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Overview of this Section 

The Fishwick house is amongst the most important and prominent of the almost 200 buildings created by Walter Burley Griffin during his 37 year career in America, Australia and India.  It is held in the highest regard by academics and other specialists in the fields of architecture, landscape architecture and design as well as by professional architects’ associations and heritage authorities, especially in Australia.

 

Initially, this section illustrates the extent and variety of this prominence which has led leading experts to classify it as  “most celebrated”.  Since its restoration it has also clearly become the Griffin building most often chosen by the general media in Australia to represent his work.

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Watercolour panel created in the style of Marion Mahony Griffin.

 

Next, the section examines the reasons for this prominence.  It has arisen from the recent increase in recognition of the house’s significance beyond being simply an important heritage building.  During research for this website’s preparation, three previously unrecognised factors emerged which contribute to this: 

  • The unparalleled extent to which the house demonstrates Griffin’s creativity, technical inventiveness and innovative architectural and design skills.  It allows us to appreciate the virtually unaltered work of Australia’s first internationally acclaimed architect not long before his untimely death.  Its extraordinary appearance, unusual and atmospheric interiors and the nature of its relationship with its choice location have made it his residential showplace. 
  • Its central place in the birth of modern architecture in Australia.  The section shows how both architectural historians and non-specialists seeking to introduce Griffin to a wider audience portray him as an isolated “prophet” at a time when Australia’s architecture was in transition from being highly conservative or derivative in style to become more responsive to local conditions, more self-confident and more "modern".  The house is a bold and important symbol of the beginning of this process. 
  • Its emergence as the prime conduit or “vehicle” in introducing Griffin’s ideas to a broad audience.  An examination of all the significant Griffin-related events - book publications, documentaries, exhibitions and the like - following the house's restoration shows clearly that it has emerged as the building of choice to introduce and illustrate Griffin’s ideas and strongly-held architectural principles to Australian audiences.   
The house’s importance, prominence and significance are, in fact, recent phenomena and are all the more remarkable considering the degree to which the Griffins themselves had rapidly slipped into obscurity after their spectacular early successes.  Interest in and respect for them both increased markedly in the 1990s and have continued to grow.  The section traces how the fortunes of the house, its decline and re-emergence have mirrored those of the Griffins.  Like them, the house has also had its critics and was ridiculed - a mortgage assessor even described it as “freakish”.  It progressively descended into obscurity and was in a very poor state of repair before its fortunes were reversed in the mid 1990s by the restoration of the building and its surrounding landscape. 10pixels wide

4a2Max Dupain's photograph of the house in the 1960s when it was generally considered of little heritage importance.  He was a long-term Castlecrag resident.

 

The importance of the house has been recognised by its listing with all authoritative heritage bodies in Australia including the major heritage protection organs of all three Australian levels of Government. Their findings and reports are reviewed in this section.  Perhaps more revelatory are the very favourable judgements on its qualities by experts such as academics, architectural historians, practising professionals and writers on architecture and design; a selection of these is also included in this section.  

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“Most Celebrated” 

The prominence of the house was acknowledged even when it was in a poor state of repair and knowledge of the Griffins was confined mostly to architectural historians and heritage experts.  In 1994 the newly-established Walter Burley Griffin Society said of it:

 

"The house is the most celebrated of the Griffin houses in Castlecrag, because it demonstrates the Griffin ideas applied for a client with the will, the means, and the enthusiasm, to implement them."[1]

 

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The house soon after completion on the cover of the first book specifically on Castlecrag and the Griffins published by the Walter Burley Griffin Society.


Since then, there
has been a remarkable development in Australia of interest in the house not only in academic and professional circles but among those in the general public who appreciate modern architecture, good design and effective community development.  Following its mid 1990s restoration the house has been featured in 14 widely distributed books and periodicals, chosen as the setting for three documentaries, illustrated prominently in two major museum exhibitions and appeared in many journal, magazine and newspaper articles.  Internationally, it was chosen to illustrate Griffin’s work in an authoritative book on the world's best 20th century architecture, described below, and has been featured or cited in a number of books on the Griffins' place in the history of architecture published in America and Germany.  See the Books & Media section for details.  The following five examples have been selected to illustrate the variety and scope of this exposure:

