Derham Groves

Kebab Shops in Melbourne

In 2010 I visited Iran, courtesy of a travel grant from the Iran Heritage Foundation, to look at Iranian brickwork. What marvellous brickwork I discovered there! But that is another story.

Travelling around Iran (which I found to be quite different to that usually depicted on the six o’clock news, by the way), photographing some spectacular brick walls, naturally I stopped to eat from time to time, and as a result I found myself unexpectedly examining something else besides the country’s brickwork—Iran’s ubiquitous kebab shops.

The differences between say Melbourne, where I live, and Tehran, the capital of Iran, are in the main truly vast, but here was one tiny thing that both cities have in common.

This got me thinking after I returned home: if I found the kebab shops in Iran so interesting then perhaps I should look more closely at the kebab shops in Melbourne.

So I asked the Master of Architecture students who took my Popular Architecture and Design course in 2011 at the University of Melbourne, where I teach, to pair off; to each select a kebab shop in Melbourne; and to record the following basic information about them:


• The kebab shop’s name and address

• A plan of the kebab shop, including its fittings and furniture

• A photograph of the front façade of the kebab shop

• A photograph of the kebab shop next to the other shops in the street

• A photograph of the kebab shop at night

• A photograph of the other side and rear facades of the kebab shop (where they were accessible)

• Photographs of the interior of the kebab shop

• Photographs of the kebab shop’s advertising/signage

• A copy of the kebab shop’s menu

• A brief description of the kebab shop

• A brief interview with the shopkeeper and perhaps some customers


Kebab Shops in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey, a new book published by the Custom Book Centre at the University of Melbourne, contains all of this data exactly as collected by the architecture students and given to me.

The idea of compiling an eclectic-style, uncritical and unedited “encyclopaedia” like this was suggested by the 800-page The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping (2002) by the Dutch “starchitect” Rem Koolhaas et al.

Several people have looked at and written about everyday places that are usually taken for granted and not given a second thought. One of the most interesting is the late French author, Georges Perec (1936 – 1982), whose work I introduced to the Master of Architecture students-cum-“kebab shop detectives.” His little book, An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris (first translated into English in 2010), is a quirky masterpiece in my view.

Another source/sauce of inspiration was Reyner Banham’s brief but amusing and surprisingly insightful assessment of hamburgers and hamburger shops contained in his classic study of Los Angeles, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971).

In light of some of the recent scary exchanges between America and Iran, it is oddly comforting to realize that fast food is fast food no matter whether it comes from Los Angeles or Tehran.

I hope that Kebab Shops in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey will encourage further and more detailed research into the humble kebab shop, which is an interesting and ubiquitous—nevertheless almost “invisible”—part of the urban built environment not only in Australia and Iran, but also elsewhere (for example, on a recent trip to Auckland, New Zealand, I spotted many kebab shops there too).

To sum up then, Kebab Shops in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey describes over 40 kebab shops in various Melbourne suburbs by means of descriptive prose, line drawings, black and white photographs, and interviews with shopkeepers and customers. This data was collected by Master of Architecture students at the University of Melbourne and compiled, warts and all, by Derham Groves. This quirky 500-plus-page book is perhaps best described as The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping meets Georges Perec.

Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes

The cover of Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes designed by Huey Groves

The book is published by the Culicidae Press and is available via or

A review of the book by Zoe Nikakis in Voice in The Age, 10 October 2011


Ames, IA: Culicidae Press, pp. 103,
ISBN: 978-1-257-71315-8, Paperback, AUD $39.95

Reviewed by Andrew Chrystall, Massey University, New Zealand.

Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes interfaces a chronological biography (cum-histography) of the Chinese-American film star, Anna May Wong’s 107-day visit to Australia in 1939 with the documentation of 52 design-as-biography projects by students at the University of Melbourne. The effect(s) is uncanny. Groves demonstrates a different approach to writing biography that is as challenging to the historian as his approach to design-as-biography is to the designer and architect and his mode of pedagogy to the teacher. While operating just outside the realm of the readily classifiable, due in large measure to the work’s hybridity and Groves’ multidisciplinary transgressions, Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes makes a contribution not only to our understanding of the popular and material cultural history of pre-World War II Australia. Arguably, Groves can also be read here as having created something of an anti-manifesto for dialogic, sustainable design that is of immediate relevance.

