In 1913 Walter Burley Griffin, a young architect from Chicago was the winner of a design competition for the new capital city of Australia. His wife, Marion Mahony did many of the design drawings for the project. She was the first woman in America to become a licensed architect. They made a remarkable team.
On his first visit to Australia, at the site for the future capital city, Canberra, Walter Burley Griffin told the Melbourne Press,
”I think this is a grand site for a city. Of course I’m pretty familiar with the layout of the land, but drawings and photos can give you no real idea of the contour of the country and its charms
The morning and the evening lights at Canberra are wonderful.
The shadows of the clouds and mists as they cross the mountains are very beautiful indeed.
Walter and Marion believed that good planning and architecture could improve the quality of life of the people living in a city.
With their vision, Canberra is designed to have several town centres, with corridors of greenery and bush in between, and several small lakes…
Rodney Moss, former Professor of Architecture at the University of Canberra and Director of Cox Architecture says,
”Canberra is a city designed within a landscape setting..”
It is possible to go rowing before work..
or keep an eye out for the sleeping cockatoos as you drive to work…
or walk along the backtracks behind our suburbs..
The corridors of bush means that wild birds and kangaroos live in a companionable way around us….
Magpies are part of the family…(sometimes not in spring, but that is another story)
These parrots visit our cabin in the garden for some unfrozen water in winter …
In summer our fruit trees are given over to the birds
They are worth it!
Early on a hot summer’s morning the sun shines through the gum (eucalypt) trees…
..as Walter remarked……it really is all about the light.
Once Walter Burley Griffin had seen the site he said he was reminded of a great American artist, George Innes..
he said every one of his paintings reminded him of Canberra.
Thanks to the magic of the internet, I’ve looked up some of his paintings, and I agree, the light in many of George Innes’s paintings is very similar to the light in Canberra.
Walter never did see his design completed, and he died unexpectedly while working in the north eastern Indian city of Lucknow. Fortunately Marion was at his side when he died, and she did make the journey back to Canberra to see it as a fledging city. …but that is a much bigger story..
18 Replies to “A grand site for a city…”
What beautiful views you have! It looks like a paradise to me. The concept of a “planned” city seems a little unusual to me because I don’t think many U.S. cities were planned. I believe most of them began as tiny settlements, established near a river, port or other significant land feature, and then slowly developed over time. But Canberra is a gorgeous example of a planned city.
Thanks Carol, yes, I guess there are few cities in the world that are planned right from the start. Sydney started as a river port, just as you described many US cities. We are lucky that the plan was one for the people, I have seen some of the other plans entered for the competition and they were not as people friendly.
You live in a very remarkable place. I wish some of our American cities had received this type of planning so we could be enjoying those benefits today. Your photos are all lovely, but I have to say the color and beauty of those parrots just make me smile. 🙂
Thanks Judy, yes it nice to have the benefits of a planned city. Years ago Canberra was considered a bit boring…now the population is bigger, and other cities are so crowded, people have started to realise the benefits of Canberra. Glad you liked the parrots, we get a lot of joy from the birdlife.
Looks like such a beautiful city, Gerrie. So much beautiful wildlife there too. Gorgeous sunset, and I love your last photo of the gum trees glowing in the sun. 🙂
Thanks Sylvia, yes those trees looked lovely that morning, it is always good to be up early on hot days. Parts of the bush are very like Africa, so for my relatives, it is like coming home.
is the Eucalyptus a fire hazard?
Do you not have so many fires in Canberra?
It does look green and lush.
Eucalypts have evolved to cope with the Australian climate, but yes, some can be a fire hazard…they can regenerate after fire. Yes, we had a large scale bushfire in Canberra in 2003, with winds coming from many different directions. There is a much more organised bushfire system in place now…and in some cases they now do ”burning off” parts of the bush.(which I remember from growing up in Zambia)
Our summers are usually hot and dry, but in the last few years we have had more rain in summer. Our annual rainfall is usually 600 mls and this year we have had double the monthly rainfall in January. No complaints!
That is an amazing vision so long ago to create such a plan for a city! It looks a fantastic place to live. It’s such a shame that Walter did not see his design completed and his ideas were not copied in so many other cities around the world too. Sarah
Yes, I agree, what vision! And what a shame more young cities were not planned in that way. He and his wife were way ahead of their time in realising people need space to live properly.
Very interesting. Makes me want to visit Canberra. So did the couple stay in Australia after working on Canberra?
You would be welcome! I often think there should be a link between Chicago and Canberra. The couple worked in Melbourne and Sydney, they designed an interesting complex in Sydney for community living.(I’ll try to do a post on that) They were also interested in Australian flora and fauna and included plantings into their designs. WAY ahead of their time!
Indeed, simply wonderful images. What an Adventure for Walter and Marion. So many great artists pass long before there time. Thanks for the homage…Diane
Thanks Diane, yes it is so true that artists often pass away before their time. What an interesting man he was…I’m off to read more!
I agree Canberra is a beautiful city and to have it as our capitol must make so many of the visiting leaders from other countries quite jealous. Thank you for introducing me to George Innes his paintings are beautiful and very reminiscent of Canberra.
Thanks Pauline…….Canberra is an easy place to live (having lived in Sydney before that)…and I’m glad you had a chance to look up George Innes’s paintings, the landscapes and light shades are similar. I hope the rain has stopped up your way…there is such a thing as too much rain!
You have sold me… looks like a lovely place to be living.
Thanks Roslyn, yes it is a lovely city, thanks to Walter Burley Griffin!