 

• Architectural reference book.  Phaidon Press UK, one of the most respected international publishers of architecture and design books, has released its authoritative reference book: 20th Century World Architecture.  Massive in size and having 830 pages, it comprehensively reviews “the finest built architecture from around the world in the 20th century, juxtaposing architectural icons with regional masterpieces”.  It describes and reviews 760 residences, apartments, commercial and industrial structures and public buildings from almost one hundred countries which are considered to be “of outstanding importance”.  The house is one of only 134 single residences included in the book where it serves to introduce Griffin’s most important architectural concepts.  It is the only Australian house presented which was built in the first half of the 20th century.  Also, the Fishwick house and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie house are the only two included which were designed by early 20th century Prairie School architects from the American Midwest. [2]
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4b2Phaidon Press’s reference book of "outstanding" 20th century world architecture devoted a full page to the house.

Television documentary.  The six-part TV documentary Building Australia was produced by the History Channel with assistance from the Australian National Trust and funded by Screen Australia’s National Documentary Programme.  The presenter of the series was john Doyle, one of Australia’s best-known and popular media personalities.  It “uses the history of individual houses as a way to explore the architectural and social history of Australia”.  The Fishwick house was chosen to represent the transitional period in early 20th century architecture and to exemplify Griffin’s important role in introducing modern, non-derivative and fresh creative thinking as well as his “visions for the Australian residential community”.  To view an extract from this series open .mp4 Video Clip from Building Australia [3]
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The History Channel produced a TV documentary on the evolution of residential architecture in Australia.  An entire segment was centred on the house.


• Educational Textbook.  For more than four decades, the standard Australian textbook for senior secondary art and design students has been the Handbook of Art.  Its chapter on Australian modernism introduces the concept of modern architecture specifically through describing the Griffins’ ideas and principles: “amongst the first of the modernists to work in Australia, they introduced to the country a new concept of modern living.  They believed that the landscape and architecture should be in harmony with each other”.  The book illustrates Griffin’s work with a photograph of the house which appears both in the text and on its cover. [4]  

4b4Australia's standard art and design textbook features the house.  It also appears on its cover along with other objects of no small prominence. 

 
• Photography.  Twenty professional and specialist photographers, artists and cinematographers have worked in the house including Australia’s most famous photographer, Max Dupain.  They have assembled distinctive portfolios of its exterior, interior, native garden and surrounding landscape.  For examples of their work see the Images of House section.

 

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4b6The rear of the lounge's fireplace with its “window” necessitating two flues.  Both of these Dupain images typify his austere, stark photographic style.

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4b5The front of the fireplace.  Dupain has caught its massive central structure and the harmony of its finely hand-shaped local sandstone blocks.

 

• Coffee table books.  As well as being included in many academic and educational books about the Griffins, the house has been extensively illustrated and described in some lavishly produced publications which were promoted to the general public.  For example, a book aimed at visitors to the Sydney Olympics, Private Sydney, showed the interiors of thirteen of the city’s “outstanding houses” which it said were “truly inspiring and each chosen for its characteristic style”.  Others include two books on Australia’s distinctive gardens and a colour magazine “100 Amazing Sydney Homes” widely distributed by The Sydney Morning Herald, the city's premier newspaper. [5]
 

4b7The house has appeared in many “coffee table” publications.  This is one of a series, each set in a major world city.

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Reasons for Prominence

It is reasonable to ask how the Fishwick house has come to be in the forefront of Griffin's most notable buildings, especially since it does not always make a favourable first impression on people seeing it from the street.  Its streetfront is certainly unusual; first-time viewers might describe it as strikingly unusual, intriguing or perhaps imposing, but they might also wonder how such a building could have come to generate the levels of attention it has attracted.  This has arisen because its significance is increasingly being recognised.  Three factors have prompted this: its unparalleled capacity to demonstrate Griffin's technical inventiveness and creative skills, the important place it holds in the evolution and development of modern architecture in Australia and its emergence as the conduit or vehile by which Griffin’s ideas and principles are being introduced to a non-specialised or broader audience. 

