Map of Sydney and Inhabitants 1948, by Roderick Shaw for Grahame Book Co (SLNSW).

Post-war and post-depression optimism abounded in Sydney in 1948—the year that Douglas and his first wife Nancy returned from his second working visit to Los Angeles. Illustrator Roderick Shaw perfectly expressed the mood of that year with his Map of Sydney and Inhabitants 1948, a birds eye cartoon perspective of the sun-kissed harbour city looking east. Published by the Grahame Book Company as part of a guide for tourists, it included a legend listing places of interest and enjoyment, including the top restaurants and nightclubs which the Snellings regularly visited.

Roderick Shaw's 1948 Sydney map legend, including amusements, SLNSW.


In 1952, Douglas Snelling passed his final exams at Sydney University and was registered to practice as an architect—while Melbourne University appointed a younger, also-precocious, architect-critic, Robin Boyd, to begin editing a national modern building newsletter named Cross-Section.

They collaborated.

Boyd promoted Cross-Section as 'a private communication to architects and master builders'. Every month, he produced two to three pages of extremely economical typewriting with 10-15 mono thumbnail photos and drawings of new buildings and sketch concepts that he thought were best advancing post-depression modernism around the nation. His pithy and internationally researched opinions were supported by questing architects alerting him to notable local project in all States.

Clearly Boyd saw Snelling as one of Australia's most talented and progressive modernists of the early 1950s—or he would not have asked him to contribute images and information to his first edition of Cross-Section. Here is a summary of the items he wrote to highlight Snelling's key projects during his editing of Cross-Section from 1952 to 1955.

November 1952 (Issue 1), an illustrated item on Snelling's Point Piper Flat.

Remodelling an unprepossessing semi-basement garage at Pt Piper (Syd) as a flat for an absentee client (a student in USA), Mr Douglas Snelling (arch) darkened the old r-c ceiling above a cage of maple joists, used an open shelf unit to divide living, dining.

Point Piper Flat picture in Cross-Section, November 1952.

March 1953 (Issue 5), an item on Snelling's Hartford Fire Insurance building, illustrated with an unusually generous three photographs.

This old building in Margaret-st has become one of Sydney's smartest offices, housing the Hartford Insurance Co and U S Information Centre, after a thorough, thoughtful & urbane rebuilding job by Mr Douglas Snelling arch't. Work started Sept. '51, was restricted by controls which have since been lifted. It has a washable face, brilliant interior colouring, profuse footpath planting. Cost: about £150,000. (MacDonald Const'ns). Everywhere costs are forcing more people to remodel rather than build, but few are as successful as Hartford.

Hartford Fire Insurance in Cross-Section, February 1953.

February 1954 (Issue 16), an illustrated item on a house concept for a site in Bellevue Hill. The published image was wrongly flipped, but (when correctly viewed) matched his scheme for the Kelly House 1.

A NSW house of no less than 80 squares beginning at Bellevue Hill, with internal court, staff quarters, entrance under a hanging master bedr'm. (Douglas B. Snelling, arch't).

Kelly House 1 sketch in Cross-Section, February 1954.

January 1955 (Issue 27, multilingual edition for international distribution), illustration of Snelling's Hay House with Seidler's house for his brother Marcus; showing two Sydney exemplars of the aesthetics battle between organic modernism and the international style.

Snelling's Hay house and Harry Seidler's house for his brother Marcus, Cross-Section, January 1955.

Robin Boyd finished editing Cross-Section in the first half of 1955, and was replaced by David Saunders, who served until the early 1960s. Saunders also highlighted several projects by Snelling during 1955 and 1956.

Armco Steel factory in Cross-Section, August 1955.
Liddle and Epstein office sketch in Cross-Section, August 1955.
Keith Smith House drawings in Cross-Section, March 1956.

Why clarify this journalism on Snelling's early architecture by Robin Boyd and David Saunders?

Because these Cross-Section clips provide indisputable evidence that most current and recent Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane architectural history academics—leaders of the Society of Architectural Historians of Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ) who admire Boyd and Saunders—did not properly assess their heroes' journalism on 1940s and 1950s Australian architecture before they dismissed Snelling, during the 2000s, as being 'unworthy' of doctoral research.

Today's stalwarts of SAHANZ still rely on scantily researched perceptions of 1940s and 1950s architecture, as published by Milo Dunphy (1960s), Jennifer Taylor (1970s, 1980s), and Desley Luscombe and Stanislaus Fung (1990s). Continuing admiration for Taylor's writings—which she acknowledged were not based on researching original reports in libraries—is especially evident from the new book Sydney School: Formative Moments in Architecture, Design and Planning at Sydney University, an anthology of essays edited by Lee Stickells and Andrew Leach.


