They constitute the ubiquitous residential forms that spread out from every major Australian urban centre. Lining thousands of newly formed streets across the nation, the detached brick veneer, tiled roofed home has become the primary mental visual accompaniment to the word ‘suburb’. As such, they are often snobbishly derided as cookie cutter ‘McMansions’, devoid of any design merit. They do, however, serve as very modern, comfortable and (increasingly) ample homes for many people and, whilst they are certainly not groundbreaking in any architectural manner, one can, via careful observation, read a built history of Australian domestic design in them.
The typical contemporary facade consists of a central entrance portico, often topped with a pediment of horizontal or triangular form, flanked by tall rectangular windows. Both of these elements can be read as alluding to the English Georgian architecture (minus the double car garage of course) that was fashionably utilised for many wealthier domestic dwellings during the early to mid 19th century.
The brick veneer, especially when executed with the red-brown variety, is clearly reminiscent of two late 19th century/early 20th century stylistic movements. The first, known in Australia as Federation Queen Anne (Queen Anne Revival elsewhere), came into vogue around the 1870s, lasting until the turn of the century. It loosely reinterpreted the architectural styles prevalent during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714), and included features such as elaborate verandahs, intricate timber and terracotta decorative features and red brick facades. Exposed brickwork was also the hallmark of the Arts and Crafts architectural movement (c1890-1915) which espoused honest use of materials and simple geometric forms, anticipating in many ways early 20th century Modernism.
Finally, the roof is generally made up of interlocking ceramic or concrete tiles and, more often than not, terracotta in colour. Amongst the most popular profile choices are the half barrel shaped tiles which derive from Mediterranean, or Spanish Mission styles, especially popular in Melbourne and Sydney during the inter war years (1919 – 1939).
So, if the exterior is a reflection of Australian architectural fashions from early European settlement to the Second World War, the interior of these contemporary homes definitely references the more immediate post-war Modernist years. Open plan kitchen/living spaces and plain white plaster walls evoke the early clean designs of the 1950s and early 60s, whilst standard floor to ceiling glazing throughout provides ample natural light, alluding to that very Modernist notion of seamless interior/exterior transition.
This is all, of course, a logical stylistic outcome of Australian suburban design, as nothing forms in a vacuum and everything is derivative of something, as in art so it is in architecture.