At the level of surfaces, Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes appears simple and unpretentious, if not parochial and banal. However, when read in light of the interplay between the two sections—biography and the documentation of design-as-biography projects —it becomes apparent that the materials have been organised to give the work a circuit-like quality. Surface simplicity gives way to a subtle complexity. Groves’ biography nurses the reader into an encounter with the design-as-biography projects and the projects draw the reader back to rediscover the biography of Wong—text begets image(s) and the image(s) beget a re-energized and re-configured text.

The first section of Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes documents the movements of the now little-known Wong to, around and from Australia just prior to World War II. Groves briefly establishes his personal appreciation of the enigmatic, Lady Gaga-esque Wong in the first person. But he quickly abandons a point of view and his writing takes on some of the characteristics of American novelist, Thomas Pynchon. Like Pynchon, Groves has the meticulous eye of the sleuth or the roving tactile-eye of the virtual camera for detail. Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes if full of detailed lists: passenger lists, guest lists, menus, and filmography. Around the movements of Wong Groves builds an inventory of Australian material and popular culture just prior to the war. His camera eye, panning and zooming incessantly, is quick to focus on concrete, individual particulars of the material culture of the day: time, date, places, street names and numbers, transactions, costs, makes, models, colours, patterns and textures. In addition to offering insight into Australian architecture, entertainment, fashion, food and politics, Groves provides a lens through which to view of racism in Australia and the racial politics of film production, homophobia, the rising cult of celebrity, (beautiful-) freak aesthetics, and the milieu of Australia’s social aristocracy. In short, Groves’ inspection captures everything that is going on—by means of a close inspection of the most common, everyday and banal—not merely what some people think should be going on. In this respect Groves’ operation is something of a prose equivalent for what his fellow Australian artist Reg Mombassa achieves in paint. And it is for this reason that the long-dead Marshall McLuhan might have said that Groves succeeds where F. R. Leavis failed. “The trouble with Leavis,” noted McLuhan (1987), was that his “passion for important work forbids him to look for the sun in the egg-tarnished spoons of the daily table […] [this] cuts him off from the relevant pabulum” (166).

In the second section, Groves, with the help of photography by Lee McRae, documents and offers a brief reflection on 52 pairs of shoes designed by his students enrolled in the Popular Architecture and Design paper. Groves set his students the task of designing a pair of (lucky?) shoes for Wong by altering an old pair of shoes purchased from an opportunity shop. Groves’ reflections here, however, do not interfere with documentation of the shoes on display. Rather his mode, tradition or sensible orientation towards art and art history appears to have some affinity with the humanism of Burkhardt, carried on in the 20th century by figures such as Wölfflin, Giedion and Moholy-Nagy. While Groves might disown the connection to these figures it is worth mentioning here as it may open up a way of reading Groves and help illuminate why he has sought to showcase the work of these young Australian designers.

The crux of the matter is that Groves does not turn away from objects or art nor does he use either as a platform to illustrate or argue a set of ideas (in the mode, say, of the social-engineer who sets design the task of changing people). Rather, for Groves, it is art that matters and he extracts himself to make a space for “objects” and the “art” to speak for themselves on their own terms. Subsequently, and this may be another reason why Groves eludes convenient categorisation, if he has anything to say beyond showcasing a motivational and fun pedagogical activity it is said at the level of demonstration. Design, as Groves presents it, can be a deeply dialogic activity with and in service of unique human individuals (with a history and somewhat messy relationship to material artefacts that can be, simultaneously, practical, emotional, irrational, calculated, and ever-changing). His mode of demonstration that eschews linear, logical and hypothesis-drive rational argument is entirely consistent with his goal(s). If we allow, then, Groves to demonstrate what design is, can and should be we find design (inclusive of architecture) can be a form of biography. It emerges from story—rich and concrete encounters between peoples, places and material culture. Design maximizes diversity and, therefore, minimizes competition (which is predicated on a large degree of sameness). Design is also transmutative and realised in and through a dialogue with pre-existing materials that are as historically conditioned as the client. Subsequently, design, neither has to result in the creation of more stuff, which is what Andrew Milner argues needs to be avoided for the realisation of a sustainable future, nor has to set itself the task of promoting a bloodless, or perhaps glamour-less, austerity ill befitting an art deco diva.

