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The Griffins' Canberra: The Ambition and Reach of Chicago Progressive Architecture

David Van Zanten, Mary Jane Crowe Professor in Art and Art History, Northwestern University

In square miles (and there were many in this case), the largest production of Wright and his Studio before the First World War was the entire capital city of Australia, Canberra, won in competition and laid out by Wright's two former Studio assistants, Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin in 1912-1914.  

Their first task after Walter's being named Supervising Architect [of the Australian capital] was to manage a competition for the design of the new Parliament Building, which sent them around Europe in March, 1914, put them in contact with leading modernist designers, among them Otto Wagner, Tony Garnier and the Paris city architect Louis Bonnier.  Two 1914 exhibitions of their work in Europe resulted: one of their Canberra competition designs at the Exposition Internationale Urbaine in Lyon, the other of Marion's famous colored silk renderings of Walter's house designs at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. (The outbreak of the War prevented that exhibition going on to Vienna as had been planned.)

Far away Canberra has only recently come to be written into the history of Prairie architecture, but remains an important project folding Wright's innovations into Burnham's urbanistic theatrics. The lecture will explore this remarkable, exotic story.

David Van Zanten (Ph.D. 1970, Harvard) has contributed to the exhibition catalogues The Architecture of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (1975) and The Second Empire (1979-1980). His Designing Paris: The Architecture of Duban, Labrouste, Duc, and Vaudoyer won the 1988 Alice Davis Hitchcock Book Award from the Society of Architectural Historians. He extended this work in Building Paris: Architectural Institutions and the Transformation of the French Capital, 1830-1870 (Cambridge University Press, 1994). His book Sullivan's City: The Meaning of Ornament for Louis Sullivan was published by W. W. Norton in 2000. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2001-02 to study the development of Paris, London, Vienna and Hamburg. Recently he held appointments at the Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art (2006) at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (2008), both in Paris.  He helped mount the 2013 exhibition "Drawing the Future" pivoting on the Canberra project at the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University and edited and contributed to the catalog.

June 5, 2014

Thursday, June 5, 2014


12 noon


Gratz Center, 4th Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut St, Chicago, IL 60611


Free to members and volunteers; $10 general public