Vive the evo­lu­tion

The face of our sub­urbs con­tin­ues to change, but not al­ways for the bet­ter ar­gues Tim Ross in his new tele­vi­sion show, writes Jennifer Veer­huis

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Home - - BUILD - jennifer.veer­ More Episode 2 of Streets of Your Town airs on ABC1 on Novem­ber 15

Tim Ross (left) is best known as co­me­dian, but there’s one thing he doesn’t find par­tic­u­larly funny. And that’s what he sees as the loss of Aus­tralia’s iden­tity in ar­chi­tec­ture. In a new two-part se­ries, Streets Of Your Town, on ABC1, Ross looks at the history of Aus­tralia’s sub­urbs, dis­cussing the mer­its of ar­chi­tect-de­signed homes by names such as Robin Boyd and Harry Sei­dler and ex­plor­ing how big homes be­came so pop­u­lar.

Back in style

In the show Tim vis­its a va­ri­ety of homes around the coun­try, in­clud­ing the im­pos­ing Blues Point Tower by Sei­dler, built over­look­ing Syd­ney Har­bour in 1962, when it was Aus­tralia’s tallest apart­ment block.

A stroll around Sei­dler’s more mod­est Rose Sei­dler House — the back­drop for Syd­ney Liv­ing Mu­seum’s Fifties Fair each year — re­veals a strik­ingly mod­ern de­sign in a bush set­ting that still holds the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion al­most 70 years on.

As the post-war years gave way to un­prece­dented pros­per­ity, our houses grew too large, Tim ar­gues, and re­sponded less and less to the land­scape.

“Why don’t the sub­urbs look more Aus­tralian, where’s the sense of who we are?” he says. “You could go to some of the newer sub­urbs to­day and you could be in Amer­ica, you could be in Europe.”

Big­ger is not al­ways bet­ter in hous­ing, Tim ar­gues, sug­gest­ing that some­times we need to be care­ful what we wish for.

“I think we’ve been sold it and we were be­ing sold it in the 1960s but back then we just couldn’t af­ford it,” he says. “Then things be­came cheaper and we could get that space.

“If some­one tells you that you can get the ex­tra room and it’s not go­ing to cost you any more, you say, ‘Yeah, I’ll have it’.”

History re­peat­ing it­self

We could do a lot worse than look to the past for hous­ing de­sign in­spi­ra­tion, Tim says.

“There was a time when you could buy an ar­chi­tect-de­signed pro­ject home that was mod­est in size and that was ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­day Aus­tralians,” he says. “But peo­ple have made the mis­take that space is de­sign and they’re two dif­fer­ent things.”

A visit to the Rosen­burg Hills house in Tur­ra­murra, de­signed by Neville Gruz­man and built in 1966 for the owner, an “ar­dent nud­ist and vege­tar­ian”, re­veals a home bathed in nat­u­ral light via floor-to-ceil­ing glass win­dows which wel­comes the bush in­doors, while still main­tain­ing pri­vacy.

Sim­i­larly, the God­sell House built in 1965 in the Mel­bourne sub­urb of Beau­maris is an ex­am­ple of a light-filled home that changes through­out the day while main­tain­ing a strong con­nec­tion to the out­doors.

How­ever, Tim says, some­where along the line we lost our way.

“In the late ’80s or early ’90s the term McMan­sion was coined in Amer­ica about over-the-top style hous­ing,” he says.

“Es­pe­cially in the ’90s, they drew from lots

of eras so you could get a lit­tle bit of Ge­or­gian, a lit­tle bit of Ed­war­dian and you’d cre­ate this fake mod­ern fa­cade.

“Then it was on to build the big­gest house you could on the block and we bought the idea, hook, line and sinker.”

Ask an ar­chi­tect

But while bet­ter de­signed homes might be a so­lu­tion, he does be­lieve ar­chi­tects seem costly and out of reach for many Aus­tralians.

“In the 1950s and ’60s, Modernists be­lieved great de­sign would change the world and so they be­lieved in de­sign be­ing ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one,” he says. “The per­cep­tion to­day is that ar­chi­tec­ture is ex­pen­sive. Ar­chi­tects have not done a great job in sell­ing them­selves but a good de­signer will save you ev­ery time.”

Back to Basix

The Build­ing Sus­tain­abil­ity In­dex, known as Basix, has achieved some good out­comes in NSW in Tim’s view, par­tic­u­larly with the stan­dard of apart­ments in Syd­ney, but that hasn’t nec­es­sar­ily trans­lated to house de­sign. Put sim­ply, we could do bet­ter. “They don’t al­ways have to stick out, they don’t have to scream ‘look at me’,” he says.

“Too of­ten we’re build­ing houses that turn our back on the environment and the neigh­bour­hood in a coun­try where we’ve got the best cli­mate in the world.

“You drive in through your garage and you stop in­ter­act­ing with the neigh­bours.”

The Rosen­burg Hills house de­signed by Neville Gruz­man in 1966 bal­ances nat­u­ral light and pri­vacy.

The orig­i­nal ar­chi­tect re­turned to ex­tend the house in 1983 at the re­quest of the own­ers.

Rose Sei­dler House on Syd­ney’s up­per north shore was a post-war de­sign by ar­chi­tect Harry Sei­dler for his par­ents.

Blues Point Tower at McMa­hons Point was an early 1960s de­sign by ar­chi­tect Harry Sei­dler, over­look­ing Syd­ney Har­bour.

God­sell House, de­signed by 1960 by ar­chi­tect David God­sell for his fam­ily home, in Beau­maris, Mel­bourne, is bathed in nat­u­ral light all day.

The Tor­breck build­ing, de­signed by ar­chi­tects Job and Froud, was the first high-rise res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment in Queens­land.

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