• Showplace for Griffin's inventiveness and creativity.  Only by entering the house can one fully appreciate its significance.  It is a rare, virtually unaltered example of Griffin's mature work; harmoniously conceived, expansively expressed and replete with examples of his innovative and creative talents.  Internally, some prominent features certainly make an immediate impression, for example the imposing entrance hall with its forest of pillars, the large lounge with expansive view and monumental fireplace, the projecting main bedroom containing a semi-circle of seven windows and the step-down study which includes two unusually-shaped windows.


 Frequent visitors, however, take increasing delight in its less obvious qualities.  For example, close examination will reveal the variety in the chisel marks left by different stonemasons as they carved the sandstone blocks for the walls of the lounge and dining room.  Also not obvious is the way that the flights of the main stairway are echoed in the corresponding wall of the entrance hall to provide a design which some people find to be redolent of Art Deco. 
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Many tradesmen have made their mark distinctively throughout the house.

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4c2Some of the house’s most interesting and pleasing features are not immediately apparent.


Some of the house's qualities are less tangible but make a strong impact on the viewer's senses. Examples are the many abrupt ceiling height variations, changes in the intensity and colouring of the available light when moving room-to-room and the intrigue of entering the tunnel-like entrance way with its highly unusual repetitive panels of mirrored glass.

 

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4c3The entrance way’s atmosphere is subdued, even claustrophobic, relieved by a bright light ahead...

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4c4...which proves to be exterior light finding its way through the “window” in the lounge fireplace.

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4c5Ephemeral shadowing effects abound, particularly when the sun is low.

 

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4c7Unexpected view lines and lighting conditions give the house great character.


The Fishwick commission gave Griffin one of his last opportunities to fully express his firmly-held ideas on what constitutes good architecture and landscaping.  He delivered a building with outstanding architectural qualities owing nothing to traditional styles.  Certainly in Australia it is the most forceful and dramatic demonstration of his commitment to organic architecture.  Its interiors revealed his mastery of space, light, colour and atmospheric nuance and were packed full of highly unusual and intriguing design ideas.  As the pre-eminent Griffin expert Professor James Weirick noted, he delivered his Australian residential showpiece:

“In November 1929, Griffin had a house in construction at Castlecrag which would be the principal expression of [his] approach to domestic design... dramatically sited ...rising from the cut rock-face of the cul-de-sac.  In rough hewn sandstone and reinforced concrete, this two-storey house was at once a citadel and a luxury villa.” [6] 

 
●  Role in the birth of Australian modern architecture.  The second factor underpinning the significance of the Fishwick house is that it has become an important symbol of Australian architecture's transition from conservative or derivative styles to become what is now generally accepted as “modern”.  During the between-the-wars period in which Griffin worked in the country, its architects, their professional associations, the local councils which oversaw their work and their clients all remained extremely conservative.  In general, his houses were seen as oddities and the Fishwick house was ridiculed as “freakish”.  In the 1950s his important role as a pioneer of modern architecture began to be recognised, at first only by architectural historians; it was not until the mid-1990s that this view of him begin to be more widely promulgated.

 

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The house blends into its surrounding landscape, in great contrast to its neighbours.  It is now mostly surrounded by unsympathetic buildings.

  

4c8The newly-built house stood alone while serried rows of red-roofed Californian bungalows lined the nearby peninsula.  Note the unfinished Harbour Bridge.


Griffin brought the fresh, “can do”, forward-looking attitudes of the American Midwest to his residential practices in Melbourne and Sydney.  His importance in leading architecture towards the future was progressively, but slowly, acknowledged by noted authorities.  For example:
 

