Australian Modernism: A brief reading guide

It’s summer and what better time to catch up on all that reading you have been promising yourself over the past year. So, in order to make the task a little easier I have put together a brief reading guide to satisfy your modernist cravings. Apart from a couple of new releases, the rest of the books are personal favorites, some available and others collectors items, but all good resources to have in your personal library. Please feel free to share your your suggestions in the comments section. enjoy!

New Releases

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70/80/90 iconic Australian houses: Three decades of domestic architecture
Karen McCartney

Following on from her last book ‘Iconic Australian Houses 50/60/70’ Karen McCartney is back with another book of case studies looking at modernist architecture in Australia. The book is interesting and informative, and both the styling and photography by Michael Wee is first class, as you would expect from McCartney who has edited a number of high profile lifestyle magazines. I got this book for Christmas and have enjoyed flicking through the pages and marveling at the construction and design of many of the homes featured, but I must admit that I prefer the previous book simply because I am a 50/60/70’s kind of guy. McCartney’s books are well researched and provide a good introduction to modernest architecture in Australia. Either book is sure to provide hours of enjoyment as you drool over the lavish interiors filled with iconic furniture designs.

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Victorian Modern: One hundred and eleven years of modern architecture in Victoria, Australia
Robin Boyd
Out of print for over 60 years – Victorian Modern is to be republished by the Robin Boyd Foundation in October 2011. The book can be purchased online through the Robin Boyd foundation website and is also available at good booksellers.
I am yet to get my hands on a copy of this, but I am looking forward to reading it soon.

Architecture, Art and Design

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Modern Times: the untold story of modernism in Australia
Edited by Ann Stephen, Philip Goad and Andrew McNamara

Published by The Miegunyah Press in association with the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney in 2008 to coincide with the Modern Times exhibition, this book is a must have for anyone wanting a more in-depth overview of the creative and cultural driving forces behind the modernist movement in post-war Australia. Chock full of photographs and insightful essays by established researchers, this book is a ‘must have’ for the Australian Modern enthusiast.

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Modernism & Australia: documents on art, design and architecture 1917-1967
Edited by Ann Stephen, Philip Goad and Andrew McNamara
Published by The Miegunyah Press in association with the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney in 2007. With close to 1000 pages, ‘Modernism & Australia’ is crammed with essays and articles written by many of the key players in the Australian modernist movement. The book is well organized, thoroughly researched and easy to dip into, as it is divided into sections covering visual arts. design, architecture and interdisciplinary practices. There are no photographs or illustrations, instead the book offers a plethora of thought provoking essays and articles which outline the ideological and creative debates taking place at the time. A key resource for any Australian modernism researcher or enthusiast.

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Design in Australia 1880-1970
Michael Bogle

Published by Craftsman House and written by design historian Michael Bogle, the book is extremely well researched and includes many archival photographs. Bogle’s writing style is direct and accessible, his voice articulate and and conversational in tone as he clearly outlines the milestones and key players in Australia’s design history. I really enjoyed this book, and found it informative and easy to navigate. It’s another must have for the book collection and essential reading for those who want to know more about our design history.

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50 60 70: Iconic Australian Houses: Three Decades of Domestic Architecture
Karen McCartney

Published by Murdoch Books in 2007, McCartney presents 15 case studies of iconic architect designed homes built between 1950-1970. Highlights include designs by Peter McIntyre, Robin Boyd, Harry Seidler and Roy Grounds. The layout, styling and photography is outstanding, and each case study features details selected by McCartney, who somehow manages to effortlessly mix information and stunning visuals into a heady modernist cocktail of architecture, interiors and industrial design. Missing from the selection are homes by Romberg, Chancellor & Patrick and Anatol Kagan, to name but a few. If you are reading this Karen, could we please have part 2 of this celebration of Australian modernism.

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Australian Houses of the Forties and Fifties
Peter Cuffley

Published by The Five Mile Press in 1993, Cuffley offers up a superbly researched book with a strong focus on modernist architecture and interior design. Cuffley outlines the key cultural shifts influencing the post-war love affair with modernism in Australia. Full of period magazine adverts and archival photographs of homes and interiors, this book opens the door to a time fueled by the optimism for a better tomorrow. A must have for anyone interested in post-war design history. Highly recommended.

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Homes In The Sky: Apartment Living In Australia
Charles Pickett & Caroline Butler-Bowden

Published by The Miegunyah Press in association with the Historic Houses Trust in 2007, this hardback book provides a fascinating account of the shift towards apartment living in Australia and features countless photographs of art deco and mid-century apartments from across the country. Impeccably researched, this book provides an insight into the debates, politics and cultures that influenced the planning and building of many of our iconic inner city dwellings and high rise developments. Whether you’re an historian, researcher, architect or simply a fan of modernist architecture, this book is sure to provide hours of reading pleasure.

Biographies and Monographs

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The Best style: Marion Hall Best and Australian interior design, 1935-1975
Michaela Richards

Published by Art and Australia Books in 1993, the book provides an insight into one of Australia’s most influential interior designers. Marion Hall Best’s progressive take on interior design put her a the forefront of contemporary design, and her shop in Sydney, which stocked furniture, lighting and textiles by renowned international designers, was a testament to her love of modernist design. Best was also a keen supporter of local designers, and during the fifties her shop regularly stocked furniture by Gordon Andrews, Clement Meadmore and Grant Featherston. The book features loads of B&W and colour photographs and is a great read. Best was obviously a woman with a strong sense of self and style. The book is currently out of print, but it occasionally turns up on eBay or in secondhand bookshops. Well worth the money.

You may also like to check out the Marion Hall Best Collection.


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Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret & Extraordinary Lives
Helen O’Neil

Published by Hardie Grant Books in 2006, the biography is a fascinating account of the life and times of ‘wallpaper queen’ Florence Broadhurst. Punctuated by archival photos and images her iconic wallpaper designs, her life story is so crammed that you could easily think that Broadhurst had indeed led many lives. O’Neil’s exhaustive research has unearthed a character who is both charismatic and undefinable. There is no doubt that Broadhurst was a strong woman with an even stronger sense of self, but I am left wondering how much of the public persona reflected her true nature. Once you start reading this book you will not be able to put it down, because like Broadhurst’s life, this biography evokes a range of genres including drama, travel, comedy, and mystery. Highly recommended.

P.S. Check out Gillian Armstrong’s outstanding documentary Unfolding Florence: The Many Lives of Florence Broadhurst (2006).


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Gordon Andrews: a designers life
Gordon Andrews

When it comes to post-war modernist design in Australia, Andrews is among the best. Famous for designing the iconic Rondo chair, which I believe is the greatest design of the period, Andrews’ career spanned a lifetime of interdisciplinary design practices which saw him design advertising material, furniture, lighting, saucepans and even our first decimal currency. This hardcover monograph, published by New South Wales University Press in 1993, is crammed full of examples of Andrews’ design work, including rare furniture designs. Thoughtfully written, Andrews is able to reflect on his own history as if discovering it for the first time. A beautiful book that I find myself revisiting time and time again. Unfortunately the book is now out of print but copies can occasionally be found on eBay and at good secondhand bookshops. Expect to pay anywhere between $150 -250 a copy.

Gordon Andrews design archive, 1923 – 1987.

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