Object of the Month

Title: J. and J. Wearne and E. Finlay House, Castlecrag
Artist: Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937)
Nationality: American
Date: 1925
Medium: Architectural photo reproduction (blueprint)
Credit: Gift of Marion Mahony Griffin, 2009.6.86.

Known best for his role in designing Canberra, Australia’s capital city, Walter Burley Griffin was an innovative and influential Chicago-based architect during the early 20th century. After finishing his architectural studies at the University of Illinois in 1899, Griffin worked for several Chicago Prairie Style architects, most notably, Frank Lloyd Wright. A few years later, Griffin began working independently, and in 1911 he married Marion Mahony, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a fellow architect. Mahony also worked for Wright’s office, and it was there that the couple met and began a partnership that continued for the rest of their lives.

In 1911, the Griffins learned about an international competition held by the Australian government to design a new capital city. Though still on their honeymoon, the couple hurried to prepare and submit a plan; Walter created the design and Marion rendered it. Their proposal won the competition, earning Walter significant attention and a permanent spurning from his previous employer and friend Wright.

Following the success of the Canberra project, the Griffins continued to earn commissions in Australia which allowed them to set up additional practices in Melbourne and Sydney. The blueprint for the J. and J. Wearne and E. Finlay House is just one example of the several residences Walter designed in the suburb of Castlecrag. Walter focused on integrating the native bush land into the architecture by creating small houses with flat roofs and internal courtyards. This plan also displays his patented “Knitlock” design technique, amodular concrete construction system.  The Knitlock was widely influential. In fact, in later years Wright used a similar technique.

This blueprint is part of the Block’s exhibit Drawing the Future: Chicago Architecture on the International Stage 1900-1925.