alistair knox : an integrated approach to landscape + architecture, chapter three : discussion of findings

chapter three : discussion of findings

Author: Clair Lee


This chapter presents discussion of the findings of 5 spreadsheets that were compiled to analyse Knox's books:

COLLABORATION CHART - A chart of people mentioned in the writing, which aims to illustrate the interconnectedness of the Eltham 'mob' and the influence this had on Knox's work.

ATTRIBUTE LISTS - Lists were compiled of words Knox used in reference to the landscape and his built projects. The aim of this listing was to elicit the key attributes of Knox's landscape and design philosophies and to identify connections between them. This listing also provides a basis for comparison with the philosophies of Griffin and Wright.

REGISTRATION OF INFLUENCE - A register was compiled of references made in the texts to historical artists/designers who Knox respected and whose ideas may have influenced and been transferred into his design practice.

PROJECT TABLE - This table extracted and reorganized key project information described In the books, relating to client, date, location, site, planning, materials and design elements. It aimed to establish a means of understanding how Knox's design philosophy was put into practice, and a means of comparing his work with that of other designers.

ELTHAM VS SUBURBIA TABLE - A tabulation of Knox's juxtaposition of the Eltham way of life as an alternative to suburbia, as referred to in the texts, which aimed to provide an understanding of Knox's social and environmental philosophies.

The overriding goal of the spreadsheets was to identify information within the books that would contribute to a clarification of the influences, values and philosophies that underpinned Knox's work. Introductions and samples are provided in this chapter, with the complete spreadsheets included as Appendices 1 - 5. The spreadsheets will be discussed under the following headings in this chapter :



Following is a sample page of the chart of people mentioned in the writing, which aims to illustrate the interconnectedness of the Eltham 'mob' and the influence this had on Knox's work. The complete chart comprises Appendix 1.

The English house building crew, left to right, Len Mayfield, Sonia Skipper, Alistair Knox, Tony Jackson and Gordon Ford. The English house building crew, left to right, Len Mayfield, Sonia Skipper, Alistair Knox, Tony Jackson and Gordon Ford.
originally published in Australian Home Beautiful

  1. "There is no question that a typical cross-section of the Eltham community would reveal a more distinguished group of individuals than has occurred in any part of Australia."
    Knox, Alternative housing, p.83

Knox's writings are peppered with the names of his wide network of friends, clients and collaborators. He is generous in his praise of these people an the contributions they made to both his development as a designer, and the development of the earth building and environmental movements in Eltham The following chart attempts to record these people as they are mentioned in his books - an elaborate Knox 'network'. It aims to illustrate the complete interweaving of ideas, personalities and skills that occurred during this period, what Knox referred to as 'a strong unity of thought'. (Knox, 1980, p.83) We are where we stand on (1980) was chosen as the first document due to its focus on Eltham's history and personalities, with additions in red for Living in the environment (1975) and blue from Alternative housing (1980). Text in italics are direct quotes from Knox. Page references are provided in the left hand column and only information provided in the books is included. The highlighted colours indicate the branch of Eltham society the individual primarily or originally belonged to.

  1. It is anticipated that this chart could also be added to at a later date with information acquired from other sources about the peopk listed below to provide a social history of the time. Sonia Skipper's recent autobiography. for e.g .. elaborates on the lives of man, of these people. as does Gordon Ford's autobiography and Anne Latreille's work on Stones. Such an historical investigation is, however, beyond the scope of this project.

82BAKER, David   Film director. lived in North Warrandyte, directed 'The Great McCarthy'. and many television and shorter films, including 'Squeaker's Mate', based on the Barbara Baynton book, with Myra GOULD (Matcham SKIPPER's wife) in the lead role.
14BELL, GraemeClassical pianist, elder brother of Roger, schoolboy friend of Peter GLASS - and Gordon FORD, grew up in Camberwell. formed the Graeme Bell Band with Roger and Ade Monsbrough, playing Dixieland Jazz. In 1949 the band went overseas and became internationally known.
29Knox designed and partly built a house for him
14BELL, Rogerjazz musician, younger brother of Graeme, grew up in Camberwell, schoolboy friend of Peter GLASS and Gordon FORD

The COLLABORATION CHART identifies the interweaving of ideas, personalities and skills amongst the Eltham community during the period when Knox was working there. It identifies three factors that are important in an assessment of the influences, values and philosophy of Knox:

  1. The influential thinkers and artists that Knox associated with
    The fluidity of the Eltham network
    The mix of ideas and practices that Knox operated within

The 6 colours used in the chart relate to branches of the community identified by Knox in the chapter arrangements for We are what we stand on: Jorgensen, Harcourt, Burstall, Pugh and Stones as key players along with Knox himself. This 'mad organism with a life in itself67 bred a community of thinkers, writers, artists, designers and environmentalists whose influence has spread beyond Eltham to Australian society in general, evidenced by references in the chart to iconic moments or figures in Australian cultural history, such as 'Edna Everage', the 'Kelly' paintings, 'Stork' and 'Archibald Prize' winning painters.

