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image icon 'Chair from the dining room of Newman College, University of Melbourne', 1917

'Chair from the dining room of Newman College, University of Melbourne', 1917
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a wooden dining chair, designed in 1917 by Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937). It is made up of flat panels and sections of plain, varnished timber, with a leather padded seat and backrest inset panel, and measures 89.0 cm high x 55.5 cm wide x 58.5 cm deep. The angularity of the chair's overall design is offset by the curved top of the padded backrest and the curved lower edge of the panels that are inset between each pair of legs. There is visual evidence of wear.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a work of design by Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937) - Griffin was born in Chicago, trained in architecture and worked for the prominent US architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959); Wright's basic philosophy was to create a complete built environment rather than simply design a structure, and this resulted in him often dictating the details of a building's interior; in 1912, Griffin won an international competition for the design of the proposed Federal Capital City of Australia (now Canberra); he arrived in Australia to work on this project the following year, along with his architect wife, Marion Mahony Griffin (1873-1962); Griffin eventually left Australia in 1935, after having worked on several building projects in Melbourne and Sydney as well as the Federal Capital City
  • was designed by Griffin (in association with fellow architect Augustus Fritsch) in 1917 as part of his overall design for Newman College, the Roman Catholic College at the University of Melbourne - completed in 1917, Newman College was the largest building constructed to Griffin's design in Australia; Griffin designed all the interiors and fittings (including furniture) for the College, and his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin, conceived and designed the landscape setting for the College, widely considered one of the first examples of an Australian flora garden designed by a landscape architect
  • is an excellent example of Griffin's ability to design every aspect of a building down to the finest detail, including all fixtures, fittings and furniture
  • demonstrates, in its choice and treatment of materials, Griffin's preference for plain surfaces and traditional materials (oak and leather) - Griffin believed that the beauty of the timber surface should speak for itself and avoided complex finishes; oak was the only timber used throughout Newman College, in accordance with Griffin's desire for uniformity of surfaces
  • reflects, in its minimal and angular appearance, the style of the College building - the shapes of the different sections of the chair (particularly the backrest, which widens from the seat into an unbroken flat top edge, and the solid legs which repeat the angles of the backrest) help give the design a very angular appearance, and these angular shapes are in harmony with the modern Gothic styling and strong geometric forms of the building; Griffin was very familiar with Western and Eastern monastic and college architecture, both ancient and modern, and the design and construction of the building suggests strong medieval and Gothic influences.