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Time to commemorate

lucknow Updated: Sep 11, 2012 14:06 IST
Rajeev Mullick

Australia’s capital Canberra and Lucknow’s Tagore library (in Lucknow University) have one thing in common -- architectural design.

Walter Burley Griffin, an American, along with his wife Marion Mahony designed Canberra (after winning Canberra’s international design competition in 1911-12) and the Tagore library here.

He moved to Lucknow in 1935 and in February 1937, he succumbed to peritonitis and was buried at Nishatganj cemetery in Lucknow.

Now, on the occasion of Canberra’s centenary, Griffin’s Canberra-Lucknow contribution will be commemorated this month and it is expected that this commemoration ceremony would give this talented couple a rightful place in the history of these two magnificent capital cities.

As part of the commemoration ceremony here, a small delegation is coming to Lucknow from Australia for this purpose, according to an email to Hindustan Times by Dr David Headon, history and heritage adviser for the centenary celebrations of Canberra and adviser to senator Kate Lundy, minister for sports and multicultural affairs, Australia.

Lucknow and Canberra will also celebrate Griffin’s life through a seminar entitled “Capital Vision from the Imagine to the Real” on September 26.

The seminar is being organised by the Institute of Urban Design, India and hosted by the Faculty of Architecture, Gautam Buddh Technical University (GBTU).

As part of the ceremony, water from Lake Walter Burley Griffin will be sprinkled on his grave at Nishatganj cemetery here, says Amrita Dass, director, Institute of Career Studies.

The Lucknow University website mentions that the plan of Tagore library building was prepared by Mr Griffin, a noted architect, and was explained in detail to members of the library committee on December 10, 1935.

The model for the two-storied building was placed in the old library for students and staff to make suggestions for improvement or innovation in the plan.

However, there was inordinate delay in approving the plan. Griffin died in the meantime.

The foundation stone of the new building (present building) was laid by the then chancellor in March 1937 but the start of construction took time.

After the death of Griffin, one Mr Narwekar was assigned the responsibility for the architectural portion and supervision of the work on payment of a sum of Rs. 2,000.

The Griffins also designed the spectacular pavilions of the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) agricultural exhibition held in Lucknow in 1937.

Other important landscape architecture plans included a new campus for the University of Lucknow and a garden for its library.

The Griffins set up an architectural firm in Lucknow and “produced more than 50 projects between November 1935 and February 1937 ranging from private dwellings, gardens and public edifices to housing projects and suburban communities.”

The Bir Bhan Bhatia house is “one of the finest dwellings the couple produced anywhere.”

According to professor Christopher Vernon of the University of Western Australia, “Walter Burley Griffin grew quickly enchanted with the ‘city of gardens’,” and “likened Lucknow’s skyline to a ‘perfect Arabian night’s dream of white domes and minarets’.”