The chart also illustrates the fluid nature of the collaborative community in Eltham. Pivotal figures emerge: Gordon Ford (with 11 'hits,68), Horrie Judd and Margot Knox (10), Tony Jackson and Matcham Skipper (9), Tim Burstall and Peter Glass (8) and Sonia Skipper (7). Knox himself acknowledged this fluidity. 'The significant landscape names and influences running through the Eltham society at the time were like the various streams of a delta that flowed in and out of each other'69. Knox's project teams provided a vehicle for this 'cross-pollination'. For his first building Knox recruited labourers from Ristie's Coffee Lounge, an artists' hangout in Eltham70, resulting in a team comprising an actor, sculptor and two painters. The early projects, particularly 'Periwinkle' and Tarnagulla', played an important role in building camaraderie amongst Knox's assortment of unskilled labourers. Most of the pivotal figures highlighted in the chart were involved in one or more of these projects, and remained part of Knox's environmental building scene. Knox commented on the impact of Tarnagulla :

  1. 'That remarkable group of men who built the Tarnagulla Homestead have practically all made a name for themselves and the experience they had in this faraway place with the realistic farming community and the marvellous timeless quality of the landscape was an important factor in their psychological and intellectual make-up.71

Also evident in the chart is the blend of ideas and philosophies of the Eltham community. Some individuals provided connections into other branches of the Eltham society. Clifton Pugh appears as one of these. Having had his 'turn' making mud bricks for Knox on the second Downing / Le Gallienne project, Pugh moved to Cottles Bridge to establish the Dunmoochin artists' community whose communal lifestyle values attracted a great number of notable artists.72 Tim Burstall, whom Pugh labeled 'the drive of things social73 involved many of the local community in his early filmmaking. He described Eltham as 'a rural Bloomsbary'74, and as Knox noted, 'nearly every important painter, with the exception of Sid Nolan who had gone overseas ... 'had been involved in the Eltham community.75 Knox referred to late night discussions in the Burstall home where painting styles were debated76 and the weekend 'jousts' presided over by Jorgensen in the Montsalvat Great Hall, where 'Nothing was ever solved but they would come back for more the following week.77 Robin Boyd, the architect and writer, was also influential in publicising Knox's projects and disseminating his environmental building philosophy to a wider audience. Knox also introduced Ellis Stones to Boyd, which he claims forged a new relationship between landscape designers and and architects in Australia.78 Margot Knox and Neil Douglas, who had both worked for the Arthur Merrick Boyd potteries in Murrumbeena, provided a link with the artist community at Heide79, where Douglas lived from time to time.

As Knox admitted, he had 'some of the most inspired and fascinating' drinking mates in Melbourne at the time: 'artists, writers, poets, sculptors, philosophers' and the landscape contingent.80 The common ground between these personalities was the search for alternative ways of operating within post-war Melbourne society. This was expressed through their chosen art form - Barry Humphries' suburban satires, Nolan's Kelly's, Knox's environmental building, Burstall's films, Boyd's critiques of suburbia or Douglas' conservation battles. They were also committed to fostering community values, expressed through their collaborative and communal projects. Knox claimed the other key factor that bound them together was an appreciation of the indigenous landscape of the area.81


Following are sample pages of the:

ATTRIBUTES LIST - A list of words used by Knox when referring to environmental building (highlighted in yellow) and the qualities of the landscapes he describes, Eltham and others, (highlighted in green). Page references are provided in the left hand column.

MERGED ATTRIBUTES - A merged list of attributes formed by using words that are ascribed to both landscape and environmental building in the ATTRIBUTE LISTING.

The complete lists are provided as APPENDIX 2

View along Mt Pleasant Road, Eltham Source: Knox, Alternative Housing. View along Mt Pleasant Road, Eltham Source: Knox, Alternative Housing.

