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reading the past in the Walter Burley Griffin Incinerator and Fishwick House

Roy Lumby, Chairman of the Twentieth Century Heritage Society of NSW for the Teaching Heritage website


  • The building is evidence of the movement during the 1920s and 1930s by local government of using incineration as a means of garbage disposal in the face of the shortage of suitable land for rubbish tips within their municipal boundaries and major public concerns about health.
  • The incinerator was built for Willoughby Council by the Reverberatory Incinerator & Engineering Co., which possibly installed the majority of municipal incinerators across Australia. Its location on the hillside reflects the gravity feed principle and drying out of garbage before burning that the incinerators worked off.
  • The design of the building, as with many of the other incinerators that Griffin designed, is an expression of the movement of the garbage from its arrival at the top of the site, its destruction moving through the building, and the removal of useable clinkers resulting from the incinerated garbage at the bottom. The Willoughby Incinerator, with its series of roofs, was different to many of the others, which had continuous roofs.
  • The close proximity to residential areas is testament to the reverberatory process of garbage destruction, which dramatically reduced ash and fallout. This possibly also influenced the design of the building in that it had to be pleasant to look at and not "industrial".
  • The external detailing reflects Walter Burley Griffin's belief in the aesthetic potential of industrial buildings. This is seen in the decoration and in the use of materials to relate it to its site.
  • The building is made lively by the contrast of the stone walls and the hard geometries of the cement render and embellishments, and is representative of the Griffins' distinctive aesthetic philosophies. The stone may have actually been quarried on or near the site, thus tying it closer to the place.
  • The large expanses of metal framed glazing indicate that the building no longer functions as an incinerator, and is now being used for purposes that require natural lighting and ventilation. This is evidence also of the way in which the disposal of garbage in municipalities has changed since the building was constructed.

Fishwick House

  • The Fyshwick House was occupied by Nisson Leonard Kanevsky, who commissioned Griffin to design the incinerators, between 1931 and 1940. Much of the stone used in the house came from the site. It reflects Griffin’s conception of houses, as the houses at Castlecrag, being subordinate to the landscape, indeed becoming part of the landscape. This was achieved by the use of stone and flat roofs, the relationship of the outdoors and indoors, and exploitation of views across the landscape.
  • Griffin and his wife Marion Mahoney both worked in the office of Frank Lloyd Wright. Griffin's work is a striking example of the way that aspects of an important modern architectural philosophy and its aesthetics - that of Chicago's "Prairie School" - came to Australia.

Reproduced with permission of The Twentieth Century Heritage Society of NSW.

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