Friday, March 01, 2013

Recording a Vision of Canberra

Greetings from the National Archives in Canberra, where  Associate Professor Christopher Vernon,, University of Western Australia, is speaking on "Recording a Vision" about  Marion Mahony Griffin's Renderings of Canberra. Distinguished guest is Romaldo Giurgola, architect of the Australian Parliament House.

Professor  Vernon talked on "Night Train to Lucknow: Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin: creating a modern architecture for India 1935-1937" in 2010. Noted Griffin scholar, he started this time by mentioning how to pronounce "Mahony" (no "e").  He also mentioned He traced Marion's style of rendering to Birch Burdette Long, and the influence of Japanese drawing. Frank Lloyd Wright emphasized showing architectural rendering of buildings in the natural surroundings, influencing Marion's style and also Marion influencing Wright. Professor  Vernon showed a perspective view of a real estate development rendered by Marion in 1909 for Wright's practice, showing a "land axis" aligned with a distant mountain, reminiscent of the design for Canberra.

Professor Vernon mentioned in passing influences on Rio de Janeiro's layout of Canberra, but did not elaborate (he has a paper on Canberra and Brasília).

Marion developed a Unified Unit Plan, layout with a perspective, plan and cross-section of a building. Professor Vernon pointed out that rendering styles change over time and looked at how Marion's style developed.

An ongoing debate is how much of the design work for Canberra did Marion do. Professor Vernon, after presenting considerable documentary evidence made his case that "Marion did not just draw the pretty pictures for Canberra". He also argued that Frank Lloyd Wright was trying to get to work on the plans for Canberra, but there is little evidence for this. He suggested that there is scope for more research work using the archives in Canberra. One questions is why there are few photographs of the Griffin's in Canberra. Professor Vernon called for a memorial garden to be built in Canberra to commemorate the Griffin's contribution. He showed the Mitchell/Giurgola Associates entry for the Walter Burley Griffin Memorial Competition (1975), but pointed out no memorial was ever built. 

The National Archives have released a revised edition of the book "A Vision Splendid
How the Griffins Imagined Australia's Capital" in conjunction with the display "Design 29 and the making of Australia’s national capital" with the Griffin's original winning entry for the design of Canberra.

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