Why is Australian design so cool?

Not a rhetorical question. This is a hodgepodge sample, for sure, and spans decades, but all of it seems to partake of some form or other of adventurousness. It’s possible I’m projecting, and that my view of Australia is entirely filtered through my childhood fixation on that girl in National Geographic who crossed the outback on camels. But I doubt it. Above are from the National Archives of Australia appearing in the Heide Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit Modern Times: the untold story of modernism in Australia. Top: ‘A modernist vision of Australia: Grant and Mary Featherston’s wing sound chairs were a feature of the Australian Pavilion, designed by architect James Maccormick with exhibits selected by Robin Boyd, at Expo 67 in Montreal, 1967′ and ‘View of the elevated restaurant, Centenary Pool, Brisbane’ by James Birrell. Most images below are from desire to inspire, the half-Australian blog. House directly below is the Wheatsheaf House. House in woods below by Drew Heath; room with screen, photo by Lucas Allen; geometric bedroom by Greg Natale; provenance of last 3 photos is lost, please advise; last photo is room by Marion Hall Best, considered the mother of modern Australian interior design.

Photographer Dana Gallagher's NY apartment

Australian Home Journal Budget Decorating September 1979 E

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5 Responses to “Why is Australian design so cool?”

  1. Eva Says:

    Because they have room enough, I guess. Space of land creates space in minds or so.

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  3. iinekore Says:

    great selection! i have no idea why. but the space idea is interesting. also the light here is often mentioned? i know of that camel across the desert woman – robyn davidson, right? that story amazed me. one quote from that book in particular might also help to iluminate a little of the australian mind? it goes like this:

    ‘a generosity of spirit that can afford to grow within that unique sense of traditionless space and potential’
    quote from TRACKS by Robin Davidson

    personally, it is interesting for me to think about, in terms of a ‘national cool’, me being so into japanese design and all…but that is something that i have built up over years, like an extra nationality (i think 20 years of contact with japan in some way, geez – getting old!) but that is different to growing up somewhere. i am also very proud and inspired by a lot of what happens in my own backyard here… i would also like to see a canada selection sometime! (if you haven’t already that is.)

  4. iinekore Says:

    ps – i just had a thought. i hope no one gets outraged at the quote i quote above mentioning ‘traditionless space’, when australia has of course been rich in aboriginal tradition for 10s of thousands of years. from what i recall, her book and story is a profound entry point into a deeper understanding of the land and its aboriginal custodians, and also a reflection on how we coast-clinging colonials need to have a deeper connection to it. another quote:

    ‘ the way you walk comes form the ground you walk on’.


  5. LB Says:

    ii ne kore, Holy, that’s right! Her name was Robyn Davidson! When I started looking at all this Australian design she just popped into my head. I hadn’t thought about her in years.

    You and Eva are probably both right – the space and the light. Not to mention the heat. Maybe also Australia’s sheer geographical distance from everywhere else made tradition seem farther away. (By the way I knew what you were referring to with the word tradition – Australia was traditionless only from the point of view of the white/non-aboriginal settlers who either brought their cultures with them – or didn’t.)

    It occurs to me that one major difference is that Europeans settlers to Australia would have had to innovate or steal new building styles to suit the hot climate. The situation was a bit different for European settlers to Canada, though building methods and materials changed here too. But perhaps not quite so drastically.

    Canada and Australia probably have the pioneer mindset phenomenon in common – I’m not sure how that plays out in each place in terms of design, art and culture. Pioneers tend to be tough, proud of their survival in hard conditions, and in some ways they feel superior to a cultural tradition. You know, that sort of chippy “we don’t need culture, look at us, we made this land without it!” attitude. In North America this produced a lot of anti-intellectualism, a common prejudice against culture as effete (these views often cut across social class), and generally a disposal of the baby with the bathwater. The well-known Canadian architect Arthur Erickson complained about this problem a lot and felt it had hampered our architecture (and N. American culture in general). He thought it was actually born out of the settlers’ feeling of cultural and educational insecurity. I don’t know how this has played out in Australian arts and culture but it doesn’t exactly seem to have hurt your design. Perhaps these things unfold differently in northern climates and in different economies, who knows. It’s probably true that people feel a lot more open and expansive when they’re not sitting in a dark log cabin freezing themselves half to death. Plus we have the complicating influence of the large, dominant neighbour sitting right at our border.

    I’m sure all this generalizing about Australia must be so annoying to Australians! Such a glib selection on my part. I think someone will now have to make gross generalizations about Canadian design. Myself I don’t know what “Canadian design” would be and I can’t see the forest for the trees (/mounties/forts/cabins/bears/trading posts). But I’ll try to select some photos for you. A friend who grew up in the Philippines said the first thing that struck her most about Canada was its house decks. To her eye, every house had a big swimming raft jutting off it.

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