Works cited
McLuhan, Marshall. (1987), ‘Letter to Walter Ong and Clement J. McNaspy, December 23, 1944.’ in M. Molinaro, C. McLuhan, & W. Toye (eds.), The Letters of Marshall McLuhan. Toronto, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press,

The Australian Brick Letterbox

The suite of six letterboxes in front of Holmesglen Institute of TAFE

Lachlan Michael

Muhummad Abid

En Yee Teh

Audrey Zerafa

David Young

Nur Zainal Abidin

Rubina Barooah



An innovative program at the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning has seen students design unique letterboxes which were then built by bricklaying apprentices at Holmesglen TAFE. Zoe Nikakis reports.

As part of the Popular Architecture and Design subject, students created a brick wall or letterbox and wrote clear design briefs for the apprentices to follow.

Lecturer Dr Derham Groves said the subject was about teaching the students how to put theory into practice.

“We have all these students with so many ideas, who just need a vehicle for them,” he says.

Dr Groves chose letterboxes as the focus of the project because he has always been interested in their symbolic qualities.

“I focused on letterboxes and the Australian D.I.Y. movement in my PhD thesis,” he says.

“In past decades in Australia, if you were to go crazy in terms of the built environment, if you were to do something bizarre, you could do it with your letterbox and people would be forgiving.

“You could have one area of unfettered creativity, unfettered madness, where people wouldn’t hold it against you.”

Seven students’ designs were chosen for construction: Lachlan Michael, Muhummad Abid, En Yee The, Audrey Zerafa, David Young, Rubina Barooah and Nur Zainal Abidin all created highly original designs which ranged from a multicoloured Pacman letterbox to one featuring a brickwork prawn.

Pacman letterbox designer Nur Zainal Abidin says the project was very interesting, because she got to design something besides buildings and could be wacky in that design.

“Although the brief said we had to use bricks, it didn’t stop me being creative. I took it as a challenge to create interesting shapes, and I came up with a Pacman shape,” she says.

She says she enjoyed the challenge very much. “I really like the design I’ve produced, and it felt really amazing to have it chosen to be built. The guys in Holmesglen did a very good job in putting it together. I was thrilled.”

She says also that letterboxes can actually be part of the house design.

“It could be something hilarious and unthinkably unique that people would be amused by. Letterboxes can inform the character of the house owners, some might choose to be bold and go the extra mile in designing it, but some might not.”

She says her idea for the Pacman letterbox came to her during a lecture.

“Derham gave a lecture about brick pattern designs using image pixilation, and I thought it was actually a great method, but I didn’t just want to pixilate a picture and design the letterbox shaped like a skinny brick wall, I wanted it to have a shape, so then I thought of other pixilated things, which made me think of video graphics, which then led to those old-school video games that I used to play.

“I love the Pacman game, so I decided to use the Pacman in its ghost shape.”

The University and Holmesglen have now collaborated on four student projects in the past decade.

Dr Groves says it was truly a win-win situation.

“The students and the apprentices take so much pride in completing these projects, because it really forces them to think.

“On the day the letterboxes were launched, the pride on the students’ faces was great to see.

“For many architecture students, the letterboxes are the first things they’ve designed which have been built.  They’re never going to forget it.”

Los Angeles and Texas, April 2011


Clifton’s—One of my favourite places in Los Angeles

A step back into the 1930s

Westwood Cemetery—Another favourite place in Los Angeles

No caption required

Eddie Albert & Eva Gabor, the stars of Green Acres

Loretta King & Thor Johnson in Bride of the Monster (1955)

A new plaque for Don Knotts since I was there last year. (I liked the simpler, older one though.)

Jim Backus—Mr. Magoo & Thurston Howl III

John Cassavetes, a rebel with a cause

The El Royale Motel in Ventura Boulevard—A classic!

As seen in Boogie Nights (1997)

More classics …

I’ve started looking at motels

Anna May Wong’s star on the Walk of Fame

Zanja Madre (1992)—as seen in Batman Forever (1995)designed by my buddy, Andrew Leicester

Not so classic …

Frank Gehrey’s bad detailing, Walt Disney Concert Hall

San Antonio, Texas

The Alamo. I just don’t get it.

