Books

This is an article from the Architecture Australia archives and may use outdated formatting

BEYOND ARCHITECTURE: MARION MAHONY AND WALTER BURLEY GRIFFIN: AMERICA AUSTRALIA INDIA
Edited by Anne Watson, Powerhouse Publishing, $40.
When forces of darkness destroyed the Griffins’ Pyrmont incinerator in 1992, Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum became the custodian of a cache of key relics. At the same time, its curators began developing an exhibition to seriously document the couple’s trans-continental career-with new emphasis on the faintly acknowledged contributions of Marion. That presentation, now open, is well worth inspecting-as is this associated document. Not merely a catalogue of the artefacts, it’s a sumptuously illustrated collection of important new essays by top Griffin scholars. In the United States, Paul Kruty discusses the Griffins’ developing years in Chicago and late period in India, while Paul Sprague denies suggestions that Marion was the real design genius of the pair. Although USyd Associate-Professor Anna Rubbo avoids making that claim in her exploration of Marion’s work and persona, media reports on the exhibition have emphasised history’s unfair treatment of architecture’s first registered “lady”. Other essays include UNSW’s James Weirick on the Griffins’ spiritual inspirations and mentalities; Christopher Vernon on Walter’s landscape art; Jeffrey Turnbull on their democratic tendencies and Anne Watson on the furnishings. To understand the main catalysts of 20th century Australian architecture, allocate about six hours to digest these essays, and go to the show

TWO AMERICAN ARCHITECTS IN INDIA: WALTER B. GRIFFIN AND MARION M. GRIFFIN 1935-1937
By Paul Kruty and Paul E. Sprague, School of Architecture, University of Illinois, price on order.
America’s hottest Griffin scholars compiled this catalogue for a 1997 exhibition, at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, of the Griffins’ designs from Walter’s last two years in India. This text-dense document doesn’t look seductive (for economy, the 16 colour plates are lassooed together in one section at the back), but it offers Griffin fans many fascinating new revelations about the partnership of Walter and Marion during their final years together. Particularly interesting are quotes from two obituaries-one by a Muslim rajah and the other by a British colonial-which both described Walter as noble, selfless, unassuming and saintly; qualities which might hint at why he regularly argued with his first employer, Frank Lloyd Wright.

CIVIC REALISM
By Peter G. Rowe, MIT Press, $60.
After his significant study of the ‘middle landscape’ (suburbs) several years ago, expatriate Australian architect Peter Rowe (Dean of Design at Harvard), has invented another catchy term-‘civic realism’-to caption this personal and regrettably pompous exploration of meaning in public space.

Meandering across immaculate Bodoni pages in search of poetic Italian precedents applicable to the pragmatics of modern city planning, he seems to stumble upon crucial ideas which are picked up and examined but never convincingly clarified. His key platitude is that successful public places support the ‘everyday’ behaviour of ‘commonplace’ people-not the special demands of elite groups. This useful point- one which often eludes Australian and American governments and planners-is muddied in an elaborate analysis of the need to establish “verisimiltude of content” and “verisimiltude of genre”. Yet he is elsewhere amazingly simplistic-as with his claim that the best civic places are made “across the divide between the state and civil society”. That early Enlightenment duality has never been useful in capitalist contexts-and seems utterly anachronistic for today’s mode of global markets and ‘economic-rationalist’ governments. Readers are advised to follow Rowe with a bracing chaser of John Ralston Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards.

THE FLOORING BOOK
By Elizabeth Wilhide with photography by Henry Bourne, Murdoch , $40.
This is one of those useful but terminal scrapbooks that become handy when a domestic renovation looms and the cortex cries for optical stimulation. It’s an attractive hardcover digest of contemporary flooring ideas culled from international decorating magazines and photo bureaux, including Australian examples. Ahead of a ‘Practicalities’ section illustrating how to lay and maintain floors, the book provides a good selection of materials options, including paper twine rugs, light-conducting glass platforms, and seventies favourites cork, rubber, slate and carpet (they’re back!).

TECHNICAL MANUALS
Laboratory Design Guide, by Brian Griffin, Architectural Press/Butterworth Heineman, $85.
Although not a gripping topic for most architects, this looks like a good guide for novices suddenly thrown the challenge of planning modern scientific research facilities. The text is comfortably consumed, there are many good ink drawings and the colour photographs, of various recent case studies, are valuable.
Colour, by Barbara Allen and Marie Cook, TAFE Publications, $37.50.
This is an informative and comprehensive workbook for Australian students of colour theory, but it’s diminished by poor graphic design, uninspiring photographs and a cover which clashes three contradictory palettes in one of the least appealing package designs we’ve seen in a long time.
Soft Furnishings, by Barbara Allen and Marie Cook, TAFE Publications, $45.
A dry workbook for technical college students on constructing curtains, blinds and upholstery. Not terrific.

Notices by Davina Jackson. Architext bookshops are at Tusculum, Sydney, ph 02 9356 2022 and 41 Exhibition Street, Melbourne, ph 03 9650 3474.

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Published online: 1 Sep 1998

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Architecture Australia, September 1998

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