Britain's Twentieth Century Society has hosted a lecture on Douglas Snelling's career to allow its members to assess suggestions by his biographer, Dr Davina Jackson, that he was one of England's internationally significant emigré modernists. Co-hosted by the elite estate agency Modern House, Jackson's lecture was held on 9 October 2017 in the glamorous Fitzrovia event space of architects Fieldon Clegg Bradley Studios (led by Geoff Rich), and was attended by more than 50 modernism connoisseurs.

Jackson showed 60 images of Snelling's furniture, interiors, buildings, landscapes and island resort schemes, and explained his birth in Kent, childhood in New Zealand, working visits to Los Angeles, successful career as a designer and architect in Sydney, late-career South Pacific projects, and his retirement in Honolulu.

Her talk was introduced by the C20 Society's vice-president, Dr Timothy Brittain-Catlin, and Modern House marketing executive Emma Mansell.

Dr Brittain-Catlin, who writes on British architecture and design for The Architectural Review, Building Design, World of Interiors and other newspapers and magazines, described Snelling as an 'interesting new figure' with potential to help historians understand key differences between mid-century British modernism and the more glamorous styles that prevailed in America and Australasia between the 1930s and the 1970s. While the English buildings of expatriate Australian architect, designer and illustrator Raymond McGrath were well-known and widely praised by British historians, the Australian achievements of English emigré Snelling were still not understood in his birth country. Dr Brittain-Catlin also congratulated Dr Jackson on her new PhD (which he supervised at the University of Kent School of Architecture); recognising her recent book on Snelling and other publications on South Pacific modern architecture and design.

One of Britain's leading scholars of California modernism, Professor Neil Jackson (University of Liverpool in London and current president of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain) noted after the lecture that Snelling's character and career reminded him of Craig Ellwood, the flamboyant, self-invented, California builder and architect who was best known for designing several steel and glass houses in the Arts and Architecture Case Study program. Jackson (not related to Snelling's biographer) wrote the 2002 monograph on Ellwood: differently published as Craig Ellwood (by Lawrence King Publishing in London) and California Modern: The Architecture of Craig Ellwood (by Princeton Architectural Press in New York). He also compared some of Snelling's early houses to late-1940s residences designed by another Los Angeles architect, Gordon Drake.  These comparisons have been mentioned in other posts on this website: see Ellwood re Snelling here; Drake re Snelling here.


Opening spread of Jonathan Chancellor's article on luxury Pittwater residences now for sale, all images show Snelling's Little house.

Douglas Snelling's Arthur F. Little residence (Yoorami), built during the mid-1960s on a large Pittwater harbourfront property at 3 Riverview Road, Clareville, is being offered for sale. It has been promoted in a colour feature about Pittwater's luxury residences, published in the 'Mansion' property supplement of The Australian newspaper, 27-29 October 2017.

Jonathan Chancellor, The Australian's veteran property reporter, echoed claims published on this website by describing the Little house as 'Tiki-style' and 'a vast home designed by Douglas Snelling, one of the most accomplished interpreters of California modern design'. His article is here.

The Little house remains one of Snelling's best preserved buildings. Its current owners expect to sell for around $A13 million, following earlier sales of $2 million in 1993 and $9.65 million in 2006.


Canterbury Cathedral

Three books and diverse publications on South Pacific modern architecture and design have earned Douglas Snelling's biographer, Davina Jackson, a PhD by Published Works from the University of Kent School of Architecture (KSA). This retrospective type of doctorate, awarded not only for one research thesis deemed 'worthy of publication' but for an extensive oeuvre of already published books and other original scholarly writings (which are clarified in a 15,000-word summary essay, here), is the first to be awarded by KSA. It will be publicly conferred in a ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral on 24 November 2017.


Dr Timothy Brittain-Catlin, Reader, University of Kent School of Architecture.

Jackson's candidacy was supervised at Kent by Dr Timothy Brittain-Catlin (who studied and taught at Cambridge, the University of London's UCL-Bartlett College and the Architectural Association School) and Dr David Haney (from Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and Newcastle University in Britain). Dr Brittain-Catlin is the author of Bleak Houses: Disappointment and Failure in Architecture (The MIT Press, 2014) and Dr Haney wrote When Modern Was Green: Life and Work of Landscape Architect Leberecht Migge (Routledge, 2010).


Dr Brittain-Catlin developed an innovative 'Brittain-Catlin Method' of approaching publications doctorates by categorising four different genres of publications (two for formal examination and two for inspection) and defining seven sections of text for the essay.  His section headings guide candidates to thoroughly explain to examiners why their publications are significant to a domain of scholarship—and help candidates to avoid repeating their already published content. His categories of publications encourage candidates to differentiate between 'primary original research', 'secondary original research', 'impact' and 'responsive' (reactions by other authors) publications.


