Walter Burley GRIFFIN, Swivelling desk chair Enlarge 1 /12
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Walter Burley GRIFFIN

Maywood, Illinois, United States of America 1876 – Lucknow, India 1937


  • Australia from 1913-1935, India 1935-37

born 1875


Swivelling desk chair 1917 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: furniture, chairs, Japanese oak, leatherette, iron, steel

Dimensions: 103.5 h x 58.5 w x 60.0 d cm ; weight 38 kg
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2009
Accession No: NGA 2009.594

The architect Walter Burley Griffin was born near Chicago in 1876. He graduated in architecture from the University of Illinois in 1899 and worked in the office of eminent Chicago architect Frank Lloyd Wright from 1901 to 1906 before establishing his own practice in Chicago. Stirred by the Federation movement in Australia, Griffin developed an interest in town planning, and he entered and won the 1912 competition for the design of the new federal capital city of Australia, Canberra. He relocated to Australia in 1914 to work on this project and later to run his own architectural practice in Melbourne and Sydney. He left Australia in 1935 to work in India, where he died in 1937.

This chair is part of the furniture from Griffin’s second largest project in Australia, the University of Melbourne’s Newman College, which he designed in 1915. The building’s character—an amalgam of meso-American and southern European Gothic styles—was expressed through strong, modern geometric detailing in stone and wood. It was reflected in the plain, angular suites of furniture designed by Griffin to provide a calm and integrated environment for research and study. Several firms produced this range of furniture for the project, using unadorned Japanese oak with minimal plain brown leather upholstery in the manner of American Arts and Crafts furniture of the period.

This swivelling and tilting office chair was produced by Melbourne church furniture specialists Fallshaw and Sons (established in 1875). The chair’s uncompromising form and functionality are rare qualities in Australian design of the period. Its flat planes and slanted design elements reveal a debt to Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1903 designs for office and library furniture, while its dynamic angles show similarities in approach to Czech Cubist furniture designs of 1912–14. In synthesising such diverse influences, Griffin produced a suite of furniture unique in Australian design.

Robert Bell
Senior Curator, Decorative Arts and Design
in artonview, issue 60, summer 2009

in artonview, issue 60, summer 2009