  • In 1950, Melbourne architect Robin Boyd, widely regarded as Australia’s first architectural historian and for many years the profession’s most highly-regarded practitioner, pronounced Walter a “prophet” of the modern movement and a “great pioneer of modern architecture”.  He noted that his “monuments remain in the plan of Canberra and in about a dozen buildings... which were as good as anything in the world at the time [and] sometimes perhaps the best of their time”.  He also lamented the “long silence after Griffin” for two decades until the so-called International Modernists emerged.  [7] 
  • In 1968 John Freeland, then Professor of Architecture at the University of NSW, described how the post-war generation of up-and-coming architects began to appreciate Griffin’s contribution towards a new form of architectural ideals:  “to them and every student graduating since, Griffin assumed the proportions of a deity”.  [8] 
  • Academic historian Donald Lesley Johnson’s 1977 book specifically examined the sources of modern architecture in Australia.  He described the period pre-Griffin as “a time of searching [without] a catalyst, something to induce unity... Then Griffin arrived unburdened by local predilections.  Rather brazenly, he preached ideas that were received as lovingly new”.  Johnson reviewed the work of Griffin’s assistants, students and followers and concluded “It can no longer be assumed that architecture’s modern movement in Australia began, as so often suggested, in the early 1930s.  It began when Walter Burley Griffin started his practice at Melbourne”.  [9] 
  • Australia’s peak professional body, the Australian Institute of Architects, lists Griffin’s Castlecrag houses as “Nationally significant...inter-war domestic architecture...that is nationally and internationally recognised."  It states of the Griffins that “they introduced organic architecture to Australia, though its influence was not taken up until the 1950s”. [10]

 

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Exemplifying organic principles, the house was built from locally quarried sandstone and sunk almost two metres into its stone platform.

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4c10The DNA of the Fishwick house is from his “Solid Rock” house of 1911, especially in the use of reinforced concrete slabs as top roofs.

 


 

4c11aGriffin's 1929 Fishwick house and 1912 Melson house both vividly demonstrate his adherence to the organic architectural principle of tightly integrating a building into its landscape.

 


To assert from these paeans that Griffin was Australia’s first “modern architect” is to venture into a mine-field of semantics and to deal with often-conflicting definitions pronounced by academics, professionals and narrowly-focused interest groups.  For example, one widely accepted premise is that modern architecture was introduced to Australia by Sydney architect Harry Seidler in about 1950, but others say that what he introduced was “International Modernism”.  For an outline of Griffin’s place in modern Australian architecture open
.pdf Griffin: Modern but not a “Modernist”.

The notion of Griffin as the primary transitional figure in early 20th century Australian architecture - a pioneer, prophet, catalyst or visionary - might be open to dispute amongst historians, but this view of him has become widely accepted, mostly as the central theme, when his ideas and works are being introduced to the general public.  The Fishwick house plays an important role in this process.  With its striking appearance and many “ultra modern” features, it has come to exemplify his work, for example:

  • A comprehensive reference book published in Europe in 2001, The Architecture of East Australia - An architectural history in 432 individual presentations, reviewed the history of the country’s architecture since settlement.  In examining the emergence of its modern architecture, it described Castlecrag and featured the house stating: As an integrated social, landscape and architectural experiment, Castlecrag was a unique venture in Australia.  The original buildings remaining are the most glorious examples of modern architecture in Australia before World War II.”  [11]
  • The standard textbook for Australian senior secondary art and design students, Handbook of Art, in 2009 introduced the concept of modern architecture specifically through describing the Griffins’ ideas and principles and illustrated these by featuring the house:  “Amongst the first of the modernists to work in Australia, they introduced to the country a new concept of modern living.  They believed that the landscape and architecture should be in harmony with each other”. [12]
  • Building Australia, a six-part TV documentary produced in 2013 by the History Channel, included a segment filmed in the house in which it represented the transitional period in the country's early 20th century architecture.  The house was portrayed as Griffin’s most important in introducing modern, non-derivative and fresh creative thinking: “He didn’t build Californian bungalows [in  Castlecrag], what he did build had a profound effect on Australian architects". [13] 

There are many other similar examples; indeed, almost all of the major Griffin-related books, magazines and documentaries addressed to general audiences in Australia in recent years have positioned him as the person who jolted Australian architecture into the modern era, awakening it to concepts which, while already gathering wider acceptance in America and continental Europe, were shockingly radical in the quasi-British society of the time. Commensurately, the Fishwick house has gained significance as the prime exemplar of Griffin's important role.

 

• "Vehicle" for Griffin’s enduring ideas.  The third factor underpinning the house's significance is the leading role it has come to play in introducing Griffin’s ideas and principles to a wider and more diverse audience.  He developed a set of concepts on the essentials of “good” architecture, landscape development and community building.  Unlike many prominent architects, with very few exceptions he consistently adhered to and espoused these throughout his career.  They are increasingly respected and continue to resonate, especially with students and emerging professionals seeking a philosophic and principled approach which will guide their work and underpin their architectural careers.

