A pioneer of Australian 20th century design, Derek Wrigley’s life as a practicing architect delivered a significant contribution to the fabric of Australian design.
Wrigley’s designs, namely at the Australian National University, are so ubiquitous that they appear hidden in plain sight. At ANU, Wrigley’s trademarks are witnessed in the form of the university crest and the school’s typeface, furniture, sculpture, buildings and lecture theatre seating. This is also evident publicly, with Wrigley’s designs popping up in the High Court of Australia’s Coat of Arms in courts two and three, and street furniture around Canberra.
A jack of all trades, simply calling Wrigley a designer may fall short of encompassing the entirety of his skills. Wrigley was an architect, teacher, author, photographer, sculptor, inventor, innovator, and much more.
After failing his high school certificate and completing just a few months as an apprentice at an electrical manufacturing firm in Manchester, Wrigley went on to gain entry to Architecture at Manchester College of Art by submitting a measured drawing of his own bicycle that he completed at age 16. In 1945, Wrigley’s outstanding results gained him top place in the all-England architectural exams.
Two years later, Wrigley emigrated to Australia where he purchased an abandoned quarry in Dee Why, NSW for £100, and got to work building a house, OB1. Over his life, Wrigley amassed five self-designed OB houses.
Wrigley himself says that his move to Australia shaped much of his design tastes.
“My lifelong search for simplicity without unnecessary stylism has always been expressed in my designs – no doubt influenced by my early Bauhaus style architectural training at Manchester in the 1940s. The sharpening of my aesthetic senses really took off after my arrival in Australia at the end of 1947,” his website reads.
Wrigley became a founding member of the NSW Chapter of the Society for Designers for Industry in 1953, which subsequently became the Industrial Design Institute of Australia and eventually the Design Institute of Australia.
“Architecture became my springboard into design and has served me well as a core discipline applicable to a growing number of peripheral design areas”, he says.
Wrigley was an imperative factor in developing the Australian design community, and as such he founded the Industrial Design College of Australian in 1956. His influence at The Australian National University, which he joined in ‘57, saw the design unit grow to include landscape, graphics, furniture, building and industrial design. During his 20 years at ANU, he developed state of the art lecture theatre seating, the university’s typeface, buildings and sculptures, and much more.
In the late 70s, Wrigley left ANU to pursue solar research. This research led him to experiment on his own homes with solar passive concepts. In the 90s, Wrigley began retrofitting his own property with an array of concepts to save power, including early examples of double glazing and solar panels. His research was later published in his first book, Making Your Home Sustainable: A Guide to Retrofitting.
Wrigley was a passionate designer who continued working his whole life, believing designers never truly retired because they were having too much fun.
“Design is a ubiquitous, positive, fundamental human force for the betterment of everything on our planet – natural or human-induced.”