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Noting new books at Architext

THE Edited by Jeff Turnbull and Peter Navaretti, Miegunyah Press at Melbourne University Press, $95.
This substantial hardback is the only catalogue raisonné of works by two of Australia’s most important (imported) architects. It notes all the known Australian and Indian schemes and buildings by Walter and Marion Griffin, as well as some of their earlier and later works in America. On this basis, it’s a valuable reference for everyone who needs to look up facts about this prolific couple – and that’s most of us on occasion. The listings provide dates, addresses and the names of clients and collaborating architects, along with historical notes, comments and archive details of relevant documents. There are also eight essays by Griffin scholars in Melbourne and Sydney: Christopher Vernon, Paul Reid, Donald Dunbar, Anna Rubbo, Meredith Walker, Simon Reeves and Marie Nicholls, as well as co-author Jeff Turnbull. The book is liberally illustrated with black and white photographs and a 24 page central colour section. All these aspects are excellent, but the result is let down by its three column ruled format and typographic treatments that are not ideal for the legibility of either the essays or the listings. (For instance, there is little differentiation of letter size and weight between the footnotes, captions and the body texts.) Also, a weird numbering system of labels like #1613–04 is impossible to navigate without an index and its logical basis (something to do with dates?) is not explained to the reader. The projects would have been easier to reference in alphabetical order. In addition, there appears to be scant information on a number of important Sydney buildings, in comparison with more extensive texts on unbuilt Melbourne schemes. In summary, this is appears to be a book assembled by scholars primarily to set up a framework for documentation of Griffin material – as a book, it could have been edited to improve communication

SUBURBAN Dr Miles Lewis, Bloomings Books, $35.
At first flick-through, this 295-page paperback looks like a meticulously researched and footnoted history book. And it is indeed an impressive work of scholarship – a comprehensive record of planning and development debates in Melbourne’s suburbs. It is also a highly biased polemic by an outspoken activist against large new developments, Associate Professor Miles Lewis, Reader at the University of Melbourne’s architecture school. Indeed, this book is shaped as a manifesto to clarify and support the aims of the burgeoning residents’ action group, Save Our Suburbs, which Lewis helped to organise. The SOS fights developments and policies which threaten the existing character and amenities of suburbs – it is against rapid growth and diverse aesthetics. On those grounds, former Liberal Planning Minister Robert Maclellan cops a bucketing; he claims unfairly

Gordon Ford and Gwen Ford, Bloomings Books, $45.
Before he died in June last year, landscape architect Gordon Ford and his wife Gwen worked together to produce this beautifully photographed record of the enchanting bush and native environments created by this great Australian gardener. Ford was a pupil of Ellis Stones in the 1950s and then set up his own practice, from which he never really retired. His last project, using feathery Pennesetum grasses, grevilleas, hakeas, melaleucas and boulders around Sean Godsell’s metal-screened house at Kew (1998) crystallises all the gutsy verve of his earlier properties on semi-rural sites. Ford was a brilliant rock man – a master at placing massive boulders in critical locations, often to highlight and facilitate flows of water. At the Fords’ own property, Fülling, a former orchard at Eltham, large basalt boulders define two pools and waterfalls along a water-course which he installed as the major ground feature of a site filled with majestic Eucalypts. An extract of Shakespeare printed on his letterhead suggested his commitment to the trilogy of trees, running brooks and stones as the ordering elements for native shrubs and grasses. The visual strength of this strategy made Ford popular with progressive architects like Peter McIntyre, Kevin Borland, Guilford Bell, Neil Clerehan and, recently, Wood Marsh and Godsell. As well as private gardens around Eltham, Blackburn and Hawthorn, he delivered installations to Monash University, Royal Park, the OAMPS insurance company in Collingwood and the Mingarra village in Croydon. Although still not well known outside Victoria, this book will confirm his important contribution to the development of Australia’s landscape style

Brendan Gleeson and Nicholas Low, Allen & Unwin, $35.
This is perhaps the first book to use the term ‘corporate liberalism’ to describe Australia’s system of government – and its explanation of the term helps to illuminate some crucial and widely misunderstood realities of the contemporary politics of land development. Gleeson and Low define three aspects of CL: a view of the state itself as a corporation of various business entities, a tendency to create new commercial markets to replace public institutions in delivering community services, and selective support of elite commercial entrepreneurs. In their conclusion, the authors ‘say no’ to this ‘stupid economy’ system, while urging greater reliance on planners to frame people-friendly environments. However, they acknowledge that planners are not yet properly educated for the challenges they face: detailed suggestions are given for a four-year degree course. Their call to reinvent planning is important, but there are still no obvious antidotes for the discipline’s inability to forecast future social needs and pressures, or for the negative effects of its urge to marshall people in zones of approved behaviour. And it also seems powerless to change the reality that political parties are financed by major developers



Published online: 1 May 2000


Architecture Australia, May 2000

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