The Dream of a Century: the Griffins in Australia’s Capital


Many hands have shaped Australia’s national capital. None, however, are more important than the contributions made by Canberra’s original designers, Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. First learning of Australia’s Federation whilst in secondary school, Walter divined the need for a new national capital and resolved to build it. As anticipated, his opportunity to do so came in 1911. That year, in collaboration with his new wife and professional partner Marion, he prepared a submission to the international competition to design Australia’s federal capital. The couple’s victory the next year took them from their native Chicago to Australia in 1914 to orchestrate Canberra’s realisation; he would remain here until 1935, she to 1938.

This extraordinary exhibition will focus largely upon the Griffins design enterprise in Australia and will also showcase materials drawn from the office records of the couple’s practice in the United States of America, Australia and India. In 2006 the Library acquired a vast collection from the descendants of the Griffins’ Australian partner Eric Milton Nicholls. This collection includes drawings, photographs, striking silk paintings and other ephemera – most of which has never been publicly displayed. The exhibition will also feature furniture and other objects designed by the couple.  

The Dream of a Century: The Griffins in Australia’s National Capital will offer the Australian public an unprecedented opportunity to immerse themselves in the American couple’s vision for an Antipodean arcadia –one no less compelling over a century later.

Curated by Christopher Vernon, University of Western Australia.