Jennifer Taylor's new book with James Conner on South Pacific Architecture.

Jennifer Taylor's new book with James Conner on South Pacific Architecture.

Australia and New Zealand architectural historians are leading a new thrust to densify scholarship on pan-Pacific modern architecture and design.

Beyond Taschen's three popular 'Tiki Style' monographs and 2014 Paris exhibition by Los Angeles 'urban archaeologist' Sven A. Kirsten, the antipodean academics are developing new themes and evidence on architects and buildings in Hawaii and sub-equatorial Pacific islands.

Recent advances include:

—Jennifer Taylor and James Conner, former architecture professors at the University of Sydney who retired to Brisbane in the mid-2000s, have launched a new survey monograph: Architecture in the South Pacific: The Ocean of Islands. This may include recognition of Snelling (who was overlooked in Jennifer Taylor's earlier publications on modern architecture in Australia). We have asked the publisher, Editions Didier Millet, for a review copy.

—Former Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) historians Andrew Leach (now Griffith, Brisbane) and Julia Gatley (now UniAuckland), are hosting a Pacific modern architecture session at the next  conference of the Society of Architectural Historians (in Chicago, 15-19 April 2015). Leach and Gatley are among SAHANZ and Docomomo ANZ leaders who blocked recognition of Jackson's PhD research on Douglas Snelling; Leach being one of two VUW-educated examiners who recommended the thesis be failed. Their session, titled An Architectural History of the Pacific Basin?, is framed using 'The New Empiricism' of San Francisco's Bay Area as its key reference – not mentioning the more diverse and internationally influential works produced in southern California. Presenters will be James Weirick (UNSW), Jeffrey Oschner (UniWashington), Philip Goad (UniMelbourne), Arlef Setiawan (Southern Poly) and Christoph Schnoor (Unitec).

—Sydney-based writer Davina Jackson (Goldsmiths, University of London and editor of this blog) has contracted with British academic publisher Ashgate to publish her RMIT-rejected PhD research as a book titled Douglas Snelling: Pan-Pacific Modern Architecture and Design. She also authored the Australia-Oceania architecture and design chapter of Routledge's forthcoming World of Modernism (a multi-disciplinary history anthology). Both are due for release in 2015.

 

 

Douglas Snelling in the 1970s. Photo Max Dupain.

Douglas Snelling in the 1970s. Photo Max Dupain.

One of Britain's leading scholarly publishers, Ashgate, has approved publication of a book based on Davina Jackson's controversial PhD research on the life, work and significance of Douglas Snelling.

Jackson's proposal was endorsed by two anonymous academic reviewers – one from Britain and the other from Australia.

Ashgate's acceptance follows earlier 'in principle' approvals of the thesis by editors at the University of Melbourne's Miegunyah Press, UNSW Press and Thames and Hudson – but they were concerned about opposition from ANZ architectural history scholars.

London-based architecture editor Valerie Rose now has persuaded her Ashgate colleagues that Jackson's work is international in relevance and should add value to its Modernism in Architecture and History of Architecture lists.

Other offshore advances of recognition for the 'Douglas and Davina project' are:

—Editors of Architectural History, the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain's annual journal, are obtaining peer reviews on an 11,000 word essay by Jackson, promoting Gravesend-born Snelling as a colourful and talented 'Englishman abroad' during the mid-20th century.

(Jackson has suggested that Snelling could be Britain's strongest 'claim to fame' in the westwards (South Pacific) spread of California modern architecture, interior, landscape, graphic and furniture design – and that he seemed to be Britain's most exciting antipodean exponent of 'Tiki' architecture during the 1960s; when Sydney expatriates conversely were enlivening London's arts culture.)

—Editors of Routledge's forthcoming World of Modernism anthology have gone to press with a 3000-word article by Jackson on Australia and Pacific modern architecture and design. This includes minor mentions of Snelling to help rectify his absences from most 1970s through 1990s anthologies of Australian architectural history.

 

 

Tiki style archeologist Sven Kirsten sparks a Polynesian lighter.

Pacifica archaeologist Sven Kirsten sparks a tiki lighter.

An accidental archaeologist with family roots in chilly Hamburg, Los Angeles-based cinematographer Sven Kirsten is the world's foremost expert on tropical tiki style and 'Polynesian pop'.

Tiki Pop, his third book exploring pseudo-Pacific and Caribbean lifestyle themes among outré followers of mid-20th century American modernity, is out now from Taschen.

Compared with Kirsten's earlier volumes, The Book of Tiki (2003) and Tiki Modern: And the Wild World of Witco (2007), Tiki Pop (subtitled America Conjures Up its Own Polynesian Paradise) is a more detailed and comprehensive survey of key aspects of the phenomenon. It was produced (in French and English) to accompany a Tiki Pop survey exhibition at the Musée de Quai Branly in Paris.

This volume explores precursors of tiki mythology dating back to the 18th century pan-Pacific explorations of England's Captain James Cook and France's Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville. It also surveys 19th and early 20th century storytelling by painters such as Paul Gaugin, authors like Robert Louis Stevenson, Hollywood filmmakers, American Navy sailors, South Seas traders and fifties American music stars of the calibre of Elvis.

