Interior Luxury at the Café Australia

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Annette Condello


Chicagoan architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin moved to Australia in 1914 to realise their expansive vision for its new national capital city, Canberra. By contrast, their first work built here was a diminutive interior, the Australia Café and Bar (1915-16) at temporary national capital Melbourne. An insertion within an extant building, the ‘Australia’, however, was not the first café to occupy 270 Collins Street East; the address was actually the locus of an interior architecture palimpsest. The Gunsler first occupied the site in 1879; the Vienna followed in 1889.Antony J. J. Lucas purchased the Vienna in 1915 and contracted the Griffins to expand it. This study surveys the ‘Australia’ and its predecessor’s interiors and positions all three within the city’s wider café scene, aiming to cultivate an appreciation of the Griffins’ café as a luxurious Australian-type venue. It argues that with the Australia Café’s completion in 1916, the Griffins realised the most luxurious interior erected in Melbourne, if not the country; their design involvement established a new rich avenue of ‘Australian’ luxury bolstered with a Mayan Revival aesthetic. Their aesthetic, however, was apparently in advance of public taste. The Australia soon met with criticism; its façade was altered by others in 1920 and its interior was almost completely erased by 1938.This paper explores the Griffins’ café design interventions for the ‘Australia’ and the concept of interior luxury.

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How to Cite
Condello, Annette. 2010. “Interior Luxury at the Café Australia”. idea journal 10 (1):64-77.
text-based research essay
Author Biography

Annette Condello, Curtin University

Annette Condello lectures in design, culture and research methods in the Department of Architecture at the school of the built Environment, Curtin University, Perth, Australia. her scholarship focuses upon the architectural transformation of luxury in the ancient world and its impact on the modern and contemporary West. she is also exploring the architectural dialogue with cuisine, spoils, glamour and fashion in southern Europe, the Americas, Australia and currently the Philippines.