  1. 'Landscape is in essence, a poetic vision of the visible creation. It may be described but not defined, because it is a work which releases the imagination and fires our spirits'
    KN0X, Living in the Environment, p80

According to the Webster's dictionary an 'attribute' refers to 'that which is attributed as a quality, trait, property or characteristic'82. The following is a list of words used by Knox when referring to environmental building and the qualities of the landscaped he describes, Eltham and others. Page references are provided in the left hand column

1   Subtle variations of light and colour

half vision

6indefinablesense of magicatmospheresubtlety
36 creativeadventurouscommunal
84environmental continuity


A merged list of attributes is formed using words that are ascribed to both landscape and environmental building in the ATTRIBUTE LISTING.

adventure / adventurous
alternate/ alternative
change / everchanging / changing
community / communal
continuity / continues
embracing / embrace
humility / humble
interdependence / interrelated
interplay / intermingling limitless
mystery / mysterious / mystique
spirit / spiritual
symphonic / structural
weaving / web


The ATTRIBUTE LISTINGS aim to elicit the key attributes of Knox's landscape and design philosophies and to identify connections between them. This listing also establishes a basis for consideration of how Knox put these ideas into practice in his built projects, and a means for comparison with the philosophies of Griffin and Wright.

References to the misty landscape of Eltham proliferate throughout Knox's writing, a theme that was also a powerful presence in the artwork of the Impressionist painters who frequented the region early in the twentieth century83 and 'created a great school of art of international standard'84. The ATTRIBUTE LISTING investigates the language Knox used in relation to the landscape and to the environmental building scene in Eltham. Knox acknowledged the landscape of the Eltham district as a direct inspiration for the development of his design philosophy and believed it was the special landscape of the district that also produced the community that lived there at the time 85. Eltham's geographic features, topography and climate86 combined to create a veiled landscape of foggy edges - subtle, hazy, glimpsed, indefinable, fluctuating, emerging87. His reveries conjure a place that was constantly changing and mysterious - an awe-inspiring landscape - timeless, silent, powerful and primitive. The interdependence, interplay and merging of the landscape elements were also stressed in the writings.

Environmental building words used in the writings describe an entity that is embryonic, continuously becoming, responsive, flexible and ever-expanding. In the early projects financial constraints or lack of building materials often meant that projects were designed in a way that could be added to later88 - what Knox referred to as the 'break back from the compleat house approach'89. The adventurous, artistic, original, sculptural structural symphonies referred to by Knox conjure an alternative building environment that is innovative, sympathetic, unobtrusive and generous. The collaborative nature of Knox's work invited input from clients and artistic co-workers, as Knox claimed:
'one develops a sense of picking suitable people and also of making ordinary people suitable. It is a matter of touching the spring of latent talent in everyone'90.

The freedom and democratic values inherent in Knox's work are evident in the writings, where he praised the improvisation and experimentation that contributed to creating a unique environmental building response. Commenting on one of his projects, Knox claimed:
'The Busst house brought out the full flowering of Horrie 's [Judd] physical powers and skills. The strong, flowing shape and monolithic curved walls of the house were magnificently done. He fully grasped the design possibilities. At a time when the standard building materials were at their lowest ebb, he contrived to use what was available with character and direction'.

The transformation that was occurring in people as a result of their involvement in Knox's projects became an important aspect of his work.91

Analysis of the MERGED ATTRIBUTES listing reveals that the following factors characterised Knox's approach to environmental building:

  1. The interrelated landscape and building, achieved with
  2. A sense of belonging to a community of people and place
  3. Exploring creative / alternative approaches to design
  4. Incorporating the honest use of natural materials, with
  5. Consideration for an evolving and ever-changing
  6. landscape and architectural environment

Knox's 'indivisible house and landscape'92 philosophy ... where structure and nature are continuously becoming more and more united into one ...'91 is a frequent theme within his writings. This holistic approach to designing an inhabited landscape94 involved a complex and indivisible interweaving of site, people, materials and circumstances, what Knox referred to as 'tone poems of trees, skies and mud.'95 The influence the Eltham landscape had on this philosophy is clearly important. The following discussion will investigate the landscape designers and architects mentioned in the books, and their possible influence on Knox.


Following is a sample of the register compiled from references made in the texts to historical artists/designers who Knox respected. The ideas and methods of these people may have influenced and been transferred into Knox's design practice.

The complete register is provided as APPENDIX 3

Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin West, Arizona Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin West, Arizona


This register was compiled from references made in the texts to historical artists/designers who Knox respected. The ideas and methods of these people may have influenced and been transferred into Knox's design practice. Surnames in uppercase refer to persons mentioned elsewhere in the register or in the Collaboration Chart. Quotes from Knox are in italics.