Tiki Pop low resIn later sections of the book Kirsten examines American tropical cocktails, temple carvings, logos and rituals – then the phases of tiki expansion, implosion and revival via commercial architecture, homes, gardens and leisure venues such as cocktail bars, bowling alleys and amusement parks. He also devotes several sections to films such as Bali Hai and South Pacific and 'Brando and the Bounty Metaphor'.

Douglas Snelling constantly demonstrated his empathy with Polynesian pop concepts: from his 1920s arrival in Aotearoa (New Zealand) and water-skiing off California's Catalina Island with Clark Gable in 1937, to his 1970s retirement years in a pseudo-thatched home designed by his friend Vladimir Ossipoff in Hawaii.

We have sent a sampler of images and  information about Snelling to Sven Kirsten, who admired this 'fascinating eye candy' and indicated interest in including some of Snelling's work in his next publications.

'My tiki eye zoomed in on the AF Little home bar and the Jean Nawa house in Noumea.' said Kirsten. He compared Snelling's architecture with that of Hawaiian 'indigenous modernists' Ossipoff and Pete Wimberly (who Snelling knew in Hon0lulu from the 1960s).

  • Kon-Tiki Hotel in Phoenix Arizona, 1961 (Scott Schell Collection)

 

 

Cover of Taschen's new anthology of pages from Arts & Architecture 1945-1949.

Cover of Taschen's new anthology of pages from Arts & Architecture 1945-1949.

German publisher Benedikt Taschen – lascivious promoter of the sexiest aspects of California modern culture – has released a new book of his preferred pages from the legendary mid-20th century design periodical, Arts & Architecture.

His retro volume, Arts & Architecture 1945-49, reboots interest in the Los Angeles magazine's pervasively influential graphic design and typography strategies, supervised by its longest-serving publisher, John Entenza, and art director, Alvin Lustig.

Fans of this blog's hero, Douglas Snelling, will notice inclusion of several dramatic advertisements originally placed in A&A by the adventurous modern New York furniture manufacturer H.G. Knoll.

Furniture experts know that Snelling copied Knoll's early 1940s chair designs by Jens Risom and Ralph Rapson, but it's less widely realised that he also interpreted for middle class Australians the radical typography and graphics of both Knoll's ads and Lustig's editorial pages in Arts & Architecture.

From 1946 to 1956, 'the Snelling line' of furniture was advertised regularly in Australian brochures and magazines using similar graphic strategies to Knoll's late 1940s advertising for its chairs called 'the Rapson line' and storage systems by Charles and Ray Eames.

Compilation of late 1940s Knoll furniture advertisements (top row) and late 1940s-early 1950s Snelling line ads (bottom row).

Compilation of late 1940s Knoll furniture advertisements (top row) and late 1940s-early 1950s Snelling line ads (bottom row).

Benedikt Taschen has not included A&A's April 1949 article 'House for Urban Development in Sydney, Australia', about Snelling's first model for a small suburban dwelling – but has selected several articles on early house concepts by Harry Seidler (before he built the Rose Seidler house in Sydney).

Snelling and Seidler were the only Sydney architects published in Arts & Architecture between 1945 and the early 1950s. Through the 1950s, until Entenza sold the magazine in 1962, he promoted Seidler as regularly as any of his annointed California architects – but ignored Snelling's work after publishing a second article on his 'Small House for a Mid-Suburban Lot' in January 1950.

Taschen's new book of Arts & Architecture page layouts will amaze design disciples who are not familiar with the Barbara Goldstein collection of page facsimiles – Arts & Architecture: The Entenza Years (published by The MIT Press in 1990 and re-released by LA bookshop Hennessey & Ingalls in 1998).

Double page layout by Arts & Architecture's art director, Alvin Lustig.

Double page layout by Arts & Architecture's art director, Alvin Lustig.

Goldstein's book covered most of the Entenza period, from his official announcement as publisher in 1943 (after beginning work at the magazine in 1938) to his sale of the business in 1962. As well as extensive coverage of the Case Study Houses and other architecture projects designed by Eames, Rapson, Richard Neutra and other emerging innovators of the 194os and 1950s, Goldstein included important essays on new art concepts, criticism of emerging modern trends, surveys of new works by painters, sculptors and ceramic artisans and a guest essay by Entenza's collaborator, Esther McCoy.

Taschen's new A&A anthology is the first to include some of its few product advertisements (even prosaic basins and toilets). In the multi-lingual introduction, David Travers, Entenza's successor as A&A publisher, explained how the tiny venture made ends meet (by not paying or scarcely paying its content providers).

Travers said: '... it was a shoeless operation. The magazine lived a life of poverty, making a profit perhaps for a few years in the mid-'40s, when the excitement of the Case Study House program ignited a corresponding enthusiasm in manufacturers and their ad agencies. ...'

Those 'mid-'40s' years of excitement have been superbly time-capsuled here by Benedikt Taschen – who, by the way, is the current owner-occupant of the octagonal, spaceship-style, Chemosphere house in the Hollywood Hills. It was designed in 1960 by John Lautner, one of Snelling's work colleagues at the Douglas Honnold office in Beverley Hills in 1947, and his early 1960s technical design adviser on how to recycle water for Sydney's first Lautner-style infinity pool.

