Oct 24, 2012

The Salter House by Walter Burley Griffin is on the market. That's rare...

As we are on a roll lately with houses holding architectural history merit,
I can't bear to let this little gem slip through. 

Designed in 1922, 
by the American architectural duo of Walter Burley Griffin & Marion Mahoney Griffin,
the Salter House is up for sale for only the 3rd time in its history.
It's one of the few houses designed by them which are still left standing in Australia.

Now while Mr Griffin is much more famous for having won the international competition
to design the new national capital of Canberra, in 1912,
with a plan heavy on circles,
(and the subsequent falling out with his previous employer Frank Lloyd Wright)
it was his work on the domestic architecture front which had a profound influence 
on building & urban planning.
He is credited with inventing the carport
& the L shaped floor plan. 
Yep, that's had a bit of an influence, wouldn't you agree?

But it was his dedication and passion for designing houses which could be built
using a simple modular concrete system,
patented under the name "Knitlock"
which has always piqued my interest the most.
It's kinda like Meccano - where just 8 different shapes of panels
are used to build an entire house, 
including load bearing sections, internal + external walls & roof tiles.
The idea was that it was cheap to produce,
any builder could construct it with minimum skill,
and that flexibility for planning was inherent. 

And in 1922, he used the Knitlock system to build our Salter House.
It took a bit of personal persuasion down at the local council chambers,
to explain how pre-cast concrete panels would be suitable 
in a leafy, well-heeled suburb such as Toorak.

But it hardly looks like a flimsy home, does it?
This was pretty much the beginning of modular homes,
well before their time.

If you look carefully, 
you can just see that the internal walls are made from blocks. 

The plan is quite fascinating, because the courtyard is so tiny.
What was its purpose?
Perhaps to be a lightwell, 
and to support a glorious garden,
almost in a fishbowl effect. 

The more I study the plan,
and remembering that this was 1922,
the more I am in awe of this design.
It's an incredibly liveable layout,
and so far ahead of its time that it looks current now. 

And what became of our quirky architect,
after he had finished designing Canberra,
+ various sub-divisions, houses, theatres & incinerators 
in Melbourne & Sydney in the 1920s?

He moved to India in the mid 1930s,
but sadly died a couple of years later,
from surgery complications. 
His architect wife, and work partner, Marion Mahoney Griffin, 
completed the commissioned projects in India,
then closed down the Indian office,
sold the Australian practice
and returned to Chicago. 

Which just leaves us with the most extraordinary legacy of a most extraordinary couple.
I hope the new buyer of Salter House will treasure it,
as befits it.

Would you like to live here?

property location :: salter house, 16a glyndebourne ave toorak


  1. Hello Virginia:
    This is an absolutely fascinating post which we have found hugely of interest. And we love the illustrations which you have chosen for it.

    There is nothing comparable to this in Hungary although, dating from the Communist period, there are many prefab blocks of 'panel' flats which have a very bad reputation.

    1. Well hello Jane and Lance! Oh yes, the kind which give "pre-fab" such a bad name. A bit like the contemporary pre-cast tilt-up commercial buildings which are such a scourge upon modern cities, the world over. And then, the whole layout of the flats was such a social disaster, too.

  2. It's an absolute cutie. You have such unusual houses over there, I guess it's because you are a young country, we just don't have that diversity here, though I wonder what our architects were all doing in the 50's and 60's, just more of the same?

    1. That's a really interesting point Tabs, and I wonder if it is the age or the mixing of cultures from the beginnings which makes a difference to architectural diversity? Perhaps it is for the same reason that NYC has produced such diversity too.

      But far from being dull, a lot of brilliant design has come out of the UK in the last 100 years.

  3. Wow, that is amazing! Thank you so much for all of this, what an exceptional story. Some people are just visionaries.

    I hope that whoever buys the Salter House will give it the TLC it deserves!

  4. What a gem! An amazing structure and a fascinating story. Knitlock system still has so much potential almost a hundred years later. Pre-fab could be a great invention if implemented creatively, not interpreted in the basic primitive way. Endless possibilities. Hopefully the new owners will redecorate it to embellish this little gem as it deserves.Thank you Virginia.

  5. I was surprised to read that he was the creator of carports and L shaped living/dining rooms. I really dislike both of those - carports never hide stored junk (which is usually too visible from the street and rarely are for vehicles only) and L-Shaped always seem to me to be too confining - which I am sure was never his intention. I am going to search for some of his designs to see if his original idea was better than what it was turned into. A really fascinating piece. Thanks :>)
    and yes, I could live in the Salter House.

  6. Fascinating. I hope this home is protected, because it looks a bit small for Toorak! x

  7. I would just love to live in this house. Maybe if i make it in the end and return to Australia...Who knows?


Oh! Thank you for leaving me a comment!

Just a quick note: this is about a conversation - it's not a place to advertise. So please do not include self-promotion as your comment will not be published.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...