Briefly, he believed that a building should respect its surroundings, be designed with regard for nature and the community and relate strongly to the landscape in its siting, form and use of materials.  Each design should arise from satisfying specific needs or solving problems, rather than being derivative of accepted styles or architectural schools.  Further, in contrast to the emerging European Modernists’ strict adherence to functionality, he believed that good design should influence the viewer’s emotions. For more on his views open .pdf Griffin’s Ideas and Principles.

The Fishwick house very effectively captures people’s attention, embodies Griffin's most cherished ideals and illustrates them well; for these reasons, it has emerged in Australia as the prime conduit or vehicle for spreading them more widely.  Since its restoration in the mid-1990s there have been 23 significant Griffin-related events in Australia such as books, documentaries and exhibitions addressed to general, rather than academic audiences.  The house and its qualities have been introduced in almost all of these.  As the pie-chart below shows, while a few other Griffin houses have also been featured in some of these events, in the majority of them the Fishwick house alone was chosen to play this role.  For details open .pdf The House as "Vehicle" to Griffin's Ideas.

   

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The house has featured prominently in three-quarters of all the significant Griffin-related events in Australia; mostly it was the only house chosen for this role. 

 

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Rise to Prominence

Recently, in America and Australia, there has been a remarkable growth of interest in and respect for the Griffins, reaching levels which would have previously been unimaginable.  One measure is that since the first book about them was written in 1964, some 65 significant publications, documentaries and exhibitions exploring their lives and works have been produced.  Impressively, these events have occurred at a rate which has increased decade by decade, as shown in the bar chart below.  For details open .pdf Significant Griffin-Related Events.  This is in sharp contrast to the 40 year period after Walter’s death when their fame faded and they became virtually unknown.  For an overview of the changing fortunes of Walter and Marion, open .pdf Decline & Re-emergence of The Griffins.

   

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Publishers of b
ooks, periodicals and magazines, authors, journalists, documentary producers and exhibition curators are increasingly creating material on the Griffins aimed at a general audience.

 

 

Remarkably, as described below, the fortunes of the Fishwick house closely traced those of the Griffins. As his largest and most flamboyant Castlecrag house it initially attracted a lot of attention, but the Fishwicks were in residence for only two years before leaving it in the care of tenants.  Soon it was described as poorly maintained and dismissed as "freakish".  Recently however interest in it has grown and, particularly since its careful restoration, the house has emerged as one of Griffin’s most emblematic residential buildings. 

• Decline of House.  Being disillusioned by political and bureaucratic interference in the development of Canberra, by the end of 1920 Griffin had cut all ties to his new national capital city, formed a property development company and applied most of his energy to developing his “ideal suburb” in Sydney.  He promoted the Castlecrag Estate to an upmarket clientele; a 1924 sales poster for the estate proclaims: “Best Investment in Residential Property in this Hemisphere” and “To Surpass Toorak” [14] .  Prices of building lots with good views of the harbour were £270 and above; those near the site of the Fishwick house were the most desirable with prices exceeding £450.  This sum was very large at the time, even for prime Sydney residential land.

 

The elaborate two-storey house Griffin designed for Fishwick was also very expensive.  It cost £3000 to build so that, with the usual fees and taxes, Fishwick outlaid well over £3500 for his stone mansion.  For this outlay, Griffin delivered a highly unusual, very modern house; it was radical in its design and, importantly, large enough to incorporate many examples of his creativity in the use of new materials and technologies.  But, if anything, these qualities soon proved to be detrimental to the house's value.
 

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The house's main fireplace soon after completion; it clearly was not drawing well.  Also, water stains were already visible on the ceiling.

 

With the onset of the Great Depression and the failure of Castlecrag to attract its targeted well-off buyers, the value of the house plummeted.  In 1931, just before Fishwick left Australia permanently and rented out the house, Willoughby Council valued it at £1500 - it had lost over half its value in just two years. [15]  By 1938, its valuation had dropped to £1350; its assessed value had declined over sixty percent during the decade.  Evaluating it for sale soon after World War II, a professional real estate valuer said in his formal report: 

“It is very evident that a very large amount of money was expended on the construction of this building, but I am of the opinion that its location, size, design and construction are not favourable [they are] so unorthodox as to be almost freakish.” [16] 

After Fishwick moved back to South Africa permanently in late 1932 the house was rented out and it progressively fell into poor condition.  Like that of the Griffins, its promise had sadly faded.