The Riverwalk. “Would you like a large beer, sir?” “Yes thanks,” I said.

Another great neon

The march of time

Kingsville, Texas

Kingsville, the town where the city fringe killed the city centre


Earlier this year I received a travel grant from the Iran Heritage Foundation to visit Iran to look at patterned and sculptured brickwork.  I went on the 22nd of November and came back on the 13th of December.  I visited Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Yazd, Kashan, and Tabriz.  I’m happy to report that Iran is no evil empire.  The people are friendly and kind and the only time that I was in danger was crossing the road (regardless of whether the light is green or red, everybody just goes!).  The brickwork was fabulous too—not just the old stuff, but the new stuff as well.

Pomegranates, not onions.

No similarities between the scary mannequins and me whatsoever.

This coffee table was presented to the Shah of Iran’s wife, Farah Diba, by Australia’s Governor General, Sir John Kerr.  I couldn’t see any grog stains on it though.

The culture of martyrdom.

Iran Heritage Foundation Grant Report: Patterned and Sculptural Brickwork in Iran
Derham Groves

I visited Iran between the 23rd of November and the 11th of December 2010.  My primary purpose was to look at patterned (i.e. 2-D or flat) and sculptural (i.e. 3-D or raised and recessed) brickwork.  I visited Tehran twice, Isfahan, Shiraz, Yadz, Kashan, and Tabriz.  Most commercial, domestic and public buildings in Iran are made of fired bricks.  These buildings are either solid brick or brick veneer (it is sometimes difficult to tell which).  I also saw lots of very old mud brick buildings, especially in Kashan.  I gave a lecture on Australian polychrome brickwork (i.e. the use of different coloured bricks to delineate figures or patterns) at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran and also at the Tabriz Islamic Art University in Tabriz.

Throughout Iran fired bricks are generally very good quality.  In Yadz I visited two neighbouring brick factories.  One produced extruded bricks that were fired in a huge Hoffman kiln, which was nearly a kilometre long.  The other factory produced pressed bricks that were fired in a less sophisticated downdraught kiln.  The sizes of bricks seem to vary throughout Iran.  A common or standard brick is approximately 210mm long x 95mm wide x 55mm high (this particular brick was measured in Isfahan).  Half-height bricks (210mm x 105mm x 40mm, also measured in Isfahan), known as “Roman” bricks in Australia, and a wide range of unusually shaped and sized bricks, which occasionally are glazed in blue or incorporate small squares of blue tile or mirror, are very popular throughout Iran.  And some very old buildings have square fired bricks, such as the Arg-e Karim Khan, an old citadel in Shiraz (230mm x 230mm x 50mm), and the Arg-e Tabriz, an ancient (ruined) fortified mosque in Tabriz (175mm x 175mm x 50mm).

As most of my work to date has focused on polychrome brickwork, (illogically) I expected to see more of this in Iran.  But Iranian brickwork is almost exclusively monochrome—the vast majority of bricks being yellowish-buff in colour.  The small amount of polychrome brickwork I saw was rather docile compared to that seen in Australia.  However, in many respects monochrome brickwork is more challenging to design than polychrome brickwork because all that the designer has to play with are the patterns of the bricks and mortar, known as “bonds”, and the effects of light and shadow.

Bricklaying is generally of a very high standard in Iran.  Bricklaying techniques that require a high degree of skill, such as arches, corbels, perforated brickwork, and vaults, are routine throughout the country.  I also observed many different types of brick bonds, including basket weave, header, herringbone, Flemish, and stack.  Interestingly, to emphasize the horizontality of brickwork, the vertical mortar joints or “perpends” are very frequently eliminated and the bricks simply butt jointed, and occasionally slithers of blue tiles are pushed into the bed joints as well.

In Iran it appears that traditional bricklaying skills are effectively passed down from one generation of bricklayers to another.  However, there is a recent trend to use materials such as concrete and steel especially for commercial and public buildings, which is driven by the speed of development, the need to ‘earthquake-proof’ buildings and current architectural fashion.  This may eventually lead to an erosion of bricklaying skills, as has happened in Australia over the years.

