Vale Derek Fuller Wrigley OAM


Meredith Hinchliffe reflects on the extraordinary contribution of the late Derek Wrigley in the establishment of Craft ACT 50 years ago.

Born February 16, 1924 in Oldham, Lancashire died June 22, 2021 in Canberra.

Derek Wrigley came to Australia in 1947. He worked for a short time with a firm of architects in Sydney and then became a lecturer in Architecture at Sydney Technical College & University of Technology (now the University of New South Wales).

In 1956 he was the co-founder, with Fred Ward, of the Industrial Design Council of Australia, (IDCA) and was the first Honorary Secretary. He was also the Chair of the IDCA Education Committee for the first three years. Derek was passionate about the importance of design and art in education and right until the end was writing about this importance.

“When you design something, it doesn’t matter how good it looks if it doesn’t work. Appearance is not as important as functionality – the balance in good design should be 51% functionality and 49% looks.” (Derek Wrigley).

Derek Wrigley moved to Canberra in 1957 to take up the position of Assistant Designer with Fred Ward, who had been invited to establish the Design Unit at the Australian National University upon completion of his work at University House, on the ANU Campus.

Derek had qualifications in architecture structural engineering, civic design and town planning. He was a sculptor and always retained a keen interest in the issues of design and art.

He was very active in the ACT community, including as an active member of the Canberra Art Club.

In July 1970, the Canberra Art Club convened a meeting to discuss a proposal to establish a branch of the Craft Association in the ACT and to meet Marea Gazzard who outlined the aims of the federal body and the role of the state branches. Derek was a member of this group. A steering committee was formed, and the first general meeting was held on September 30, 1970, with architect John Scollay elected as president. The second annual general meeting held in late 1971, confirmed the constitution and registration of the Craft Association of the ACT as a corporate member of the Crafts Council of Australia. The organisation later became the Crafts Council of the ACT, and then Craft ACT Craft and Design Centre.

John Scollay and other committee members never viewed the Association as a club, operating at a social level – although social events were important fund raising opportunities. From the beginning they developed a process for assessing members for status as a ‘craftsman’ member. Four categories of membership were agreed for individuals: craftsman, craft designer, craft maker, and teacher (arts, crafts or related fields of design).

Other principles established by the first committee included the importance of exhibitions, involvement in education at all levels, and community engagement. These basic principles continue today at Craft ACT.

In its first year the association started a series of experimental workshops at its meetings, “to get people thinking”. At a time when there were few formal courses at a tertiary level, raising the standards of work made by members and group members was vital. In 1974 the committee arranged a ten week design course entitled “Surfaces and Design” primarily for practicing craftsmen, with a second held in 1975.

Derek’s input can be seen in the Association’s Involvement with the formal primary and secondary education systems. In 1972 a seminar was held on “the teaching of environmental arts in secondary schools” and one aim was to explore the ways in which professional bodies concerned with the arts can assist. In February 1974 the Teachers Resources Centre – of the (then) new Interim Schools Authority – approached the association to provide teachers, advice and support for teaching a variety of in-service courses.

Derek continued his membership with the then Craft Association, but eventually other issues became more important to him.

In 1977 he established The New Millwrights – a group of building professionals trying to make the public more energy-conscious.

He continued designing furniture and houses. He established the voluntary Technical Aid to the Disabled (ACT) in 1979 and was the Design Coordinator until 1991. He continued his involvement until 2010. It was this involvement that earned him an OAM.

Derek was awarded Life Fellowship of The DIA, and was inducted into their Hall of Fame, was a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects and namesake for the annual Derek Wrigley Award for Sustainable Architecture, and an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Derek Wrigley left an extraordinary legacy, in Canberra, Australia and arguably the world.

Written by Meredith Hinchliffe with assistance from Amy Jarvis.

July 1, 2021

Image: Derek Wrigley. Photo: ANU