Douglas Burrage Snelling (1916-1985) was one of Asia-Pacific's most significant interpreters of California modern design and architecture innovations from the 1930s to the 1970s – particularly luxury lifestyle themes popular in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs.
Inspired by a stream of apprentices from Frank Lloyd Wright – notably Richard Neutra, Harwell Hamilton Harris and Gordon Drake – he was briefly employed by Beverly Hills architect Douglas Honnold and received technical instructions from John Lautner on how to build the southern hemisphere's first 'infinity' (spill-edge) swimming pool.
Snelling was a forerunner (from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s) of the 'indigenous modern' (thatched hut-inspired) thrust in luxury Asia-Pacific resorts and residences. This movement peaked with Peter Muller and Kerry Hill's hotels in Bali and Amanresorts from the 1970s to the 1990s, and it included Sydney residences with tribal-style roofs in corrugated steel by Richard Leplastrier and Peter Stutchbury during the 1980s and 1990s.
Snelling can be regarded as 'the missing link' practising architecture and multi-disciplinary design in Sydney between the departure of Wright's former students Walter and Marion Griffin in 1935 and the 1950s career beginnings of a new generation of organic modernist architects and designers who later became known as 'The Sydney School'.
Snelling was one of the first and most talented Sydney architects to design and build houses in Wright-influenced styles after the Second World War. But he was not 'in the club' of younger, post-Wrightian practitioners who interpreted British 'new brutalism' (raw concrete), Scandinavian modernism and Australian 'nuts and berries' themes from the mid 1950s to the mid 1970s. He did not appreciate literary allusions to the 'bush spirit' of Australians; his sentiments aligned with the California-Polynesia tropical paradise lifestyle movement known as 'the tiki style'.
Snelling also seems to have been both Britain and New Zealand's most accomplished emigré architect/designers working in the south-west Pacific from the 1940s to the 1970s. Born in England and raised in NZ's lower North Island from 1924 to 1940, he was a popular writer, cartoonist and broadcaster on Hollywood movie culture during the late 1930s. After a six month working holiday sketching Hollywood movie stars in Los Angeles in 1937-38, he became a Wellington-based publicist for Warner Bros films, then moved to Sydney in 1940 and built Sydney's largest organic modernist houses of the 1950s and 1960s, a range of mid-priced modern furniture, shop fitouts, towers of home units and office buildings. Towards the end of his career in the early 1970s, he built two houses in Noumea and designed several 'thatched hut modern' schemes (unbuilt) for waterfront properties in Fiji and Vanuatu.
Snelling was the subject of a PhD thesis written by controversial Sydney author/design promoter Davina Jackson, enabled by a scholarship from RMIT University, Melbourne. Wrongly failed by two of the three external examiners (assessing it on post-modern theory rather than modernist history criteria and claiming the writing was sub-standard), the thesis now is with the Snelling archive in the State Library of New South Wales and has been published as a book, Douglas Snelling: Pan-Pacific Modern Design and Architecture (Routledge, 2017).
Douglas Snelling's biography (from the thesis) is here
Davina Jackson's site is here
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