Australian building [“Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin”, www.griffinsociety.org; PY Navaretti, “Incinerators”, ibid.]. Sadly, it was allowed to fall into disrepair by a neglectful Sydney City Council and demolished in 1992 to make way for a block of units. [“WB Griffin Incinerator”, www.teachingheritage.nsw.edu.au]

With his Canberra dream unfulfilled, Burley Griffin continued to search for a suitable site that could be moulded into a community compatible with the Griffins’ nature-centric philosophy, where the built world could be integrated into the natural world. This led Griffin to find a favourable location in Middle Harbour on the north side of Port Jackson, on an isolated, rocky promontory. Walter would call it “Castlecrag”, here, he would try to create an “organic solution”, a way of living in harmony with nature.

On-site residential bushland retreat, The Crag
On-site residential bushland retreat, The Crag

Once the idea took root and the foundations started to take shape, the Castlecrag community was to become the Griffins’ abiding passion, right up until they left Australia for Imperial India in the mid 1930s. Planning and guiding this small, community from scratch allowed Griffin to give full vent to his talent for landscape architecture and his and Marion’s) deep love of nature. Integrating the habitat with the natural world was intimately personal for Walter and Marion in Castlecrag, as the couple were to live, fully engaged, within the local community for the longest term of their marriage. I will outline the Castlecrag chapter of the Griffins’ story in Australia in a separate blog.