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About five kilometres north of Jørn Utzon’s iconic Sydney Opera House sits a much smaller – and far less celebrated – architectural gem, the work of another talented foreign architect who arrived on Australian shores last century. Sited on the edge of a picturesque park that merges with tree-lined streets and the remains of bushland, the Willoughby Incinerator is one of thirteen reverberatory incinerators designed by Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937), better known for his competition winning masterplan for the then newly proposed capital, Canberra, in 1912. Born in Illinois, USA, Burley Griffin moved to Chicago after his studies and from 1901 and 1906 worked in the office of Frank Lloyd Wright. He only arrived in Australia for the first time in late 1913, in order to inspect the site of the new capital, after which he primarily based-himself there.
Griffin, with his colleague Eric Nicholls, undertook the incinerator projects for the Reverberatory Incinerator and Engineering Company (RIECo) between 1929 and 1937. They were remarkable examples of advanced engineering at the time, for RIECo were early innovators in waste disposal, and developed a gravity feed system patented in 1926 that prevented waste from ending up in landfill and waterways.