douglas-snelling-front-coverOne of the world's major academic publishers, Routledge, has launched the hardcover edition of Davina Jackson's long-delayed book about Douglas Snelling. Global distribution of this edition began in December 2016.

Titled Douglas Snelling: Pan-Pacific Modern Design and Architecture, the book has been endorsed by the State Library of New South Wales and is illustrated with approx. 150 mono images, including many original drawings from Snelling's studio and photographs of his key buildings by legendary Australian photographer Max Dupain.

Douglas Snelling is the newest volume in Routledge's peer-approved Ashgate Studies in Architecture series, edited by Eamonn Canniffe, the Cambridge and Harvard-educated head of the MA Architecture and Urbanism program at the University of Manchester's School of Architecture. He describes the project to reclaim Snelling as 'exciting'.

Jackson is promoting Snelling to British historians as one of England's notable emigré modernists of the mid-twentieth century. He practised mainly in Sydney—but also in Los Angeles, Wellington, Noumea and Honolulu—from the mid-1930s to mid-1970s.

Douglas Snelling is formatted for the academic library market and priced at UK£95 (AU$149.95). Order online from Routledge or Amazon.



snelling indesign pulse section coverDouglas Snelling's 2016 birth centenary has been highlighted in the 'Pulse' section of the latest issue of InDesign, the Australia-international magazine of multi-disciplinary creativity. Written by Snelling's biographer, Davina Jackson (also the editor of this website), it's downloadable here. The article is prefaced by a glamorous 1960s portrait of Snelling, taken by Max Dupain at the peak of Snelling's career.

Meanwhile editors at the British academic publisher Routledge have confirmed that they are aiming to publish Jackson's book Douglas Snelling: Pan-Pacific Modern Architecture and Design late in 2016. (Production was delayed by process transitions following Routledge's recent purchase of Ashgate-Gower, the UK publisher which earlier contracted the book. Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor and Francis group of the Informa global media conglomerate.)


Cover of Jackson's 2007 RMIT PhD thesis: banned in Victoria but archived at the State Library of New South Wales.

Cover of Jackson's 2007 RMIT PhD thesis: officially banned in Victoria but archived at the State Library of New South Wales.

Australian universities and government agencies have confirmed nationwide agreements by academic leaders to fail Davina Jackson's RMIT PhD thesis on Douglas Snelling – and to prevent her from 'gaining credibility' in academia.

Denouements in the saga of antipodean scholars' antipathy to Jackson and Snelling include:

Victorian Ombudsman supports its universities' rejections

The Victorian Ombudsman's office has decided again (after a third tranche of evidence) that RMIT leaders were entitled to reject Jackson's Snelling thesis and declare that her writing is unworthy of academia. The Ombudsman's investigator, Natasha Goss, said she could not detect any 'bias' or 'process errors' in RMIT's seven years of decisions to alternatively support and fail Jackson's thesis on Snelling – a trail that culminated with its Chancellery's 2010 statement that Jackson is not academically competent.

The Ombudsman's office said it supported – and did not have powers to change – general opposition by leaders of RMIT and the University of Melbourne to all of Jackson's 2000s research projects.

The Ombudsman's responses to Jackson's three submissions of written evidence of collusive research sabotage and academic misconduct – based on emails she obtained through freedom of information inquiries to five Australian universities – are here: December 2015, April 2015, October 2013. Its 'independent' (state-funded) decisions are directly supported by the Victorian Government and gain national credence via the Commonwealth Government's Australian Research Integrity Committee (at the Australian Research Council).

UTS confirms but now 'repudiates' its opposition

The University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) also has reveiwed internal emails clarifying that its Dean of Design Architecture and Building (DAB), Desley Luscombe, organised key aspects of the campaign against Jackson (spreading claims that Jackson is 'flakey', banning her faculty's professors from representing the university to work with her, and persuading architecture Deans and professors at other universities also to exclude her, including Jackson's thesis supervisors at RMIT, Professors Harriet Edquist and Richard Blythe).

UTS Provost Peter Booth decided that no staff conduct or academic sabotage codes had been broken – and/or that UTS was unable to discipline Luscombe's 'external' activities as president of the Australian Deans of Built Environment and Design (ADBED) and former president of the Scoiety of Architectural Historians of Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ). Booth's formal decision (November 2015) is here. Notes by his staff investigator, Margaret Connolly, are here.

UTS' current Vice-Chancellor, Attila Brungs, later claimed that he will 'repudiate' Luscombe's ban. He was smoothing a complaint from Jackson's husband, former NSW Government Architect Chris Johnson, about his 'family disappointment' with 'slack' aspects of the UTS review of Luscombe's conduct. (Johnson, who had avoided confronting any architects or academics opposing his wife's work, is the eldest son of UTS' founding Chancellor, Professor Peter Johnson (d. 1983), after whom is named the building occupied by the Faculty of Design Architecture and Building.) Chris Johnson's complaint letter is here. Attila Brungs' response letter is here.

Professor Booth took 11 months to answer Jackson's complaints about Luscombe's campaign. His reviewer surveyed all documents earlier gathered by UTS' freedom of information office (including emails either redacted or not supplied to Jackson). Two weeks after Jackson's complaints were submitted in late 2014, Luscombe began telling colleagues that she was retiring in 2015, but in February 2016 she was still listed as Dean on the UTS DAB website.

British government, universities and publishers continue to support Jackson and Snelling

British revisions to Australasia's rejections of Jackson and Snelling recently gained momentum. The UK Government has renewed Jackson's Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa (approved by the British Academy at postdoctoral level in 2013) until 2019. The computing department at Goldsmiths/University of London again is renewing Jackson's visiting research fellowship to study digital cities themes. Academic publisher Routledge is publishing an update of Jackson's PhD thesis – partnering with the State Library of New South Wales and timed to support Snelling's 2016 birth centenary. (Routledge also published Jackson's essay on Australia-Pacific architectural history in its 2015 The Modernist World anthology, edited by Stephen Ross and Allana C. Lindgren, and is publishing another Jackson essay in the forthcoming Visioning Technologies: The Architectures of Sight anthology, edited by Graham Cairns.)

Jackson also has been appointed as a moderator of the Design and Art Australia Online (DAAO) database, a multi-university project led by  the University of NSW Faculty of Art and Design. Through DAAO, Jackson now has published  biographical details on Snelling and several dozen of his postwar Sydney contemporaries. She compiled these summaries during her thesis research in 2004–07 but University of Melbourne architectural historians opposed Jackson's then-suggested online database of Australian architects' biographies – because it might overshadow its contracted printing of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Australian Architecture, edited by Philip Goad and Julie Willis (Cambridge University Press, 2012, which includes a Jackson-written item about Snelling).

Sydney's AAA modern history group now considers promoting Snelling

The Australian Architecture Association (AAA – a group promoting Sydney modernist architects, set up in the early 2000s by Harry Seidler and Glenn Murcutt and their supporters) now has included Snelling on a new list of 'less recognised' architects who might be included in future AAA publications.





In 2016, centenary of Douglas Snelling's birth at Gravesend, on the Thames east of London, British publishers Ashgate-Routledge are launching the first book about Douglas Snelling. How will his career and creations be judged by architecture historians in his birth country?

Two thought leaders with London's Architectural Association School of Architecture – Mark Cousins and John Andrews – provide their initial impressions of Snelling as an 'Englishman abroad'. Before commenting, they separately surveyed images of Snelling's furniture, interiors, buildings, landscapes and resort concepts, and were briefed on his basic story by Snelling's biographer, Davina Jackson.


Mark Cousins—AA Director History and Theory Studies

Mark Cousins

Mark Cousins

Q: Here is a studio portrait of Douglas Snelling at the height of his career in Sydney — and you know his basic biographical details. What are your first impressions?

This guy seems tailor-made to be in some sense loathed by academics; university-based architectural historians. Because he is in several senses an outsider. First of all, he's working class in a profession which at the time was very much for gentlemen with a private income. Secondly he's self-taught. Thirdly, it seems likely to me that his modernism was picked up, like someone else's language.

To the academics, he didn't go through the spiritual suffering of many [European] modernists; to purge himself of too much knowledge of the architecture of the past ... because he probably didn't have too much. And he was probably the sort of person who thought 'this is cool, this is new, this is what is up-and-coming' ... he sounds more enterprising than spiritual, whereas academics like the spiritual modernist, one who, on the basis of very little learning, can give massive interpretations.

Academics feel they are guardians of drawing up the canon. Anything that comes along that starts threatening the canon ... [Regarding rejections of the Snelling thesis] I am trying to think myself into the position of an examiner who sort of says ... 'your work very rightly identifies this very minor character  ... but unfortunately  your work wildly overstates the claims for him ... and you know, as a consequence, what could have been worthwhile ... etc etc ... They deal with his marginalisation by marginalising you ...

He's the kind of person that academics don't like. They choose people who they want to argue for. Any kind of commercial architecture they don't want to know ahout. There are incredibly successful architects in the States who never get their work [discussed] ...a bit like Portman ...

There was some research and a paper actually done by Rem Koolhaas which says essentially... in architecture we work with these highly intellectualised canons of who is important or not, because we judge it in respect of our notions of modernism itself. But actually, out there, there are architect-developers who are incredibly influential in real architecture, the architecture that people live in. You don't have to like it but they are very important and we should pay attention to them and study them.

Q: What do you think of his work, in this Powerpoint?

I think it's strange that one of the things that the interiors convey ... they are quite like a lot of film sets of modernism, I can remember the late fifties onwards ... where the design wasn't genius but it was there for the purpose of expressing this is a modernist interior. This has that kind of interesting feel to it, that it's an intelligent, commercial attempt ... certainly pragmatic.

This is a guy who didn't mind obeying the constraints of the commission or the site ... and it's there to sort of suggest ... what's up to date and kind of modern ... which became so important in the sixties.

I guess the late fifties were the time in Sydney when, on the one hand, there's a degree of money around to enable you to think of your house as more than just a functional box for you to live in ... and where people are beginning to almost discover the fact that they are in the Pacific.

Q: What will British architects now think of Snelling, when he is published here?

I'm not sure they are going to have a view. I'm not sure they would feel anything about him. My instincts tell me that his route to some recognition will come not through the canon of architects but through the route of cultural studies. He relates not so much to the philosophy and theory of modernism but what people thought it was ... the photographs [by Max Dupain] are very important. Julius Shulman [the Los Angeles photographer of modern architecture] was not just photographing the houses, but with people living in them; a new way of life ... he was sort of teaching people how to sit and stand in these new environments.

Q: Does British modernism want much from its expatriates? Are there many expatriate architects known in British modernism?

The situation is complicated by the fact that in the thirties English architects could 'work abroad' without really going anywhere. That was the reality of colonialism at that time.

Q: Snelling was 'an Englishman abroad' ... are there other architects who worked abroad that British architectural historians know about or care about?

Perhaps Venturi and Scott Brown -- Denise Scott-Brown is a graduate from here [the AA School] ... but she's considered an American, I doubt many people know that she is from England.

Really the key issue is that architects don't have an interest in commercial buildings. That's the truth of it. Someone who is practising as a commercial architect; they are really considered not intellectual enough to be assessed. Consequently a great gap opens up between the architecture that everyone lives with and sees, and the architecture that is canonical for architects, but is quite rare.

I sense that architects who value their intellectuality are not going to like this stuff because they are going to claim that it 'hasn't understood the principle of modernism' and has used it as a kind of cut and paste architecture ... that in a sense, it's 'just mimicry'. Now I don't think that distinction can be sustained, and that's why this case is interesting ... They would be dismissive and say that it's derivative. And here's something I don't like, the way that architects talk ... that it's 'just fashion' ... as though they were completely opposed to fashion .... I'm not opposed to fashion, I think it's a very serious issue.

Q: What do you think are the main points about this guy that you think might be of note to UK historians of modernism?

It's difficult to answer that without studying the context of the period where he worked ... late 1950s and early 1960s. It seems this work is charting the way that a kind of post-war affluence begins to show, leading to a sort of second-generation modernism ...  but this time more obviously modernist, or influenced by modernism.

Q: Are you saying he's a precursor of later advances... ?

On the one hand he's using as his models something that was a generation before. But in a sense it's really directed to a generation subsequent. In trying to produce a kind of commercial modernism which fits in, but maintains a notion of the new way of being, I mean the new form of life, a modern form of lif. It seems the precursor of a lot of hotel architecture ... he is a precursor of that sort of tropical resort architecture ... and in a sense, the detached modern house that the owner wants to look modern, but doesn't want to make a fetish of it being modernistic like a pure, Mies van der Rohe house.

Something has radically changed since this guy practised. Part of the academic defence of the canon was always this belief that it would never be 'commercial'. So the people you admired in architectural schools were for the most part not people who were going to be commercially successful ...

Q: So how do we go now with the likes of Zaha Hadid?

