Modern architecture had two parallel directions in the immediate post-war years: the functional, represented by the sleek, cubiform buildings of the international style; and the organic, represented by houses typically set in bushland, constructed from natural materials and demonstrating an affinity with nature. The latter ‘romantic’ school was greatly influenced by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
The late twentieth century organic style is generally domestic, often found in unaltered bushland settings, exhibiting free massing, textured brickwork and roof planes with a horizontal emphasis. In Australia, architects such as Peter Muller, Bruce Rickard and Alastair Knox were the main practitioners through the 1950s and 1960s. Their houses demonstrated a connection with nature and were influenced and inspired by Wright.
In Canberra, the highly individual housing and building designs of Enrico Taglietti are important, from the mid 1960s onwards. Since the 1970s, a further development in the organic style has been the concern with providing energy efficient solutions to Australia’s climate and environment. The most important examples are houses by Laurie Virr and Paul Hanley.
While usually limited to domestic architecture, the most important organic building in Canberra is Enrico Taglietti’s Giralang Primary School.
Giralang Primary School was designed by Enrico Taglietti in 1974 and completed in 1976. It is an excellent example of late twentieth century organic architecture, with its free, asymmetrical massing, the way the complex angular geometry complements nature, horizontal roof planes, highlight windows and strong horizontal fascias. It is Taglietti’s most highly regarded building. The ACT Chapter of the RAIA awarded it the Canberra Medallion for architectural excellence in 1977 and in 2001 the school received the AIA 25 Year award for its design, construction, integrity and usefulness over a long period of time.
The school complex is designed to work with the open plan system of education, which was introduced to Canberra in 1974 when the ACT took over responsibility for education from New South Wales. Open plan was about learning in flexible, multi-purpose spaces that enabled teachers to work in teams to cater for the individual needs of students.
The plan is based on a cruciform with interconnected teaching areas centred on the library and its courtyard, which form the learning heart of the school. The spaces formed by angled and curved subdivisions and changes in level result in a dramatic spatial effect. The library’s cantilevered concrete balcony projects into a remarkable three-dimensional space, where the roof rises to its greatest height, and the sculptured walls and cantilevered balcony combine to frame views of the playground beyond through vertical windows at the perimeter walls.
The complexity of the internal spaces is suggested by the exterior profile of the school, with steeply pitched roofs, buttressed brick gable ends, deep horizontal fascias, and various playful details. Walls are of cement brick and the steel framed structure is based on a 6 metre module. The school’s colours (yellow and blue) were incorporated into the design, along with red for metalwork.