I anticipated seeing a lot of decorative brickwork on old and historic buildings and I was not disappointed.  The Arg-e Karim Khan in Shiraz, for example, has large continuous diamond or diaper 3-D patterns around each buttress at the four corners of the citadel, which ‘jump out’ due to them catching the light and casting shadows.  Some mud brick buildings also have this sort of decoration, such as the minaret at the Jameh mosque in Kashan.  Also the variety and intricacy of the 2-D patterns on the inside of the brick domes of the bazaars and mosques is truly amazing—circles, diamonds, hexagons, squares, stars, triangles, etc.  At Shahid Beheshti University I met Dr. Tehrani, an expert on the construction of brick domes in Iran, who gave me a CD of his research on the brick domes of the Masjed-e Jameh mosque in Isfahan.

I was surprised by how much decorative brickwork I saw on modern buildings.  For example, two impressive early 20th century brick buildings I saw were the redbrick building next to the former Senate (and now the Assembly of Experts) in Tehran, and the National Museum of Iran also in Tehran.  The former building is approximately 85 years old and has very elaborate brick friezes, columns and curlicues, which are perhaps best described as “Baroque”.  The French architect and archaeologist André Godard designed the redbrick National Museum of Iran in 1937 (but it looks decades more modern than that).  It has ‘spiky’ round columns made of specially shaped bricks and a huge parabolic vault or “iwan” at the entrance.

Many contemporary buildings have friezes and panels of 2-D patterned and 3-D sculptural brickwork on the balconies (not only the sides, but also underneath), fences, parapets, and spandrels.  In the case of houses, it appears that the more elaborate these decorations are, the more prosperous the homeowners are.  This was particularly evident in Shiraz where some of the most elaborate panels and friezes on houses I saw were in the obviously well to do district near Shiraz University.

My trip to Iran has sparked several ideas.  Over the next year I shall survey and reassess Australian monochrome brickwork, which was very popular in the 1950s and 1960s, but fell out of fashion soon afterwards.  The students in my architectural theory seminar at the University of Melbourne, where I teach, will design some monochrome brick walls based on the Iranian examples I saw and the Australian examples I shall find, and then apprentice bricklayers from a local trade school will build a selection of the architecture students’ walls.  I shall also design a specially shaped brick based on those I saw in Iran, and hopefully a local brick company will make a test batch of these.

Generally speaking, the Iran I experienced was totally different from the Iran you see on the six o’clock news.  The most dangerous thing I did in Iran was cross the road (regardless of whether the light is green or red, people just go!).  And the most frightening things I saw in Iran were the mannequins in the menswear stores (they were truly scary!).  Everyone was extremely helpful and very kind to me, especially Ms. Yalda Sourani, Ms. Sepideh Masoodinejad and Dr. Morteza Mirgholami.  I also wish to thank Mr. Richard West, Mr. Craig Hinrichs, Austral Bricks, and the Iran Heritage Foundation for their assistance.

The Doll Theatre Project

The Doll Theatre Project

Derham Groves

The first cohort of students to do the new Bachelor of Environments degree at the University of Melbourne completed the course in semester two of last year, 2010. “Architectural Design Studio 4: Fire,” which I coordinated, was the Architecture Major students’ final design subject. The task of the 183 students who did it was to design a theatre exclusively for performances of Ray Lawler’s three classic Australian plays: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1955), Kid Stakes (1975) and Other Times (1976), known as the “doll trilogy.”

The idea of designing a theatre specifically for Ray Lawler’s doll trilogy came to me after reading an article about Agatha Christie’s amazingly enduring play, The Mousetrap, which has been running continuously in the West End of London since 1952 (until 1974 at the New Ambassadors Theatre, and since then at St. Martins Theatre). In addition, there are a number of composer-specific/playwright-specific theatres around the world, including the Bayreuth Festival Theatre in Bayreuth, Germany, where only the operas of Richard Wagner are performed, the Globe Theatre in London, where only the plays of William Shakespeare are presented, and the Wrestling School in London, where only the works of Howard Barker are staged.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is the best known and arguably the most important play of Ray Lawler’s doll trilogy. While it was written first, it actually takes place after Kid Stakes and Other Times. The story running through the three plays unfolds over a period of seventeen years—from 1945 to 1953—in a boarding house in the inner Melbourne suburb of Carlton.

