Walter Burley Griffin | No. 29

Walter Burley Griffin
Illustration: Tiffanie Brown

Entrant No. 29 Walter Burley Griffin (1876–1937) graduated from the University of Illinois as an architect and land planner in 1899. He worked in Frank Lloyd Wright's Oak Park studio from 1901 to 1906, where he met fellow architect Marion Mahony. In 1911 Marion and Walter established a joint architectural practice and were married.

In the same year Griffin entered the Federal Capital City Design Competition, and was awarded first place in May 1912. The extent to which Marion and Walter collaborated on the design of Canberra is unclear. Certainly, Marion beautifully created the drawings realising Walter's vision for the capital.

Griffin's winning design for Australia's national capital reveals his attention to the topographical and symbolic elements of place. The symbolic importance of landforms is evident in his plan for the national capital, and he later proposed a colourful planting scheme for Mount Ainslie, Black Mountain and Red Hill.

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    Plan of City Central District
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    Plan of City and Evirons
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    Sections through City: Axis – AB
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    Sections through City: Axis – BA
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    Sections through City: Axis – CD
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    View from Summit of Mount Ainslie

Until 2012, the written reports of the Federal Capital City Design Competition finalists were known only as typewritten transcripts from the originals. One hundred years later the National Archives acquired the recently discovered original of the Griffin report accompanying his competition entry.

Preserving the past in a blog

Significant preservation work has been carried out by National Archives staff to stabilise and preserve the fragile and exquisite artworks on display in Design 29: creating a capital.

In 2011 the recently unearthed key to View from Summit of Mount Ainslie by Marion Mahony Griffin was transferred to the Archives.

Preservation staff at the Archives carried out significant conservation work on this fragile drawing. Testing confirmed the image as a ferrogallic print, a process developed in 1860 to create prints without the intermediate step of making a negative. The predicted life span of a ferrogallic print is 30 years. This item is now more than 100 years old and very fragile. The drawing also contains red ink annotations, which micro-fading tests have confirmed as very reactive to light.

The drawing went through a number of preservation processes, including surface cleaning, tape removal and repairing tears. It was then stored flat, horizontal, away from light and in cold storage (10 degrees Celsius).

Preservation staff have created a detailed blog of the conservation work. Further information about the preservation of this key can be found on the iPad application available at the Design 29: creating a capital exhibition.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019