Cuthbert Whitley house at 107 Limestone Avenue, Braddon. whitley-feature

Cuthbert Whitley Houses

The Whitley Houses in Griffith and Braddon were designed by Government architect Cuthbert Whitley in 1939. Until 2004 they were the last remaining intact examples of inter-war functionalist style public housing in Canberra designed by the Works Branch of the Department of the Interior.

The Whitley Houses were some of the first government designed and built detached functionalist style houses in Australia. The houses are located at:

  • 60 Leichhardt Street, Griffith;
  • 95 and 97 Canberra Avenue, Griffith; and
  • 107 Limestone Avenue, Braddon.

The houses exhibit the typical characteristics of the inter-war functionalist style, with asymmetrical massing of simple, cubic shapes, a flat roof concealed behind a parapet and the use of plain surfaces and metal framed windows, to emphasise horizontality.

Although listed on the ACT Interim Heritage Places Register, development approvals were granted and multi-storey developments went ahead on each of the blocks during 2004-2005, seriously compromising the heritage significance of all the houses.

Significance

The Whitley Houses are listed on the ACT Chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) Register of Significant Twentieth Century Architecture. The houses are regarded by the RAIA as being excellent examples of the inter-war functionalist style and are some of the first functionalist houses in Australia designed and built by government.

The houses are also important for their association with Cuthbert Whitley, Senior Architect in the Works Branch of the Department of the Interior. Whitley, with Chief Government Architect Edwin Henderson, was responsible for the design of numerous Government buildings in 1930s Canberra.

Bearing in mind the key role played by public housing in the development of Canberra, these houses are also important for revealing Whitley’s aim, while in charge of the Works Branch, of introducing modernist architecture to Canberra’s public housing after 1939.

On 26 October 2002 the Whitley Houses were also added to the ACT Interim Heritage Places Register. When the Heritage Act 2004 came into force in March 2005, places included on the old heritage places register under the Land (Planning and Environment) Act 1991 were henceforth taken to be registered under the Heritage Act 2004.

Whitley House on Canberra Avenue, Griffith.

Until 2004 these were the last remaining intact examples of inter-war functionalist public housing in Canberra.

Description

The Whitley houses are all built on a single level, with brick walls and parapets concealing low-pitched roofs, which were originally asbestos cement. The houses in Griffith were designed to present a streetscape that incorporated the key design elements of the group. These included a low, painted connecting wall, brick flower box, cantilevered concrete hood over the entry and steel framed corner windows with horizontal panes on the more prominent front elevation.

60 Leichhardt Street, Griffith is a Type 108 house. Four houses of this type were built on the corners of this section; however two have been demolished. 97 Canberra Avenue, Griffith is the only Type 111 house remaining and was one of a set of five facing Canberra Avenue. It has a central entry and more elongated appearance than a Type 108 dwelling, with a wider front window and longer cantilevered hood. 95 Canberra Avenue sits diagonally opposite 60 Leichhardt Street and is another Type 108 house. The Griffith houses were all painted white.

107 Limestone Avenue, Braddon (pictured at top) is a Type 133 house. This design is similar to a Type 108, but not intended to be painted. The design features of this very well preserved house are readily apparent from the street.

The design and location of public housing and building types was an important consideration for Canberra’s planners in the 1930s. The Whitley houses on Canberra Avenue were arranged symmetrically along the main southern entry to Canberra as a demonstration that this was a modern, developing city. The Northbourne Housing Group was presented along Canberra’s major northern entry in much the same way some twenty years later.

Sources and further reading