44BOYD, Penleighartist, who moved from Heidelberg to live in Warrandyte, on the Eltham side of the river
107BROWN, Capability18th century English landscaper; according to Knox, Brown was an inspiration to Gordon FORD, Peter GLASS, Ivan STRANGER and Bob GRANT
6218th century English school of informal landscape design, notably the work of Brown, Kent & Repton is unquestionably the model to follow. The relationship between masses and voids produced a sculptured landscape of mystery and wonder. Brown's work was so fundamental: his work was not noticed.
107England has the appearance of being one unbroken garden giant of the eighteenth century bold & poetic concepts suggestive of French painters Lorrain, Poussin, etc who painted romantic landscape scenes system was to plant the hills and flood the valleys, setting three-dimensional plantings in two-dimensional backgrounds - so natural looking that his work not noticed used mostly indigenous trees & plants England as a man-made landscape / Australia a natural landscape We need to follow Capability Brown and plant for the future with our own trees and unique flora
23GREENWAY, FrancisKnox claimed he drew inspiration from GREENWAY and GRIFFIN they were both artists whose inspiration was set on fire by the same unique qualities of our timeless landscape. Both essentially environmental planners ... and broad landscape architects of the style and power of England's famous 18th century landscape creators. They both understood the power and universality of the Australian sun, their buildings expressed the interplay of sunlight and shadow. Mentions the powerful relationship of St Matthew's Church tower on an escarpment in Windsor, NSW, to the vertical quality of the Blue Mountains in the distance. He achieved a total relationship between the structure and the landscape.


The REGISTRATION OF INFLUENCE aims to identify the landscape designers, architects and artists referred to in the books, to determine any influence their ideas, philosophies and projects may have had on Knox's work.

The key figures of influence to arise from the texts are Capability Brown, the English 18th century landscape designer, Francis Greenway, an early Australian architect, Walter Burley Griffin and Frank Lloyd Wright. Knox claims that his time spent living in one of Griffin's superb landscape controlled subdivisions96 in Eaglemont, was a pivotal time in his life, a before and after moment. Knox describes Griffin as a Master Landscaper who was able to consider landscape in terms of totalities. In Knox's assessment, these estates set the standard for residential subdivisions in Victoria. He also praises Griffin's design of Canberra as probably the best physical, man-created city the world knows. Capability Brown and Francis Greenway were also considered by Knox to be environmental planners of the broad landscape tradition.

Knox respected Brown's use of vegetation that was predominantly indigenous to England, stating that Australians should follow Capability Brown and plant for the future with our own trees and unique flora. Fostering an appreciation of Australian plants was also a key Griffin value, and the garden of his house in Eaglemont was used for experimental tree planting. Griffin was imagined deriving inspiration from the landscape of Heidelberg and surrounds, in a similar way to Knox in Eltham. Griffin and Greenway are also credited with understanding the importance of proportion and the interplay of sunlight and shadow in relation to an Australian setting.

Knox noted the fundamental quality of Brown's work that rendered his efforts unnoticeable. This indivisible quality has also been identified in this research as a key attribute of Knox's work. Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum is considered by Knox to be an example of a building where the outer shell and the inside were conceived simultaneously, a relationship that was also a key consideration for Knox. Knox praised Greenway's St Matthew's Church tower for its relationship to the distant Blue Mountains, claiming it achieved a total relationship between the structure and the landscape.

Knox had a close connection with Griffin having at one time lived opposite Walter and Marion's house in Glennard Drive. He provides a detailed description of the historic house, similar features later appearing in in his own designs, such as the low partitions and leather curtain room dividers and the rhythmic piers.97 Knox praises the austerity that was a characteristic of Griffin's work as in advance of much of today's so-called advanced thinking. The Skipper family, closely associated with Knox, had firsthand knowledge of living in a Griffin designed house in Outlook Drive, Eaglemont, described as ·a very modern house for that time.98 Sonia Skipper recalled:

  1. The house was U-shaped and had a magnificent view of the Dandenongs. Our parents considered views very important, and my father always called the whole family forth to see a dramatic sunset.99

An important point evident from this register is the emphasis Knox placed on landscape design - Brown & Griffin both being landscape designers. These were the people, along with architects Greenway and Wright, whose work influenced Knox, particularly in relation to the search for a holistic approach to designing the inhabited landscape, the use of indigenous planting, consideration for proportion, contrasts of sunshine and shadow, and the interrelationship of indoor and outdoor spaces. The following discussion of PROJECTS will demonstrate how tnese ideas were put into practice in Knox's work.