Jackson's examined publications included three of her books—Douglas Snelling: Pan-Pacific Modern Design and Architecture (Routledge, 2017), Next Wave: Emerging Talents in Australian Architecture (Thames and Hudson, 2006), and Australian Architecture Now (Thames and Hudson, 2000)—and an extensive collection of book chapters and forewords, journal and magazine articles, encyclopedia and database entries, websites and posts, and lecture content. All her publications are listed here.


Her oeuvre was examined by Dr Alistair Fair (the Cambridge and Oxford-educated Chancellor's Fellow at Edinburgh University, who is a former editor of the journal of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain) and by KSA's Deputy Head of School, Professor Gerald Adler (educated at the University of Sheffield). Their reports were written before Jackson's October 2017 viva voce (the post-supervision oral examination that is mandatory for most higher research degrees at northern hemisphere universities but still is being delayed in Australia). Their combined final report confirmed Jackson's successful defence of their specific questions about her Snelling book (originally structured as a widely opposed thesis at RMIT).

In pre-viva examiners' reports, Dr Fair said that 'Jackson's account of Snelling is elegantly written', while Professor Adler noted her 'extensive knowledge of Australian architecture and design' and 'hoped that the author will continue to develop her thesis of a pan-Pacific architecture in her future work'.  After the viva, both examiners wrote that they were satisfied by Jackson's explanations about the significance and originality of her research. 'The discussion considered the nature of 'tiki' style modernism, the place of Snelling as on the one hand an 'outsider' (by virtue of his training) but also a representative of a 'mainstream' modernism, which was less concerned with theory or propaganda, but actual production.'


Davina Jackson, Visiting Research Fellow, Goldsmiths, London.

Dr Fair said that he was interested in the particularities of mid-century modern design in Australia. 'Clearly the American influence on architecture and planning is important, and there seem to be clear resonances between the history of modernism in the USA (where it typically lacked the social commitment of many European modernists).' Both of Jackson's supervisors and both examiners said they enjoyed her highlighting of Snelling's antipodean interpretations of American 1930s-1970s 'good-life modernism' (Mark Jarzombek, 1990) – contrasted by Britain's 'bad-life modernism' (John Andrews, 2016), which was epitomised by the post-1953 Brutalism concepts of Reyner Banham and Peter and Alison Smithson.


Jackson's referees for her application to the Kent doctorate programme were Professor Rachel Armstrong (a TED Fellow now at Newcastle University in Britain and previously at the Bartlett and Greenwich University's Architecture School) and Professor Chris Bosse (principal of the Laboratory for Visionary Architecture [LAVA] practice which won the 2016 European Architect of the Year Award; he is also with the University of Technology Sydney's School of Design Architecture and Building).


Douglas Snelling has been welcomed posthumously by architects and historians in Honolulu, where he holidayed and lived from the 1960s until his death in 1985.

The Hawai‘i chapter of Docomomo, the international modern architecture preservation group, recently hosted a lecture on Snelling's pan-Pacific career, presented by his biographer, Davina Jackson, with personal recollections by Snelling's third wife, Marianne Sparre. Held at the offices of architects WCIT, the event was organised by Hawai‘i's most distinguished architectural historian, Don Hibbard (author of Buildings of Hawai‘i and other key surveys), and Professor Martin Despang of the Architecture School at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

Snelling did not create any building in Hawai‘i, apart from renovations to one of his homes there, which had been designed originally by his friend, eminent Honolulu architect Vladimir Ossipoff (1907–1988). However Don Hibbard and architect John Williams noted that several of Snelling's mid-1960s concepts for Sydney houses included a double-pitched hip roof style which is commonly known in Hawai‘i as 'the Dickey roof'.

Named after Maui-born architect Charles William Dickey (1871–1942), who designed notable residences around Hawai‘i during the late 1920s and early 1930s, this style of roof includes a steeply pitched and tapered rectangular central zone flaring to a shallow-pitched outer zone, extending to wide eaves shading all walls. It is believed Dickey was inspired originally by Hawai‘ian king Kamehameha V's thatched-roof cottage at Waikiki Beach.

Kamehameha V's 19th century beach cottage at Waikiki.

Snelling's Dickey roof for the unbuilt Bowes house.

Snelling's unbuilt scheme for the Bowes house at Clareville Beach was his most direct design for a Dickey roof, but he also created other versions of 'islander'-style roofs, for the Kelly House II at Vaucluse and Arthur F. Little house at Clareville Beach. These projects were all designed in the several years after Snelling's first visit to Hawai‘i in 1963 (after his earlier houses with flat roofs), and were exemplars of his third stylistic phase for residential architecture, which Jackson has described as his 'Fantasy' or 'Ethnic' period.