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Experiments in Modern Living

Experiments in Modern Living: Scientists' Houses in Canberra 1950-1970

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Experiments in Modern Living
    Book Description:

    When a group of brilliant young scientists arrived in Australia's national capital after World War II to take up leading roles in the establishment of national research institutions, they commissioned Australia's leading architects to design their private houses. The houses that resulted from these unique collaborations rejected previous architectural styles and wholeheartedly embraced modernist ideologies and aesthetics. The story of how these progressive clients contributed to the innovative design of their houses brings fresh insights to mid-twentieth-century Australian domestic architecture and to Canberra's rich cultural history.

    eISBN: 978-1-921862-70-0
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction: Domestic Voyeurism
    (pp. 1-6)

    In 2003 I started looking for a house in Canberra. This was not a detective search for a missing house by Robin Boyd, Harry Seidler or Roy Grounds—an attempt to uncover a long lost masterpiece and reveal it to the world. It was a much more prosaic investigation. I was trying to find a house for my family to live in. Like all those looking to buy a house in Australia’s capital city, I faithfully scanned the real estate section of The Canberra Times each Saturday morning and prepared a list of houses to visit. Over the next two...

  7. 1. Age of the Masters: Establishing a scientific and intellectual community in Canberra, 1946–1968
    (pp. 7-42)

    One evening in April 1946, Australian Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, in London for the first postwar Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference, booked a large table for dinner at The Savoy Hotel in The Strand. Also dining with him that night was a thirty-six-year-old economist and planner, Herbert Cole (‘Nugget’) Coombs,³ whom he had appointed Director-General of the Commonwealth Department of Post-War Reconstruction, Dr Herbert Vere (‘Doc’) Evatt, the Minister for External Affairs, and other members of the official party. The Savoy, one of London’s most distinguished and elegant hotels, was upgrading its menu now that rationing was over, and under the...

  8. 2. Paradigm Shift: Boyd and the Fenner House
    (pp. 43-76)

    Designed for the ANU Professor of Microbiology, Frank Fenner—‘the most highly decorated and awarded Australian scientist of the 20th and 21st century’¹—his wife, Bobbie, and their two children, the ‘binuclear’-planned Fenner House was Boyd’s first commission in Canberra, and the second house that he designed for these clients.² The first design was for a site in Hotham Crescent, Deakin, but it proved to be too expensive and was abandoned. The second design—for a much larger site that the Fenners acquired on the corner of Monaro Crescent and Torres Street, Red Hill—was built during 1953 and 1954...

  9. 3. Promoting the New Paradigm: Seidler and the Zwar House
    (pp. 77-100)

    Throughout the history of architecture there have been many pamphleteers, publicists and polemicists who have helped to shift public perceptions of existing doctrines, and to promote the advantages of new ways of thinking. Robin Boyd was one such individual within Australian modernist discourse. Another was Harry Seidler, whose campaign in the early 1950s to introduce modernist ideas gained much publicity. ‘High Priest of the Twentieth Century’, ‘Modern Master: How Harry Seidler Changed the Way We Live’, and ‘Harry Seidler Preached the Gospel of Modern Architecture to His Adopted Country’ were just a few of the headlines he received.¹

    Seidler’s campaign...

  10. 4. Form Follows Formula: Grounds, Boyd and the Philip House
    (pp. 101-130)

    John Philip was brought to Canberra as part of Frankel’s ambitious postwar recruitment program, and was appointed head of a new agricultural physics group at the CSIRO. Regarded as Australia’s leading environmental physicist, he was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1967. His wife, Frances (‘Fay’), was an accomplished artist who was related to the Boyds via the Mills and à Becketts, and had attended the Murrumbeena State School in Victoria with Mary and Arthur Boyd. Many of Frances’s portraits of Australia’s leading scientists and academics—including Sir Mark Oliphant, Doug Waterhouse, John Jaeger, William Rogers,...

  11. 5. Where Science Meets Art: Bischoff and the Gascoigne House
    (pp. 131-160)

    Sidney (‘Ben’) Gascoigne chuckled and leaned across the dining table, placing his hand near a small groove on one edge of its otherwise pristine surface.

    Do you see that saw-cut there? Rosalie made that! She used to put bits of wood on the table and saw them, you see. And when I came home one day and she showed it to me, I said, ‘Well, we’re not going to fill that, not for anybody—this was made by Rosalie Gascoigne!’

    It was late November 2007, and I was interviewing Ben in the dining room at 3 Anstey Street, Pearce—a...

  12. 6. The Origins of Form: Grounds, Bischoff and the Frankel House
    (pp. 161-188)

    The Frankel House, at 4 Cobby Street, Campbell, was designed by Grounds in 1969 and realised by the same team that produced the Gascoigne House: Bischoff, who worked closely with the Frankels to develop the design and prepare contract documents from late 1969 to early 1970, and Roetzer, who constructed the house during 1971 and 1972. This was the third architect-designed house commissioned by the Frankels, and the second in Canberra. The first house, in Christchurch, New Zealand, was designed by Ernst Plischke, while the second, designed by Oscar Bayne, was adjacent to the CSIRO at 40 Nicholson Crescent, Acton....

  13. Afterword: Before and After Science
    (pp. 189-194)

    The processes of design and construction for these houses were grounded as much in the subjectivity of art and creativity as they were in the objectivity of any ‘pure’ scientific rationality. All of the clients’ requests regarding technical and functional aspects were faithfully incorporated into the finished designs. But these requirements did not, in themselves, generate the design of any of the houses; they were simply added to the mix. Each house was based, primarily, on an architectural concept that originated from a variety of sources—overseas examples, a contemporary reworking of traditional designs or the geometry of a road....

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-206)
  15. Index
    (pp. 207-214)