The structure of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is relatively simple, but its plot is complex, revolving around the lives of the Queensland cane-cutters, “Roo” and Barney, and their girlfriends, the Melbourne barmaids, Olive, Nancy and (later) Pearl.  Each year the men spend five months—the cane-cutting off-season—living with the women in Carlton.  But this arrangement is upset when Nancy marries and the sceptical Pearl replaces her.  Summer of the Seventeenth Doll addresses some complex and universal themes, including resistance to change, the search for happiness, the loss of idealism, and the concept of Australian male-centric mateship.

When Summer of the Seventeenth Doll was written, Australian society was in a state of flux.  The country led by Prime Minister Robert Menzies (1894-1978) was experiencing a post-war economic boom, and an aggressive (pro-white European) immigration program was in place to quickly boost the workforce.  As a result, the traditional Anglo-centric make-up of the population began to change, along with the accepted view of what it meant to be an Australian (migrants, especially Greeks and Italians, were called “New Australians”).  At the same time, Australian artists like Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) and Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) and writers such as Patrick White (1912-1990) and Frank Hardy (1917-1994) started to be noticed; people anticipated that the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games would put Australia on the map; and the imminent introduction of television threatened to change almost every aspect of Australian family life.  It was in this context that Ray Lawler wrote Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in 1955.

The opening night of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll marked a turning point in Australian theatre history.  For decades, foreign plays and actors had dominated Australian theatres, but all of a sudden an Australian audience was presented with an Australian story, told in vernacular language and familiar accents, using local urban—as opposed to bush—references.  Unlike so many Australian plays that preceded it, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll was not a shallow appeal to patriotism or stereotypes, but instead it dealt with universal concerns in an Australian context, which presented Australians on stage in a realistic manner for almost the first time.

All of the students doing Architectural Design Studio 4 were required to read Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Since a large number of them had never seen a live theatre performance before, we arranged for the students to attend the Union House Theatre’s production of Sweeney Todd (1973) at Melbourne University’s Union Theatre—the theatre where Summer of the Seventeenth Doll premiered in 1955—which happened to be on at the time.

Each student designing the doll theatre also had to analyse the design of one of 30 selected overseas theatres, which included, for example, the Gutherie Theatre (2006) in the USA, designed by Jean Nouvel and Architectural Alliance; the Casa de Musica (2004) in Portugal, designed by OMA; and the National Theatre (1960-1981) in Brazil, designed by Oscar Niemeyer; and give a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation about it in class. The students also attended a series of lectures related to the design of the doll theatre, which included a lecture by Keith Streames, the architect who designed the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne, on the basics of theatre design; a backstage tour of the Union Theatre at the University of Melbourne; a lecture by Peter Bickle from the architectural firm, ARM, which designed the Melbourne Theatre Company’s new MTC Theatre in Melbourne; and a screening of Season of Passion, the 1959 Hollywood movie based on Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, which starred Ernest Borgnine as “Roo,” Anne Baxter (Frank Lloyd Wright’s granddaughter!) as Olive, John Mills as Barney, and Angela Lansbury as Pearl. (This is not Ray Lawler’s favourite film, to say the least. To this day, he has never seen it!)

Carlton is an integral part of the doll trilogy. (Indeed, one reason for Ray Lawler’s dislike of Season of Passion is because the film producers set it in Sydney rather than Carlton.) Therefore, the site chosen for the doll theatre was on the corner of Faraday and Rathdowne streets in Carlton. The idea was to clear the site of its existing buildings (the houses at numbers 111 and 113 Faraday Street and the Silver Top Taxi depot next door at 52-54 Rathdowne Street) and start from scratch.

Keith Streames, Ray Lawler and myself developed the design brief for the doll theatre. Ideally, the form and space of the building needed to allow for a wide range of staging formats.  For example, one production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll might require the focus of the action to be on the stage, while another production of the play by a different director might call for the actors to spill out into the auditorium, the foyer or even outside. The doll theatre had three distinct zones that the Architecture Major students had to consider in their designs.