• Re-emergence of House.  When bought by the present owners in the mid-1970s the heritage value of the house was scarcely recognised.  This reflected the almost complete indifference to 20th century architecture amongst heritage bodies at the time as well as the wide-spread ignorance of the Griffins and their works.

However, even before its mid-1990s restoration and despite its run-down condition, the house had already begun to attract some attention from an emerging group of people, mostly architectural historians, who recognised its significance. [17]  For example, the Australian Walter Burley Griffin Society, which was formed in the late 1980s, soon afterwards published the first book specifically about the Castlecrag Estate which described it as “the most celebrated of Griffin’s Castlecrag houses”. [18] 

The major restoration of the house was completed by 1998.  Coincidentally, this was the same year that Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, Australia’s principal technology and design institution, launched “Beyond Architecture”, a very successful public exhibition on the Griffins with an excellent accompanying book.  A short documentary mostly filmed in the Fishwick house was also produced and played on a loop at the exhibition.  For details and to see a clip from the documentary, see the Books & Media section.

There were many concurrent activities in 1998; a major event was The Sydney Morning Herald’s promotion of Design Week, in which the city’s authoritative newspaper released a special publication with a double-page spread devoted solely to the house which featured many beautiful full-colour photographs.  At the same time there was an open day at the house, promoted by the paper, which generated the largest crowds ever to have toured it.  Also arising from this increased interest, a "virtual tour" of the house was produced as a prototype for the owners of the technology who asked to use it as their main promotional tool. [19]  These and other related events significantly raised awareness of the house and its qualities and created a turning point in its fortunes.  

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The Design Week special supplement to The Sydney Morning Herald generated large crowds of hopeful visitors. Many had to be turned away.


I
n many respects, Griffin's career had faltered during the 1920s.  How was it that he came to design a building which, some sixty years later, would attract so much attention?  A set of circumstances surrounded this commission, one of Griffin's most opportune, which allowed him to demonstrate his brilliance with confidence and flair.  For details open .pdf Griffin's Commission: Most Opportune.

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Experts’ Opinions

Personal value judgements on the qualities of the house by experts such as academics, architectural historians, practising professionals and writers on architecture and design are generally more informative than the formal evaluations of prominent heritage bodies.  This is because, rather than considering the house in isolation against a set of prescribed criteria, experts are able to make judgements in context, giving different weight to its various qualities and assessing it relative to other comparable buildings. 

Because the house has been described and discussed in so many books, journals, TV and radio documentaries and exhibitions, there has been a wide variety of interesting statements about its importance and place in the development of architecture, particularly in Australia.  To review a selection of these grouped by subject, open .pdf What Experts and Authorities Say.

As examples of experts' considered opinions, following are statements about the house by four of the most highly-respected Griffin authorities: the most acclaimed academic expert in America, his equivalent in Australia, the biographer and historian who wrote the definitive and award-winning biography on the Griffins, and the Australian Walter Burley Griffin Society which works to protect his legacy and has a particular interest in his Castlecrag houses. 

• Paul Kruty is Emeritus Professor of Architectural History in the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  He is the author or editor of six books on the Griffins and their works as well as many academic papers on their place in architecture, especially amongst their pioneering mid-west American colleagues in the early 20th century.  He is also a board member of the American Walter Burley Griffin Society and the editor of its journal.  In supporting the house’s listing by the Australian Heritage Commission Kruty stated:

"Because of its design qualities and prominence among the Griffin houses in Castlecrag, the Fishwick house has always had a high level of local significance. Following its restoration, in my opinion, it ranks among the most important Griffin buildings in both the United States and Australia.  As a well restored, outstanding example of his residential architecture, I believe it has significance at an international level.” [20]

