Architect Walter Burley Griffin, formerly head of Frank LLoyd Wright’s Chicago office, introduced to Australia the humble bungalow.
Using an inexpensive block sytem that he invented, his ‘knitlock’ bungalows were deceptively sophisticated, spaces nesting and interweaving to make these small spaces something of wonder.
Though much-delayed by council procrastination due to the innnovative system, his house in Toorak, Melbourne, for Stanley Salter was an early example (plan above). Bearing Griffin's distinctive Knitlock concrete construction, this ground-breaking home was once described by Robin Boyd as “among the finest house designs of the century.”
Based on Griffin’s own 42m2 Tiny House, dubbed Pholotia (“the mushroom that sprang up overnight”)* – a series of nooks around a single central space with no doors, only curtains running beneath the organising central ceiling deck (see plan below) – a place his wife and collaborator Marion Mahoney called “the cheapest and most perfect house ever built” -- he expanded the concept to include a central organising ‘nature court,’ bringing nature right into the very centre of the house that, even in resolutely suburban Melbourne, was already well surrounded.
“The site is [or was] large and from the street slopes perhaps 3-4m up to the house, which is placed tightly, within 6m, of the rear property line,”explains Donald Johnson in his book on The Architecture of Walter Burley Griffin. “The living room, or lounge, being forward of the side dining and reception spaces … provided an imposing view from the sreet level. The total effect on approaching the house was of a dignity seldom achieved in a small single-storeyed house.”
The building's position at the rear of the block articulates Griffin's regard for the relationship between the building and the landscape, though unfortunately the extensive front garden area, once planted with native trees and featuring a curved drive lined with rocks, has been replaced by a second house on the site [which you can see from the existingt lounge, below].
Architect Geoff Crosby spent time at the house in its original state in his early teens, which had a huge effect on him.
The house was perched at the top of a steep block with the front living room pushing out, like the bow of a ship on a wave, over the deep front bush garden below. It was designed in 1923 out the Knitlock wall system Griffin had developed. The centre of the plan was a small garden courtyard that, at the time I knew it, was covered with fly wire and contained a jungle of plants very much as the original plan shows….
The Salter house does not have and internal courtyard as a ‘lifestyle’ element in the house. It is not a place to hang out in. It captures nature, or does it protect nature? Or display it, Is it like a giant display case? Or is like a lung for the house?
In photographs now, it is a gentrified space full of yukkas.
Mind you, that could make it the perfect intimate space for an early-evening martini.
* Not quite overnight, sadly. While construction itself was rapid, council again looked aghast at a system they couldn’t begin to understand. So instead of permitting the project as a house, Mahoney and Griffin instead sought permission simply to construct a “doll’s house,” which they did.