The first zone was the theatre space, which comprised a 250-seat auditorium that had a raking floor to provide the audience with good views of the stage; a 9-metre wide by 9-metre deep stage; two side wings to the stage, each 4 metres wide, with a “prompt corner” at the left hand edge of the stage; a 10-metre “tall space” over the stage; an overhead lighting bar, 6 metres above the stage; and a 3-metre wide by 3-metre deep control room equipped for two technicians, located towards the rear of the auditorium.

The second zone was the back-of-house, which comprised four dressing rooms—two 15 square metres in area and two 20 square metres in area—adjacent to the stage and at the same floor level as it; a rehearsal or “warm-up” room, 50 square meters in area; sufficient toilets and showers for the performers and the back-of-house staff; a technicians’ office/storeroom/workshop, 50 square metres in area; a loading dock, which was adjacent to the stage and had direct access to outside of the theatre; a carpentry storeroom/workshop, 50 square metres, that was adjacent to the loading dock; a wardrobe room, 20 square metres in area, where costumes were cleaned, repaired and stored; an office, 16 square metres in area, for the theatre director; and an open-plan office, 20 square metres in area, for a touring theatre company.

Finally, the third zone was the front of house, which comprised a foyer, 180 square metres in area; a café and bar, as large as possible, which ideally could be opened when the theatre was closed; a box or ticket office; and an open-plan office for five administrative staff, 60 square metres in area; and sufficient public toilets for the theatre and café.

The doll theatre definitely challenged the students’ abilities, as it was meant to do; however they did an excellent job and produced some interesting and provocative buildings. At the end of the 12-week project, I sent a few of the doll theatre designs to Ray Lawler to look at (even though he lives in Elwood, throughout the project we communicated with each other via “old fashioned” letters). He was both impressed and surprised by them. “Dear Dr. Groves,” Lawler wrote. “Thank you for allowing me to see the wide and interesting range of ideas that have come forward in response to the doll theatre concept.  I am impressed.  I had wondered if a space devoted solely to productions of the Trilogy might have curbed the imagination, but the students haven’t let it stymie them, and have used it as a springboard for all sorts of variations.  And their ability to present these with such clarity by means of modern technology amazes me—I am of a generation that relied for theatrical visualisation in terms of sketches and a model of the set.  I marvel, too, when you write that this is only the third building these students have designed—would you congratulate them for me? … Warmest regards Ray Lawler.”

Sparks showcases a large number of the students’ doll theatre designs—in glorious black and white—which might otherwise have been “lost.” It is an excellent record of the work that the Architecture Major students did in Architectural Design Studio 4: Fire in 2010, as well as being a very useful resource for those students who have yet to tackle the subject. My sincere thanks go to the playwright, Ray Lawler; Peter Bickle from ARM; Tom Gutteridge, the Artistic Director of the Union House Theatre; Katie Frank from the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning; of course, the Architecture Major students in 2010; and my dedicated team of design tutors in 2010—Larry Cirillo; Kirsten Day; Phuong Quoc Dinh; Peter Hogg; Lee-Ann Joy; Jason Pickord; Ann Rado; Toby Reed; Mikel Roman; Ilana Rubenstein; Keith Streames; Chris Walker; and Taras Wolfe. Last but not least, my special thanks go to Tim Chandler from the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning for putting Sparks together.

Here is a sample:

Fiorn Lee

Francis Atkinson

Annie Harrison

Alison Dane

Marwin Hasim

Jas Johnston

Choong Chong

Cathrina Lee

Sarah Skillington

Quinland Yip

Filip Dans

Slavco Jovanoski

Natalie Ma

The stars of Season of Passion, the 1959 film version of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

Anne Baxter, who played Olive, and Ernest Borgnine, who played ‘Roo’

Anne Baxter, who played Olive

John Mills, who played Barney, and Angela Lansbury, who played Pearl

Ethel Gabriel, who played Emma

Vincent Ball, who played Johnnie, and Janette Craig, who played Bubba

Brick Letterboxes

The following 14 brick letterboxes are just a sample of those designed in my Popular Art, Architecture and Design course at the University of Melbourne.  A selection of the students’ letterboxes will be built by apprentice bricklayers from Holmesglen Institute of TAFE later this year.

