Thursday, July 08, 2010

Night Train to Lucknow

The Canberra Chapter of the Walter Burley Griffin Society was addressed last night by Griffin scholar Associate Professor Christopher Vernon, on 'Night Train to Lucknow: Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin: creating a modern architecture for India 1935-1937'. Professor Vernon, recounted his visit to India with a class of landscape architecture students, visiting buildings designed by Griffin.

There were three phases to Griffin's work: USA, Australia and India (as reflected in "The Magic of America"). Professor Vernon sees Griffin's design for Canberra as part of a British Empire imperial project, along with cities in South Africa and India. He argues that politics influenced the designs of Canberra, Pretoria, and New Delhi. A more direct link is that a copy of Griffin's plan for Canberra was sent to India at
the request of the Viceroy. Herbert Baker designed in both Pretoria and New Delhi. In contrast to Canberra, the plan for New Deli proceeded rapidly.

Professor Vernon, argued that the British used landscape architecture to erase previous mogul influence and impose their own power on India. I suspect it was simply a matter of the fashion of the time.

Lucknow was a centre of culture. "the city of gardens". Griffin was invited design the library at the University of Lucknow. Griffin was said to have designed the interior of the Capitol Theatre Lucknow (now an "adult" cenemia). At the chapel of the Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow, not clear what role Griffin may have had. The building is in good condition. The building has Griffin style blocking.

Professor Vernon has identified three buildings which are likely to have Griffin design input and are still standing. However, Griffin died before any were finished. One house still standing can be attributed to Griffin with certainty is under threat of demolition for of apartment blocks. Perhaps as part of the Centenary of Canberra, the Australian government should fund the relocation and preservation of this building. India is increasingly important as
a source of students for Australian universities. Prime Minister Gillard might like to announce a $100M Australia-India education centre. One part could be located in Canberra and the other linked electronically and by cultural exchange in the preserved Griffin building in India.

Professor Vernon set his students the project to design the gardens for the new Australian High Commission to India building by Woodhead Pty Ltd. The students also visited Ram Advani bookseller.

See also:
ps: A minor controversy has arisen over the article "Charles Scrivener: The Surveyor as Town Planner" in the June 2010 issue of "The Library" magazine of the National Library of Australia. The article refers to architect "Burley Griffin", which is the name given to the lake in his honour, rather than "Griffin". This was pointed out by Dr. Dianne Firth, author of "Behind the landscape of Lake Burley Griffin : landscape, water, politics and the national capital 1899-1964".

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