That's my point. I think that for the first time in the late 1980s-early 1990s, avant-garde architects knocked on the door of corporate capitalism, expecting to be shown the door, again; but this time they were welcomed in ... and nothing they could think to say or do was turned down ... hence Abu Dhabi.

The critique of Abu Dhabi is that it's silly, I mean the architect should go to his room ... but still they will build anything.

Q: What is the relevance of California modernism to British modernism?

I don't think it's sufficiently well known. People know it but that doesn't mean it's any kind of model here ...

Q: Are there still colonial sentiments in Britain? Do you think British historians may be interested in Snelling as a 'local boy' who succeeded on the other side of the world?

I don't think hustorians would find the fact that Snelling was British surprising ...

Q: But would they find him interesting?

They would be more interested that he was working class ... by and large, English architects of his period would have had a private income.


John Andrews—Councillor of the Architectural Association, Studio Leader in Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Brighton, former Professor of Interior Architecture at RMIT University.

John Andrews.

John Andrews.

Q: Here is a studio portrait of Douglas Snelling at the height of his career in Sydney — and you have his basic biographical details. What are your first impressions?

In this black and white portrait, Snelling bears an uncanny resemblance to 1930s-40s Hollywood actor Errol Flynn, who left Australia (Tasmania), via Papua New Guinea, to work in America.

[Snelling] seems to join the international pantheon of expatriates who not only settled into a new world, but who made a significant contribution to the host country’s cultural persona. The list is long and diverse – including Walter Spies (Germany-Bali), Jim Thompson (USA-Thailand), Edward Weston (England-Mexico), Walter Burley Griffin (USA-Australia), Berthold Lubetkin (Germany-England) and Geoffrey Bawa (England-Sri Lanka). The main quality they share is an empathy for their adopted country.  While they are mostly architects, for the purpose of an observation on Snelling, the same may be said of many artists who have settled in exotic lands.

On entering a new country, one's perception is heightened and briefly it is possible to view things with a fresh and optimistic eye. For Snelling, who arrived in California from New Zealand, his perceptions of a new landscape, people and culture must have been intense. I am reminded of the bright light in David Hockney’s 'Bigger Splash' paintings, juxtaposed to the subtle hues emanating from his hometown in Yorkshire.

The unique aspect of Snelling’s particular form of modernism is the inclusion of an Oceanic aesthetic, which separates it from its European counterpoint. His seamless spatial arrangements are indicative of Pacific Island architecture, where there is an ambiguity between the exterior and interior; and his detailing also reflects an understanding of Polynesian mythology.

Q: You were the professor of Interior Architecture at RMIT (Melbourne) during the 1990s ... what do you think of Snelling's interiors [from the few images  you've seen]?

Interior architecture specifically deals with the structure of space ... precisely the idea of spatial arrangement. The key people who come to mind are obviously Barragan, who was a master at creating an ambiguity between the exterior and interior; Alvar Aalto … and Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked in a similar way. Although passionately mastering the craft of making, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was also labelled a modernist. Richard Neutra incorporated industrial elements. Snelling sits halfway between the ambitions of these two architects.

Going back further, a very good symbol for interior architecture is Sir John Soane, who sculpted the interior within his own suite of terraces beside Lincolns Inn Fields. After his wife died, he spent most of his time in his own house-museum, and he became excessively interiorised.

Compared to those good examples of interior architects, I think interior decorators are more to do with the surfaces of spaces inside a building. In America, interior architecture is linked to retail and commercial and sophisticated residential projects. Snelling was more about placement of objects in a space, rather than sophisticated spatial compositions ... but there are some exceptions, with his sections for the split-level houses.

I am intrigued by Snelling. First he left New Zealand; he hadn’t taken any formal education, then went up to States and around various places in the Pacific. He strikes me as someone who had a sophisticated sense of perception about things that were going on.

He was an eclectic, and copier; he was also keen to experiment with interior and furniture design. He was designing at around the same time as the Festival of Britain over here in London. An interesting period: 1945-50. A lot of things happened at that time. Designers were putting in new concepts of modern life. People didn’t have much money to do big projects. People often worked within existing structures. Tremendous amount of poverty too. Europe and the UK were different to the US, which was much more open to new projects, and clients had more money ... Snelling seemed to attract clients with money in Sydney.

When I was working in Australia, George Freedman (New York-trained modernist interior designer based in Sydney) said he was surprised [when he arrived in Sydney in 1970] how bad the situation was with architectural interiors. Lots of things were done on the cheap, people were making do. It struck him as very provincial.

There's that great term 'Good-life modernism', promoted by Mark Jarzombek from MIT. It struck a chord for me about Snelling's architecture in Sydney ... whereas modernism in the UK and Europe was very serious and had a lot to do with socialist values … it was 'bad-life modernism'.

Snelling’s interiors also struck me as being a little bit more exotic than most modernist architectural ventures, including the influence of Khmer artefacts and Tiki totems. I was expecting to see the origins of the infinity pool., but was disappointed to see a proliferation of carpets and curtains … I also expected to see something a little more 'tropical avant-garde'.

Some of Snelling's interiors reminded me of the house of an Australian family that I visited in Lai, Papua New Guinea, during the 1990s. The living room and adjoining kitchen contained a mixture of modernist furniture (possibly from the fifties) and lots of tribal art, including shields, robes, figures and weapons. A picture window, high ceiling and a Dean Martin soundtrack ...

When I was working in Australia, one difference that I noticed between Sydney and Melbourne was that Sydney had its eyes wide open to southern California whereas the eyes of Melbourne were somewhere else, more to the east.


This year's editors of Architectural History, annual journal of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (SAHGB), have reversed their decision to publish a substantial summary article on England-born Douglas Snelling's pan-Pacific career.

Its main reason for the last-minute rejection was 'a commercial consideration' to avoid potential duplication of the article content with Jackson's forthcoming book on Snelling, which is contracted with UK academic publishers Ashgate (now Routledge).

David Hemsoll

David Hemsoll

Judi Loach

Judi Loach

Architectural History's 2015 editor Professor David Hemsoll (University of Birmingham) earlier had approved publication of Jackson's article if it did not duplicate wording (as distinct from inevitable overlaps of information content) in her book. He accepted her first draft of the article after assessing blind peer reviews from two experts in Australasian architecture history, and Jackson's responses to their comments.

However, Hemsoll later was persuaded by one of his associate editors, Professor Judi Loach (Cardiff University), that the article should be abandoned not only because of 'content conflicts' but also because Jackson was failing to supply 'original sources' in some footnotes and was 'self-referencing' her research documents and PhD thesis, collected at the State Library of New South Wales, and her previous publications on Snelling. The editors decreed that article authors must not cite their own publications.

Jackson argued, unsuccessfully, that there were no previous authors to cite for many items of fact and interpretation in her article on Snelling, and that readers of Architectural History would be disadvantaged if they were left ignorant of Jackson's archive of original research material at the State Library of New South Wales, or the National Library of Australia's e-archived version of the website.

Meanwhile, Jackson's book manuscript – substantially updating her failed RMIT thesis submitted in 2007 – is entering production at Ashgate. Ashgate recently was purchased by Routledge, an academic press subsidiary of the Informa global information group. Routledge hopes to publish the book in mid-2016 – centenary of Snelling's birth at Gravesend, on the Thames.




American glamour in Sydney architecture: A night photo of Douglas Snelling's Kelly House 1, in a 1956 Australian Women's Weekly feature. Image courtesy State Library of New South Wales.

Douglas Snelling will enter the canon of British architectural history with two new publications later this year; just in time for the February 2016 centenary of his inauspicious birth at Gravesend, on the Thames Estuary, east of London.

As well as the forthcoming Ashgate book Douglas Snelling: Pan-Pacific Modern Architecture and Design, based on Davina Jackson's controversial PhD thesis, a 15,000 word essay on Snelling has been accepted for publication in the 2015 edition of Architectural History, the annual journal of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (SAHGB).

Both publications were approved following double-blind peer-review processes and with the editors' knowledge of rejections of Jackson's research by leaders of the Society of Architectural Historians of Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ) and other antipodean architecture groups.

The State Librarian of New South Wales, Dr Alex Byrne, has agreed to support the Snelling publications with the library's logo endorsing the Ashgate book and a gift of more than 50 high-resolution scans of images in its Mitchell Library collection. The National Library of New Zealand declined to provide endorsement or scans from 1930s newspapers in its Turnbull Library but said that it expects to purchase a copy of the book.

Jackson is promoting Snelling to British historians as a new link from England to American, Australasian and pan-Pacific mid-century modern architecture and design. He is especially relevant to the 1920s-1970s phenomenon of 'American Glamour' that was highlighted by Alice T. Friedman in the SAHGB annual lecture at London's Courtauld Institute of Art in late 2014.