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forming the Greater Sydney Development Association

Walker, M. Kabos, A. Weireck, J. Building for Nature: Walter Burley Griffin and Castlecrag, 1994

excerpt one

The realisation of the Greater Sydney Development Association was in large measure due to support for the Griffins and their ideals. The shareholders were a diverse collection of people of influence and achievement. They included five Federal politicians Agar Wynn, M.P., Western District Glazier and former Postmaster General; Senator E. D. Millen; J. H. Catts M.R., an outspoken Labor politician; and King O'Malley, former Minister for Home Affairs at the time of the Canberra competition; Sir Elliot Johnson M.P., long serving Speaker of the House of Representatives; Griffin's friends from the Single Tax movement and followers of the American political economist Henry George, including, solicitor Basil Parkinson, and advertising executive Royden Powell, and also Sir Elliot Johnson; C. J. Cerutty, Auditor General of the Commonwealth; members of Melbourne's Chinese community (some of whom were clients and including Rev. Cheok Hong Cheong, a life long opponent of the White Australia Policy); Melbourne clients including A. J. J. Lucas, proprietor of the Cafe Australia and co developer of the Capitol Theatre; H A. Wills, partner in the Wills and Paton, Edison shop; real estate agent W. A Towler; and various businessmen – including the theatrical producer Julius Grant; colleagues involved with Griffin's patented concrete block system, knitlock – David Jenkins who helped develop the system, and Malcolm Moore, the engineer who designed the machines – and architectural colleagues, George Thomas and Frederick Biggs, and Griffin's brother in law, Roy Lippincott.s.

Walter Burley Griffin was appointed Managing Director, with the right to hold one tenth of the shares, each with ten times the right of the ordinary shares. 'With an investment of three thousand pounds, Griffin could thus outvote all other shareholders combined.'

The prospectus outlined the company's ambitious plans for the Middle Harbour property as a whole, including Mowbray Point, the Sugarloaf and Little Sugarloaf promontories, Middle Harbour, as high class residential suburbs conserving to their maximum their natural beauty with adequate access to the waterfronts for the public; the provision of swimming baths and boating and sailing facilities; the establishment of the reserves for recreation purposes including riding, golf, cricket, tennis, bowls, and other exercises; and the construction of buildings and all other improvements aesthetically in keeping with the surroundings, so far as possible of the native rock and subordinate to the natural beauty of the land.

The GSDA prospectus set out Griffin's intention to safeguard the development through a series of protective covenants which would control all land uses and all construction. It also made clear that the land will have to be opened gradually in sections as the demand requires and that complete development of the project will proceed over a considerable number of years'. This approach was by then a common practice in New South Wales.

Shareholders were offered a free block of land, if they built a house. Five shareholders accepted the offer and commissioned Griffin (and the GSDA) to design and build houses for the estate – probably as investments, as they never occupied them. These were the demonstration houses under construction in the first years of the estate, 1921—22.

Walter Burley Griffin designed the road and allotment pattern of the Castlecrag Estate by walking all over the terrain, providing markers for the surveyor to follow. Mr Edward Haughton, estate agent and valuer, a colleague, and near neighbour of the Griffins from Eaglemont, Melbourne, provided advice. He had worked on Eaglemont estate in which the principles of creating and retaining views, and providing an open space network, had also been applied, and the Griffin office had prepared promotional drawings for him. Mr Haughton made several trips to Sydney, on one occasion accompanied by his ten-year-old son, Alan, and who many years later recalled how difficult it was to reach the Castlecrag Estate. They stayed at Penny's Hotel, next to St Phillips Church, Sydney, travelling to the site by ferry to Milsons Point, up the escalator to the tram, then to Northbridge, and from there on foot.

excerpt two

Castlecrag was explained and promoted in every manner possible: Walter Burley Griffin wrote numerous articles for architectural and trade journals, and both Walter and Marion frequently gave lectures, illustrated by lantern slides. The GSDA had large advertisements in the newspapers and prepared two substantial brochures: Castlecrag Album (1925) and Castlecrag Homes (1928) – each with numerous plans and photos of the development and its houses, including interiors, and views of the reserves and Middle Harbour; and journalists wrote articles – mostly eulogistic. The GSDA also produced a silent movie called 'Beautiful Middle Harbour' for showing in local cinemas. The Castlecrag Estate became very well known. Many people visited the estate, a popular route being via a ferry or boat from The Spit.