Audrey Zerafa

Kate Fitzgerald

Claire Welsh

Ying Li

Alexandra Wall

Chris Berzins

Kim Peeters

Amanda Tan

Lavanya Arulanandam

Linna Zheng

Zoe Lewis

Justin Bolton

Rebecca de Haas

Rubina Barooah

Views of Portugal—Posted on the run

Evora: Town wall; Igreja de Santo Antao on the town square; Cathedral of Evora; Igreja de Na Senhora da Graca; the Moorish church on Avenue Dr. Barahona; storks nesting on the steeple of the church on Rua D. Augusto Eduardo Nunes; the Roman viaduct (and houses) on Rua do Cano (2 images); house with chimney on Rua do Raimundo; the Roman temple; Neolithic standing stones; a dish of snails; faux Disney ride at the Feira de Sao Joao (2 images). Sintra:




Views of Tokyo

Sensoji Temple (2 images—the temple being renovated and a giant sandal hanging on a temple gate); Hama-rikyu Garden (2 images—struts supporting a tree branch and two 18th century duck hunting hides); Odaiba Seaside Park (2 images—the Fuji TV building designed by Kenzo Tange and a small version of the Statue of Liberty); ‘crazy’ Japanese billboards (2 images); the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building designed by Kenzo Tange; a building with a wavy facade; the Cocoon Tower designed by Tange Associates (3 images); a building with a cracked facade; the Asahari Super Dry Hall designed by Philippe Starck; the De Beers building designed by Jun Mitsui; a building with a folly on the roof; the Mikimoto building designed by Toyo Ito; the Imperial Palace’s East Garden (2 images—amateur photographers snapping irises and a stone rampart); Ping considering the menu; me lost in translation; Tokyo Disneyland (10 images—the suitcase-shaped shops outside the park, the main entrance, World Bazaar, Fantasyland (3 images—Sleeping Beauty’s castle and It’s a Small World from the outside and the inside), Westernland (3 images—Mark Twain Riverboat, Fort Sam Clemens and the Indian camp), and Mickey and Minnie icy-poles).

Views of Los Angeles and St. Louis—Posted on the Run

This year the Popular Culture Association conference was held in St. Louis, but I had a few days in Los Angeles beforehand. Anaheim: Disneyland (7 images— Disneyland’s entrance and railway station; the Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse statue; Sleeping Beauty’s castle; Storybook Land and the Casey Jones train; It’s a Small World After All building; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride; the Thunder Mountain ghost train). Los Angeles: Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank O. Gehry (5 images—the last being the ‘plaque’ on Gehry’s Delft rose sculpture dedicated to Lillian Disney); the Museum of Contemporary Art designed by Arata Isozaki; Watts Towers designed and constructed by Simon Rodia (6 images); the house directly opposite Watts Towers; the Anna May Wong caryatid, part of the Hollywood Walk of Fame statue designed by Catherine Hardwicke (2 images); Basil Rathbone’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (1926) designed by Meyer & Holler (3 images); Capitol Records building (1956) designed by Welton Becket; Clifton’s Cafeteria (2 images); Piece Brothers cemetery (8 images—the graves of Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, Rodney Dangerfield (with the ‘ghost’ of Derham Groves in the background), Bob Crane and Sigrid Valdis (Colonel Hogan and Hilda from Hogan’s Heroes), Don Knotts (Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show), Billy Wilder, and Jack Lemmon). St. Louis: Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts designed by Tadao Ando (2 images); Sun Theatre (1913) designed by Widman and Walsh; the Pruit-Igoe site—which has remained vacant since the disastrous housing project designed in 1950 by Minoru Yamasaki was progressively demolished between 1972-1974 (2 images); Compton Hill water tower (1898) designed by Harry Ellis (2 images); Bissell water tower (1886) designed by William S. Eames (the uncle of Charles Eames); Grand water tower (1871) designed by George I. Barnett; Yit Mei and Javier; model for the ceiling of the lobby at the Magic Chef appliance factory (1947) designed by Isamu Noguchi, in the St. Louis Museum of Art; Gateway to the West (1963-1968) designed by Eero Saarinen (2 images); sample Gateway to the West elevator car; and Union Station (1894) designed by Theodore Link.