 

 

 

 

 

'Snelling line' armchair with hardwood frames and interlaced cotton webbing, designed 1946 by Douglas Snelling and manufactured by Functional Products Pty Ltd from 1947 to the mid 1950s. Donated to the National Gallery of Victoria by Terence Lane, 1981.

'Snelling line' armchair with hardwood frames and interlaced cotton webbing, designed 1946 by Douglas Snelling and manufactured by Functional Products Pty Ltd from 1947 to the mid 1950s. Donated to the National Gallery of Victoria by Terence Lane, 1981.

For the past several decades, Douglas Snelling's reputation has depended on a questionable view that he was one of Australia's great designers of mid-century modern furniture.

Examples of his 1946 'the Snelling line' chairs are held by all of Australia's major public archives of historic furniture (the National Gallery of Australia, Powerhouse Museum and National Gallery of Victoria) and are always included in serious furniture survey shows.

Another exhibition, Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design, is at the NGV 30 May-19 October 2014 and includes two 'Snelling line' chairs, along with others by Fred Lowen, Clement Meadmore and Gordon Andrews. These are dominated by an outstanding range of late 1940s to early 1960s works by Melbourne's Grant Featherston.

Snelling's manufacturing partner, Terry Palmerston, and biographer, Davina Jackson, have claimed that 'the Snelling line' chairs, some first assembled in 1945 and all first launched for sale in 1946, were inferior copies of early 1940s United States copies (by Jens Risom and Ralph Rapson), of brilliant early 1930s steam-bent plywood designs by Finland's Alvar Aalto and Sweden's Bruno Mathsson.

On his deathbed in the 1990s, Terry Palmerston talked on tape to his daughters Vicky and Sue about his firm's early productions of Snelling furniture: 'they were pretty rough'. He blamed shortages of materials, money and skilled tradespeople in the years after World War II.

Copy of Snelling's mid 1940s blueprint working drawing for the 464AR armchair.

 

 

Bruce Rickard's Marshall house at Clontarf, 1967. Photo Michael Wee.

Bruce Rickard's Marshall house at Clontarf, 1967. Photo Michael Wee.

Iconic Australian Houses editor Karen McCartney, photo Hugh Stewart.

Editor Karen McCartney. Photo Hugh Stewart.

Projects by Douglas Snelling are accidentally absent from design editor Karen McCartney's two popular illustrated books on Iconic Australian Houses. But her selection of 29 architect-designed residences from the 1950s to the 1990s is worth inspecting at the Museum of Sydney from 12 April 2014.

McCartney, a former editor of InsideOut magazine and current editorial director of online retailer Temple&Webster, is a co-owner of Bruce Rickard's 1967 Marshall house, a small (160 sq m) exposed brick residence overlooking Middle Harbour at Clontarf. She and her husband, design writer David Harrison, have carefully chosen mainly 1960s and 1970s furniture and artefacts for their cliffside retreat.

Noting broad interest among young professionals in discovering modern Australian architecture and design, she decided in the mid 2000s to produce the first Iconic Australian Houses: 50s/60s/70s book. Since the launch by Murdoch Books in 2009, it has sold more than 13,000 copies in hardcover. Another 3000 copies have just been released in softcover, following strong sales of the second volume of the series, Iconic Australian Houses 70s/80s/90s.

Layered interior of the Rosenburg/Hills house at Turramurra, by Neville Gruzman, 1966. Photo Michael Wee.

Neville Gruzman's Rosenburg/Hills house at Turramurra, 1966. Photo Michael Wee.

For the MOS exhibition, McCartney has teamed with former University of Newcastle architecture professor Lindsay Johnson, founder of the Australian Foundation for Architecture, to broaden awareness of the houses and architects she selected for her books.

Included are works by Rickard and his cousin, Neville Gruzman, Peter Muller, Hugh Buhrich, Harry Seidler, Glenn Murcutt, Richard Leplastrier, Russell Jack, Peter Stutchbury and others. The exhibition was produced by a Sydney Living Museum team advised by designer Tracy Lines.

The original photographs, by Michael Wee, appear in panel displays, on iPads and in sample copies of the books, while floor plans have been given augmented reality (AR-3D) treatments for viewing on screen, and visitors can access video interviews of architects and occupants of selected houses.

Audette house at Castlecrag by Peter Muller 1953. Photo Michael Wee.

Audette house at Castlecrag by Peter Muller 1953. Photo Michael Wee.

Asked why neither of her books included houses by Snelling, McCartney said 'what I've done was based on logistical decisions about what I could find at the time that would be photographable to the standards necessary for a desirable book. Our selection is by no means definitive and there was no particular agenda except to bring alive houses that were generally unknown to most people.'

During research, she learned that Australian architects had been 'struggling' to find an authentic and internationally distinctive design approach and cultural value system before 'something just clicked' in the 1950s. 'Architects suddenly found they were able to use the landscape in a meaningful way,' she said.