Griffin's journal articles covered a wide range of subjects – from broad landscape planning to the design of furnishings. He focused on the principles that applied to design, often presenting his ideas with a historical perspective, explaining the thinking that preceded the present 'enlightened times', referring to other people and places and times from whom current practice could benefit. Each article was written anew; sometimes reworking earlier ideas into a new theme, occasionally re-using choice paragraphs. Most of the magazine articles were illustrated, using photographs from the Griffins' work in Australia and the United States. The ideas about the benefits of planning were common to many planners and architects, as was the affinity to architect Louis Sullivan's dictum 'form follows function', often quoted by Griffin.

Griffin's language is unusual to the modern ear, and sometimes hard to read, but his idealism always shines through. Nowadays, writers as prolific as Griffin would be encouraged to present their ideas in a book; but Griffin had more faith in improving the standard of development by examples, than by writing: 'preparedness for meeting the new community problems can no more grow out of general and erudite consideration than could sculpture arise out of literary critiques. It must arise out of experiments and progressive accomplishments in the art itself and their demonstrated effectiveness – greater or less – and their mistakes. Criticism can no better anticipate Creation than multiplicity of counsel can affect it. I take as accepted in the modern educational system that we learn to do by doing. Advance, is consequently, to be expected only when the greatest freedom and scope to individual initiative are offered.

The ideas in the following extract were put into practice in the Castlecrag Estate and the adjoining Haven Estate where, more than anywhere else, Griffin was his own client.

Castlecrag homes

Scenic marine suburbs of Middle Harbour

The thoroughfares are carved out of bed-rock and are finished in bituminous concrete or rolled blue stone asphalt, with ample width for pedestrians and vehicles, with every now and again a circular terminal way to serve as a halting place or turning point. So cleverly inlaid are the roads that when seen from above they have almost merged into the foliage through which they pass.

In order to provide short cuts embowered lanes intersect the main highways, thus facilitating movement from crest to waterfront.

As the services and utilities of all the homes are supplied from the rear of each, the roads are not disfigured by poles and wires nor is the splendid road surface continually dug up to provide conveniences for new homes.

Ample public reserves have been made through Castlecrag and Covecrag, apart from the innumerable small parks and playgrounds intended for the benefit of the houses immediately abutting. In keeping with the idea of a Castle (Castlecrag) the roads and public reserves on that promontory have been given appropriate names – such as Sortie Port and the Battlement in the cases of highways, and the Turret and Keep in the case of reserves.

Other names suggest attractions peculiar to the area. In the Gargoyle Reserve a rushing waterfall spouts out suddenly as it does in those old time fountains in which the mouth of a weird head serves as outlet. Half a mile of creek frontage gives its tide to the Watergate and a rocker lookout characterises the Oriel. The Embrasure is surmounted by an overhanging ledge and forms a sheltered fern "lodge" with a parquet playground, a waterfall and forest Cool and restful, the Retreat is the bed of a sylvan valley.

Other reserves are distinguished by playgrounds, lookouts, pulpit rocks, grottos, cascades and glades.

All the recreation reserves form a single system and are connected throughout by a network of pathways, passes and shaded lanes. They are designed to perpetuate the delightful rambles which were a feature of Castlecrag before its development. An incalculable asset has been the segregation of four miles of water frontage common reserve to all the lot holders.

*GSDA promotional brochure 'Castlecrag Homes – Scenic Marine suburbs of Middle Harbour' 1928 pp.10-11. The Griffin office produced letterheads and title blocks for the development of Castlecrag. They were used first in the GSDA material then for articles and advertising.

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