• James Weirick is Professor of Landscape Architecture, Faculty of the Built Environment at the University of NSW, Director of the university’s Master of Urban Development and Design programme and past President of the Walter Burley Griffin Society of Australia.  He is a regular media commentator and presenter, especially on Canberra and Castlecrag.  He has spoken and written very favourably about the house on many occasions, considering it “Simply one of the best things he did” [21] and "the principal expression of [his] approach to domestic design". [22]  In a documentary on the Griffins produced for the Powerhouse Museum, Australia’s most prominent institution of technology and design, Weirick said:

“The houses in Castlecrag were very small except for the Fishwick house in The Citadel which was the only one which had a client with a substantial budget; [it] is a very, very significant house.” [23] 

• Alasdair McGregor is a qualified architect, author of several biographies on prominent Australian historical figures and accomplished artist and photographer.  (See some of his work in the Images of House section.)  In his recent biography on the Griffins, Grand Obsessions, which won the 2011 National Biography Award, he describes the house as:

“...by far the largest of all the Castlecrag residences, the only one to have been blessed with a substantial building budget...Set in sublime isolation - even by Castlecrag standards...Griffin sited it masterfully...In this house of inventiveness, the dining room even sported the fanciful touch of two overhead fish tanks.” [24]

• The Walter Burley Griffin Society was established in Australia in 1988 by a group of people aiming to promote a better understanding of the lives, ideals, vision and works of the Griffins and to protect his remaining buildings.  It brings together residents of the communities they created, as well as scholars, architects, urban planners and members of the general public who are interested in the Griffin legacy.  The society has an off-shoot in America, maintains an excellent website, publishes a regular journal and has hosted many specialist and public tours.  Its latest book, “Visionaries in Suburbia - Griffin Houses in the Sydney Landscape”, devotes ten pages to the house containing a detailed essay and many historic and contemporary photographs.  It states: 

“Following its careful restoration over many years, the Fishwick house has emerged as one of the most significant and celebrated early 20th century houses in Australia.  It stands apart from Griffin’s other houses in Castlecrag in the nature of its relationship to the surrounding landscape, through its size and complexity of design, and because of its many innovative technical and decorative features.” [25] 

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Heritage Significance

The Fishwick house is one of Australia’s most widely listed early 20th century buildings.  Every authoritative heritage body in the country has evaluated and favourably assessed its significance, including the relevant organs of the federal, state and local governments.  It is one of only six houses from the first half of the century to be both on the Register of the National Estate and listed by the NSW Heritage Council.   

National level. As part of the evaluation process for possible listing on its Register of the National Estate, in 2002/2003 the Australian Heritage Commission undertook a thorough assessment of the value of the house.  Its lengthy formal report explored many different aspects of its significance, considering such elements as its historical, social, aesthetic and scarcity values.  In releasing its positive report, the relevant cabinet minister of the Australian governmentat that time said of the house:

“The Fishwick house is an inspirational creation and one worth keeping for the generations ahead.” [26]

State level.  Soon afterwards, a similar investigative process was undertaken by the NSW Heritage Office as it considered listing the house on the State Heritage Register.  Its formal report also stressed the importance of the house in the development of modern architecture in Australia:

“The Fishwick house is aesthetically significant... as its form, massing and architectural and decorative detail demonstrate the distinctive style developed by Griffin and [it is] an excellent example of innovative architecture developed during the inter-war period.” [27]

The state body's highly detailed assessment document has recently become most important because it, rather than its national counterpart, now has the prime responsibility for the heritage protection of the house.  For extracts from this, open .pdf State Heritage Register Report.

Local level.  The house, as part of Griffin’s Castlecrag Estate,  is also formally heritage-protected at Australia’s third level of government through the Willoughby City Council.  This local authority devotes considerable organisational and financial resources to protect and promote heritage items within its provenance.  In 2000 an illustrated panel on the restoration was mounted in council's chambers; the house subsequently won its Heritage Restoration Award. 

 

4f2

Members of all the major heritage organisations and architecture and design bodies, as well as specialised academic and professional architectural groups, have visited the house - some many times.

 

4f1The house won Willoughby City Council’s Heritage Restoration Award.


Non-governmental.
 The significance of the house has also been recognised by its listing with the major non-governmental heritage and architectural bodies.  Their interest has been demonstrated by the many tours of the house and its garden which have been organised for the members of such organisations as the Historic Houses Trust, the National Trust, the Australian Institute of Architects (previously designated  "Royal"), the Australian Association of Architects, the Art Deco Society, the Australian Garden History Society and the Walter Burley Griffin Society.

These heritage, historical, architectural and design bodies all value the house not only for its historical association with Griffin but also for its own qualities.  Its modern history and the cohesiveness of its presentation have also been important.  The virtually unaltered state of the house, its thorough restoration, its re-established native gardens and the well-protected curtilage have been acclaimed as providing a rare and most valuable opportunity for appreciating Griffin’s work as he intended it to be: a unique house created for its setting and so well integrated into landscape that the building, its grounds and the Griffin-designed reserves and pathways have become a seamless whole. 

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Footnotes in this Section

1. Building for Nature Walker et al 1994. p62

2. 20th Century World Architecture 2012. p33

3. Building Australia 2013. Documentary

4. Handbook of Art Hopwood & Fry 2009. p66

5. Private Sydney Reed Burns 2000. pp74-85. Australian Gardens for a Changing Landscape Reed Burns 2008. pp48-53. Garden Voices Latrielle 2013. pp58-69. 100 Amazing Sydney Homes 2003. Magazine article Sydney Morning Herald

6. Walter Burley Griffin - A Re-View Weirick 1988. p11

7. Walter Burley Griffin Birrell 1964. From Robin Boyd's Forward 

8. Architecture in Australia: a history Freeland 1968. p247

9. Australian Architecture 1901-51: Sources of Modernism Johnson 1980. pp35, 131

10. AIA website.  Architecture > Notable Buildings > Walter Burley Griffin Housing Precinct.

11. The Architecture of Eastern Australia McMahon 2001. p50

12. Handbook of Art Hopwood & Fry 2009. p266

13. Building Australia 2013 Foxtel Part 5.

14. Extracted from GSDA promotional flyer headed “Before deciding be sure to see the finest harbour views offering in Sydney” 1924

15. Information on the Improved Capital Valuations of the house were extracted from Willoughby City Council records and rate notices for Lot 331. DP14804. 15 The Citadel, Castlecrag.

16. Extract from NSW Co-operative Building Society Ltd. Letter to S. Rawson Deans. 29th May, 1945. Courtesy Deans family.

17. No attempt had been made to review the Griffins’ lives and works until the publication of books by architectural historians James Birrell (1964) and Donald Leslie Johnson (1977). In the early 1980s Australia’s Consul-General in Chicago and the heads of architecture at the Universities of Illinois and Melbourne conceived of setting up the Griffin Exchange Programme to promote research on them.  In the early 1990s the Programme initiated the exhibition: Building for Nature which toured Australia in 1992. International symposia followed in Urbana in 1997 and 1998. Comprehensive catalogues of their complete works in America, Australia and India were also published (Walter Burley Griffin in America Maldre & Kruty 1995 Univ. of Illinois Press and The Griffins in Australia and India Turnbull & Navretti 1998  Melbourne Univ. Press).

18. Building for Nature Walker et al 1994. p62

19. The company pioneering "Virtual Tour" technology, IPIX, used the house to make a demonstration programme for marketing purposes. This was successfully done but, due to rapid advances in technology, this soon became obsolete and the "thank-you" software became inoperative. 

20. Australian Heritage Office 2002. Testimonial by Emeritus Professor Paul Kruty

21. Eight Great Houses Allenby 2002. p30

22. Walter Burley Griffin: a Re-View Weirick 1988 p11

23. James Weirick interviewed in film documentary “Castlecrag” produced as part of the Powerhouse Museum’s exhibition Beyond Architecture which ran from July 1998 to May 1999.

24. Grand Obsessions McGregor 2009, pp419-420

25. Visionaries in Suburbia Watson ed. 2015 p94

26. Press release from Dr David Kemp, then the minister responsible for the federal Department of Environment & Heritage 2002

27. New South Wales Heritage Report December 2006 

28. Following a recent re-alignment of governmental environmental and heritage activities, the primary responsibility for the protection of the house has swung from federal to state level.  The assessments carried out for both heritage bodies are similar in scope and conclusions.

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