Author Q&A Session with Davina Jackson

Routledge is pleased to share with you our author Q&A session with Davina Jackson for her recently published title Douglas Snelling: Pan-Pacific Modern Design and Architecture.

Davina Jackson (M.Arch) is a Sydney-based author, editor and curator, and a visiting research fellow with Goldsmiths College, University of London. She writes for British and European publishers on modernist architecture and design in Oceania and on creative applications of technology in urban contexts. In recent years she has produced books, exhibitions, articles and guest essays explaining themes she has named ‘smart light cities’, ‘viral internationalism’, ‘indigenous modernism’, ‘astrospatial architecture’, ‘data cities’ and ‘virtual nations’. During the trans-millennial decades, she was a professor of multi-disciplinary design at the University of New South Wales, an editor of Architecture Australia, and a director of companies which produced the world’s first three ‘smart light’ festivals in Sydney and Singapore.

Find out more about Davina Jackson

About the book and the subject area:

Congratulations on publishing Douglas Snelling: Pan-Pacfic Modern Design and Architecture. What inspired you about this architect?
Before the early 2000s, when Snelling’s eldest son Christopher introduced me to his architecture, his glamorous Sydney lifestyle, and his unusual international life story, I had only vaguely known about his ‘Snelling line’ of splay-leg chairs and stools. I was immediately inspired by the family scrapbooks showing a really colourful and glamorous England-born, NZ-educated Australian-American character. Also I was impressed with many superb photographs of his architecture by Max Dupain, who was Sydney’s equivalent to legendary Los Angeles modern photographer Julius Shulman. Until we began to publish the first historical articles on him, from about 2008, most Australian historians and architects and designers also seemed unaware, dismissive or only dimly conscious about his remarkable oeuvre of commercial and residential buildings, commercial interiors, gardens and concepts for resorts on several South Pacific islands. Also, I was inspired especially by his late-career buildings with flamboyant roofs emulating thatched huts from Indonesia, Vanuatu and Hawaii.

Is there any research in this book which really surprised you?
I was surprised by the extraordinarily strong, and secretive, opposition to this research on Snelling, which included most of the history-theory academics and many practising architects in both Australia and New Zealand – it seemed to be a really bitter war to reject my PhD thesis, exhibition proposals to museums, and three ANZ publishers cancelled their agreements to publish a book on him. In terms of my research on Snelling, I was surprised by his personal connections to some great 1930s film stars and 1940s-50s architects in Los Angeles … and how persistently he misled his Australian associates by wrongly implying he had met and was a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Do you have plans for future books? What’s next in the pipeline for you?
As well as researching Australian and Pacific architecture, design and maritime history, I have been writing reports, editing websites and curating exhibitions on creative urban applications of satellite-linked remote sensing systems and ‘smart light’ technologies. One recent book was SuperLux: Smart Light Art, Design and Architecture for Cities (Thames and Hudson, 2015) and I am now writing another book about space, light and architecture.

How is architectural history evolving today? Especially in your part of the world, Australia?

Various antipodean architectural historians became influenced by the sophisticated theories of European postmodern philosophers from the 1970s through the 1990s. Many scorned literal, factual approaches to history and instead began to concentrate on ‘historiography’, where you research and reveal not the research subject directly but literature on theories and sociology themes that you try to prove are relevant ‘cultural frames’ to understand the ‘context’ of the subject. I think now the pendulum is shifting away from theory obscuring reportorial history – especially when scholars are dealing with a ’new’ person or emerging subject where factual details have not yet been published. Also some scholars are now showing more interest in pan-Pacific architecture and design.

Tell us about some of your current activities and approaches to research and writing?

Since 2013, I have been spending more time in London, and travelling internationally to research and speak about various historical and futuristic design themes. I have a UK residency permit and a visiting research fellowship with virtual reality experts at the Goldsmiths College computing department, University of London – but I love coming back to writing in our sunny apartment on the waterfront in Sydney and our weekend house overlooking farmlands at Kangaroo Valley.

Anything else you would like to add?
It was great to work with the staff and contractors at Routledge, both before and after its recent purchase of Ashgate Press. Everyone was efficient, accurate and convivial while we worked the different time zones between Oxfordshire and Sydney.

This title is part of the Ashgate Studies in Architecture

Davina Jackson

Davina Jackson

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Douglas Snelling

Davina Jackson