Following is a sample of the table that aimed to extract the key projects features referred to in the texts. The complete table is provided as APPENDIX 4

Marks House, Mt. Martha, built to accommodate existing trees Source: Knox Marks House, Mt. Martha, built to accommodate existing trees Source: Knox, Living in the Environment

  1. 'If the alternative society is to arrive in Australia, it will be done by flesh-and-blood people ranging from school teachers to bank managers, potters to porters who are prepared to buck the system'
    Knox, Alternative Housing, p80

Knox provides detailed descriptions of many of his projects throughout his writings. This tabulation aims to extract the key features of the projects referred to in the texts. Italics identify quotes from the texts, the colour referring to the book concerned, with page numbers provided in the right hand column. Blank cells indicate that no relevant information was provided in the books.

LOCATIONSt Andrews, over-looking Kinqlake range
BUILDING MATERIALSSeries of adzed posts set into the 12 ft modules (square red gum & reclaimed electric light poles, tallest 23+ft) Brick floor directly laid on ground, earth walls
PLANNINGDesigned in square modules to be built in stages. with courtyards (cruciform in shape).
BUILDING ELEMENTSSeries of draped roofs, adzed posts
OTHERJohn's mighty posts & timbers responding to landscape of ironbarks - sense of eternity within the eternal landscape82

LOCATIONEltham, Knox chose land & designed house
SITE CHARACTERISTICSimpossible sloping site, rose very steeply to middle of its length, then steeply away to other side106
BUILDING MATERIALSFrame of electric light poles, with mud brick infills like Serle house; 2nd hand slate flooring sourced by client
PLANNINGBuilding c.20ft in height, designed to straddle highest point of land
BUILDING ELEMENTScurved & sweeping iron roof, clerestory windows, changes in levels108
OTHERWain house a catalyst for a series of 'do-it-yourself' style houses in Eltham. We design the buildings and supervise the Owners paid sub-contractors, organised finance & found interesting recycled materials.108


Built elements within the projects contributed to Knox's desire to achieve integration with the landscape. The PROJECT TABLE records the following examples of these elements, many of which were also commonly found in the work of Griffin and Wright:

  1. Access to outdoors from all rooms & levels
  2. Courtyards
  3. Balconies
  4. Roof top access
  5. Terraces
  6. Verandahs
  7. Pergolas
  8. Clerestory windows
  9. Windows orientated to views

Vegetation in the surrounding area, such as a beautiful clump of candlebarks, was frequently commented on in Knox's discussion of his projects, illustrating the pivotal role it played. Knox's priority for his projects was the merging of the house with the landscape, a philosophy he shared with Griffin and Wright. Knox's knowledge of the indigenous species of the Eltham area is evident throughout the books with plant descriptions given in relation to specific projects. Knox's collaborations with key landscape people played an important part in achieving his indivisible goal. Gordon Ford later commented on the success of the Downing / Le Gallienne project, where he was involved with Ellis Stones on the landscaping:

  1. 'Native grasses and wildflowers covered this gently undulating land which sloped towards the river. In order to preserve the delicate balance of the bush, minimal disturbance was essential. Alistair Knox was the man to treat such a site with sensitivity! ... The architect and landscapers were in philosophical harmony with the clients. It was clear from the beginning that there was one goal for all, and that was to set a modem mud-brick house 111 the bush with a native garden to blend with the natural surroundings107.

Knox derived the inspiration for elements incorporated in his built projects from his interpretation of the 'forces of power & sunlight at work'108 in the Australian landscape. The power of the landscape was expressed via the use of large adzed posts; many of them recycled electric light poles. The rhythm of sunshine and shadow seen in the natural landscape provided was often expressed through full height doors alternating with large mud brick piers. Intimate fireplace alcoves provided 'a sense of light and wonder in a dark place'109 Knox also claimed that one of the fundamental rules of environmental design wad the need for clerestory lighting, allowing morning and evening sunlight to enter buildings.110


Knox's democratic values are demonstrated in his projects. He was committed to a community where the building of a home was achievable and within the reach of everyone, regardless of financial status.111 The Coller house is an example of Knox's ability to produce a vibrant building at about two-thirds the standard price. The additive nature of the planning also allowed clients to return to Knox years later for further additions, the Downing / Le Gallienne project, for e.g. was constructed in 4 stages. The Laversha house included a pergola system that could be added to, or sections could be roofed over which, according to Knox, produced 'an endless character'112, which united the house and the land into an indestructible whole. Open planning was another democratic component of the projects. Knox described his design for stage one of the Downing / Le Gallienne house as an exercise in supreme simplicity, where the whole of the interior of the house could be comprehended at one time. He also contributed to the openness of the interior through the use of low height partitions separating bedrooms from living rooms.


