Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Fred Ward: Australian pioneer designer 1900-1990

Fred Ward: Australian pioneer designer 1900-1990 by Derek F. Wrigley

The new book "Fred Ward: Australian pioneer designer 1900-1990" by Derek F. Wrigley celebrates the work of someone who has shaped the built environment for much of my working life without my knowing it. This book is more than a biography, going into detail of the elements and philosophy of furniture design. Included is a detailed case study of the iterative design process used for the CA10 chair for the John Curtin School of Medical Research (c1956).

In February 2012 I was asked to provide some advice on publishing for Derek Wrigley's biography of Fred Ward. I had never heard of Fred Ward, but agreed to I met Derek a few weeks later to discuss the topic over lunch at University House at the Australian National University. As Derek talked about Fred, it slowly dawned on me that the chair I was sitting on, and all the furniture around me, was designed by Fred Ward. I provided some advice on how to produce the manuscript and was delighted to see, a year and a half later the finished book (with an acknowledgement of me in the back).

It was only on reading Derek's book that I realized for much of my adult life I had been surrounded by Fred Ward's work. Along with the furniture and fittings in the ANU University House, Fred Ward designed the furniture at the National Library of Australia, the Shine Dome (which I attended the 2013 Marion Mahony Griffin Lecture), even the desks and chairs in the Reserve Bank of Australia, where as a junior clerk I used to make deposits.

The fine details of the curvature of the seats in a university office may not be of interest to many academics. But Derek also describes the wider work of the ANU Design Unit, which carried out research on the design of teaching spaces. In particular the discussion of the use of chairs, rather than fixed seating in teaching spaces is a topic of great importance to universities today. For the last few years I have been looking at how to provide more flexible teaching spaces which can be used for combinations of lecturing, tutorials and group work with changed teaching practices. The rigid division between lecture theaters, with large numbers of seats at a fixed pitch, facing the front and small tutorial rooms with movable seats, is not suitable. It was a surprise to find that ANU had a design unit looking into such issues decades ago.

The design of the book itself, by Gillian Cosgrove, is in itself, a lesson in elegant design. The paperback edition is available  from the Co-op Bookshop and the Portrait Gallery Store. Hopefully an e-book edition will be available soon for student use.

No comments: