GRIFFIN, Walter Burley (1876-1937)

GRIFFIN, Walter Burley (1876-1937)
designer of the Australian federal capital
was born at Maywood, Illinois, U.S.A., on 24 November 1876. He took the degree of B.Sc. in architecture at the university of Illinois, and practised as an architect at Chicago in partnership with F. L. Wright. On 30 April 1911 the Commonwealth government invited competitive designs for the federal capital city, which had to arrive at Melbourne by 31 January 1912. By a majority decision Griffin was awarded the first premium of £1750; second and third premium's of £750 and £500 were also awarded, and a fourth design was purchased. A board of departmental officers was then appointed to report on the designs. Its decision was that it was unable to recommend the adoption of any of the designs, but suggested another design prepared by the board which differed radically from Griffin's. The government officially approved of the board's recommendation and a copy of its plan was sent to Griffin in Chicago. In January 1913 he wrote suggesting a conference with the board at Canberra, but this offer was not accepted. In the meantime the board's plan was much criticized, and, when the Cook (q.v.) government came into power in July, it was arranged that Griffin should visit Australia, see the actual site and confer with the board. This was done and the government adopted his premiated plan subject to amendment. On 18 October Griffin was appointed federal capital director of design and construction. He altered his plan slightly, returned to America to settle his private affairs, and took up his duties in May 1914. During the next six years there was considerable friction with the officers of the departments and the war added to Griffin's difficulties. A good deal of preliminary work was done, but in the years ending June 1918, 1919 and 1920 a total of only £8744 was spent on the construction of the city. In 1920 Griffin came into conflict with W. M. Hughes, who was then prime minister, and on 29 December 1920 he was informed that his appointment would not be renewed. Griffin issued a moderate statement of what had occurred, and the impression given is that he was treated with less than justice. The plan which was eventually carried out, though modified, is essentially Griffin's.
Griffin, who had an original mind, had an undoubted influence on architecture in Australia. He had the right of private practice and was responsible for the Capitol Theatre, Melbourne, and largely for Newman College at the university of Melbourne. He lived for some years at Sydney, and planned Castlecrag, a large estate on Middle Harbour with a scenic open-air amphitheatre. In 1935 he went to Lucknow, India, and designed the library building for the university of Lucknow and other important buildings. He died there on or about 13 February 1937. It was stated in Australian papers of 15 February that news of his death had been cabled from India. He married Marion Lucy Mahony, herself a competent architect, who survived him.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 February 1937; The Argus, Melbourne, 15 February 1937; F. Watson, A Brief History of Canberra; Federal Capital, Termination by the Government of Engagement of Walter Barley Griffin; Who's Who in America, 1924-25.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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