Knox's collaborative building teams have been discussed earlier in this research, however, the client involvement in projects, provided an additional collaborative experience where the power of environmental building could alter the clients' whole way of looking at life. Sonia Skipper described Knox's attention to client needs:
'Alistair would take me along when interviewing a prospective client, walk over the land with them, discuss their lifestyle and how they might like their home to be arranged. This approach I found most intriguing.'113

The flexibility of Knox's approach enabled varied degrees of involvement with projects, ranging from full involvement in site selection, design, construction, project management and landscape coordination to minimal advisory roles. The primary concern within Knox's work appears to be enabling projects to happen, working within budget and technical constraints, yet maintaining design integrity. Through his mentoring Knox achieved a wider audience for his environmental design philosophy.


Dan Chable's request for a true house provides an insight into Knox's alternative approach to normal building practices of the time. Knox worked outside of the usual trademan's practices, using mudbrick and recycled materials and incorporating uncommon elements, for e.g. the Marks house, where some of the trees came through the verandah floors and ceilings. The flexible and alternative nature of his projects were partly an 'instinctive reaction to the over-organised systems that have gripped [the] commercial world and urban community'.114 The environmental aspects of Knox's projects will be investigated in more detail in the following spreadsheet discussion.


The following table comprises quotes taken from the books that refer to the alternative society of Eltham vs. the embalmed society of suburbia. The complete table is provided as APPENDIX 5

Glass House, Eltham Glass House, Eltham
Arborophobia Arborophobia


'There is a fundamental movement in the hearts of many people to find an alternative to the ticky-tacky and pressed out plastic products that have neither sensuous appeal nor spiritual value'.
Knox. Living in the environment, pviii

A recurring theme in the writings of Knox is the promotion of the Eltham way of life as an alternative to suburbia. The following table comprises quotes taken from the books that refer to this juxtaposition - the altemative society of Eltham ve. the embalmed society of suburbia.

We are what we stand on
5hand & hearthousebound sherry-drinking loneliness5
5intimacy & separate valley identityimmaculately named, curbed & paved5
5nuances & variations of climatebuildings new large & expensive5
5bushland surroundingsperpetual bitumen surfaces5
5fluctuating & half-visible scenesvast suburban wilderness5
5human alternativesocial desert5
5glimpsed constantly changing & mergingrich & affluent eastern suburbanites casting sheep's eyes at the unkempt landscape7
6hilly terrain (noble swelling hillside) generated a united introspective communitywell-ordered English lawn, blue spruce. silver birch & Japanese maple gardens7
6colour & light landscapeaffluent communities8
6atmospheric subtletydiversion8
7indefinable sense of magicsameness8
7unkempt landscapeanonymity8
7those who understand & believe in Elthamcontinuing assaults from the manipulators & blind do-gooders7
8creative communities create creative lifestylesaffluent communities create dreary lifestyles8
8danger, riskself-indulgence8
8ongoing; enthusiasmtotalitarianism8
8eccentricityconfused world8
8head, heart & handtechnological systems of construction8
8eccentric peopletotalitarianism8
10'Montsalvat' and the new lifedreary inhibitions & limitations of depressed middle class society10
11new & exciting prospectsstifled society we endured rather than lived in11
10Every new day was a day of new delights and practical freedomincarcerated in pre-war bank job11

  1. 'It is against this desperate background that I humbly offer a proposal for a new domestic concept of shelter and surroundings'
    Knox. Alternative housing, p101

The ELTHAM VS SUBURBIA TABLE aims to juxtapose Knox's views of the suburban way of life and the alternative lifestyle of Eltham, a topic that frequently arises in his writing. It aims to elicit an understanding of Knox's values and environmental philosophies.

The quotes listed describe two contrasting lifestyles in Melbourne during the period when Alistair Knox was in practice. A language of integration, fluidity and possibility, responsive to location, climate and human interaction, characterises Knox's descriptions of the alternative society of Eltham. These characteristics are discussed in detail in relation to the ATTRIBUTE LISTING and the TABLE OF PROJECTS. This discussion will interpret Knox's view of suburbia through the language he uses to describe it and consider what this reveals about his design philosophy and values.

Knox's view of suburbia is characterised by a language of precision, exactness and control - curbed, trimmed. neat, immaculately cut, prim, and well-clipped. He labeled it the embalmed society, implying isolation or a lack of interaction with surrounding elements. These descriptors for suburbia can be classified under a series of headings:

BUILDING PRACTICES, typified by new, large and expensive buildings, curb and channel syndromes, brick veneers, unfortunate physical planning, 25 foot street frontages, postage stamp allotments divided into the front garden, the house and the rear garden.

BUILDING ELEMENTS, typified by paling fences, red Terracotta roofing tiles, wall to wall carpets, hipped tile roof and private pool.

MATERIALS, typified by bitumen roads, red bricks, expensive dressed timbers of minimum proportions, feature bricks and plastics.

VEGETATION All the vegetation mentioned ,n relation to suburbia is exotic, or as Knox terms it, imported flavours : English lawn, silver birch, blue spruce, Japanese maple gardens, rhododendron and gladioli, prunus and flowering peach trees, herbaceous borders, nature strips, beds of snapdragons, privet and Lambertiana hedges.

CONSUMERISM, typified by planned obsolescence, ticky-tacky, pressed out plastic products, mindless materialism, technological demagoguery, throw away society and spring-loaded muscle developers.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS, typified by noise pollution, perpetual smog, overcrowded suburban habitats and freeways

CLASS ISSUES, typified by the corporate state, rich and affluent eastern suburbanites, depressed middle class society, fierce competitive lifestyle, sons of the rich, university ghettos and materialistic empire.

These suburban references illustrate Knox's concern for a city in the midst of the post WW2 development boom fuelled by an influx of new materials and seemingly endless availability of land.115 Knox believed this phenomenon was based on:

  1. ' ... a belief in profit from land at the expense of the community. The practice in Australia is mostly the old colonial attitude of getting in first and staking a claim. The development of the claim may devastate the land, but the claimant just moves off with his spoils to enjoy them elsewhere ... As a nation we have little regard for the land itself, except for its short-term gains,116

Knox's writings also express contempt for multinationalism117, 'money-mad' consumerism118 and the fragility of the environment:

  1. We talk about the beauty of our land, and proceed to butcher its unique but fragile ecology with overdevelopment, both in the country and city, for the sake of a quick and dubious dollar119.

The values expressed in his writings were closely aligned with those of his colleagues and friends in the Eltham community. and belonged to a broader movement of environmental concern happening at the time,120 as seen in Robin Boyd's commentary on suburbia, The Australian Ugliness, which raised similar issues, and Barry Humphries' with parody of the suburban middle class housewife, 'Edna Everage'. Both of these people were part of Knox's Eltham network.

Knox viewed his environmental building as a 'movement that could become a major factor in winning the environmental battle for survival'121. He conducted regular 'Earth Days' at his home where the alternative way of life was promoted. 122 Knox also positioned himself in various ways to address these environmental and social concerns. He played an important role in the early 1960s, along with Ellis Stones and Gordon Ford, in the founding of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, of which he was a founding member.123. This involvement was motivated, as Saniga argues124, by a desire to have a stronger voice on landscape and environmental issues amongst the professional planners and engineers who were the power holders of the time. In a speech given at the inaugural AILA Conference, held in Melbourne in 1969, he gave an impassioned plea for environmental sustainability :

  1. 'The astounding speed with which our once-healthy landscape is disappearing is so serious that we could very well quickly pass the point of no return if indeed we have not already done so. It is certainly no longer eccentric or long-haired to be urgently concerned with conservation and nature balance. The past ten years have brought this fact into the sharpest balance125.

In the same speech Knox stressed the 'sense of totality'126 that was required for sustainable management of the landscape: ' ... the destruction of part of the natural environment spreads a cancer through the remainder because each part is inter-dependent upon the other part.' He stressed that the 'essence of the environment must be rewritten into our daily living if we are to experience a true life. Every Australian has a part to play in this sacred trust'.127 This paper gives an insight into the Knox's holistic approach to design and spiritual affinity with the landscape that underpinned Knox's work. As an Eltham Councillor for a time, Knox was able to influence decisions on a local level, and also involved himself in many environmental and anti-development campaigns.128

The contribution of the work of Knox in relation to the fostering of environmental awareness and community values has impacted greatly on the Eltham region. A report by the Eltham Shire in 1981 mentions the contribution of the alternative community, of which Knox was a key player, and their legacy which has 'spread beyond their immediate sphere of influence [and] remains reflected 1n the local environmental and conservation issues within the community.'129 The current Nillumbik Shire, of which Eltham is a part, labels itself the 'Green Wedge Shire' as recognition 'of the strong environmental and conservation focus shared by local communities and aims to 'lead The Green Wedge Shire in environmental best practice and foster an engaged, healthy and culturally vibrant community.'130

67 Knox. Alternative Housing, p77.
68 A 'hit' refers to the number of highlighted names appearing under each entry. Ford, for e.g., was mentioned in the texts in relation to 11 individuals.
69 Knox, We Are What We Stand On, p103.
70 Knox, Living in the environment, p13. The artists who gathered at Histie's are named by Knox : 'The group included Sid Nolan, Arthur Boyd, John Perceval, David Boyd, Neil Douglas, Matcham Skipper and Albert Tucker and several others who are now household names in the post-war Australian painting scene.'
71 Knox, We Are What, p. 70.
72 Knox, We Are What We Stand On, p118. Knox lists a number of the Dunmoochin artists.
73 ibid, p114.
74 ibid, p76.
75 ibid.
76 ibid.
77 iid, p10.
78 ibid, p 100.
79, accessed 20/11/05. Nolan painted the Ned Kelly series of paintings in the dining room of Heide 1.
80 Knox.ibid, p57
81 Knox, Living in the Environment, p84.
82 Webster's new school and office dictionary. Greenwich : Fawcett, 1974 p53
83 Knox, We Are What, p 44.
84 KNOX, 'The indigenous environment', in The Landscape Architect and the Australian environment, p44. Knox spoke of the inspiration of the landscape on these artists and those that followed : · Nolan, Boyd, Perceval, Tucker, Pugh and others whose more symbolic approach has had an impact on the international scene that is unchallenged.'
85 Knox, We Are What, p 41. and p6. 'The basic reason for Eltham 's character is unquestionably its hilly terrain, its colour and light landscape, its atmospheric subtlety and its early gold mining that has emotionally drawn the landscape painter, the writers, the ftoets, the musicians and now the school teachers into it in great numbers.·
86 Knox, Alternate Housing, pp31-2. Gives a physical description of Eltham area. 87 All 'landscape' words found in the ATIRIBUTE LISTING
88 Knox, We AreWhat, p 91. The Downing / Le Gallienne house was built in 4 stages Knox. Living in the Environment, pp 99-106. The Diskin house commenced as a stable, but was later converted into a house when the family decided to move to Eltham fulltime.
89 ibid 55
90 Knox, Alternate Housing, p 18.
91 Knox, Alternate Housing, p. 77. Knox describes clients 'bursting with happiness and action ', and exuding · a sense of assurance and power ... health and happiness. 'p83
92 Knox. Living in the environment. p22.
93 Knox Alternate Housing, p13.
94 Lyndon, op cit, p7
95 Knox, Alternate Housing, p 25.
96 All quotes from Knox in this discussion are previously referenced on the REGISTRATION OF INFLUENCE
07 Knox, Living in the Environment, p53. These were all elements that appeared in Knox projects. In his own house Knox used bullock hide splits sewn together into hangings to draw across at each end of the room.
98 Skipper, op cit, p 20.
99 Skipper p 20
100 Knox, Alternate Housing. p20.
101 Knox. Alternate Housing, p19-20.
102 All quotes from Knox in bold italics are previously referenced In the PROJECT TABLE.
103 Knox. Living in the Environment, p14.
104 ibid.
105 ibid, p 112.
106 Knox. We Are What, p 35. Knox commented that some people were building mudbrick houses which were 'little more than the equivalents of brick veneers.
107 Ford, The natural Australian garden.p.69.
108 Knox, Living in the Environment, p 59.
109 Knox, Alternative Housing, p13.
110 ibid, p107.
111 Knox, Living in the Environment, p138.
112 Knox, Alternative housing. p106.
113 Skipper, My Story, p 65.
114 Knox. Living. p63
115 Cuffley, op cit, pp. 73-89. Chapter on 'The post-war housing boom'.
116 Knox, Alternative Housing, p65.
117 ibid, p66.
118 ibid, p67.
119 ibid, p66.
120 Knox, 'The indigenous environment', p39. In a speech he gave in 1969,at the AILA Conference, Knox refers to a series of articles published by' The Australian' on 'the destruction of our inherent and developed environment with its diabolical consequences to our traditional way of life.'
121 Knox, Living in the environment, p110. 12;, Knox, ibid, p133.
122 Saniga, An Uneasy Profession, pp198-221. Outlines the debates regarding the proposed Institute membership of laypersons such as Gordon Ford, Ellis Stones and Alistair Knox, who were not formally trained in Landscape Architecture, and the key role they played, especially Ellis Stones, in the founding of AILA.
123 ibid.
124 Knox, ibid, pp71-72.
125 Knox, The Indigenous Environment. p39.
126 ibid, p 43.
127 ibid. p45.
128 Knox, Alternative Housing, pp64-72. Ch 6 discusses Knox's involvement in a development battle in South Burnley in 1975.
129 Francesconi, op cit, p17.
130 Nillumbik Shire. Council Plan 2005-2009 Greensborough : Nillumbik Shire. 2005, p.6

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