In the show ‘The Streets of Your Town’ that aired on ABC, Tim Ross looks at residential architectural trends in Australia. He looks at the modernist movement as well as the evolution in housing design that has resulted in the contemporary proliferation of the ‘McMansion.’ Ross describes how the early modernists had a drive in the way they were thinking about homes. During the modernist era, the general public had a much higher opinion of architects than they typically do now. People were excited by advancements in housing designs that fostered new types of living. Australian Architect Robin Boyd even sold plans in the newspaper, so anyone interested could have access to good home designs that allowed for ‘future living’ as he saw it.

During the modernist movement, cities were seen as dark, dirty places while large sprawling suburbs such as those found in Canberra were more attractive. During this period, a house would take up a third of its site. Within more modern suburbs where development was initiated say ten or fifteen years ago, houses just about consume the whole property. The shift in housing size reflects the change in lifestyle present in modern culture. On the show, an interviewed real estate agent explains, “The dream before was playing cricket in the backyard, whereas now, everything is inside.”

An image capture from ‘The Streets of Your Town’ showing an estate of McMansions

In a critique of ‘The Streets of Your Town’, Alan Davies writes that although there is a pattern of non-Architect designed mass housing on urban fringes, this isn’t the dominant typology in Australia today. Davies argues that multi-unit housing, either townhouse or apartment developments, are the most common form of new dwelling, and that a significant portion of these are Architect designed.1 So while undeveloped suburban land on the city edge allows for a larger house on a larger site, in the inner city more people than ever have access to Architecturally designed homes, as previously non-residential land is redeveloped for multi-unit housing. This seems to suggest that while Architects are doing more work, it generally falls within a specific area, and raises the question of what future vision Architects can offer in areas like suburban housing, where they are not typically employed.

Robin Boyd had an intellectual vision and an understanding of lifestyle and how people might live in the future. Architecture today can often be reactionary as the real policy makers, whether it be urban planners, project managers, developers or real estate agents often restrict design parameters. Architecture has evolved to respond to the change in lifestyle while the architecture seen in the modernist period guided the way of life.

Left: Cover of a Small Homes Service booklet issued by Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in The Age in 1948

Right: An example of a Small Homes Service (SHS) House available from Melbourne’s Myer department store for £5.

Upon reflection of his architectural career, Paul our director sees that when he was a younger architect, there was a tendency within the profession to specialise. While today, there still can be a preference for people to want the expert, there has been a more recent shift where people are beginning to understand that a fresh view of a building type is a good thing and that not only adequate skills to design a new building typology are present but ideas are revisited, rethought and the result can be refreshing. We’ve found childcare to be a perfect example of this. This lends to the idea that architects provide a commitment to a broader term of good design. This means thinking about who we’re designing for and using skills to develop a scheme that works at all levels for development and value, energy efficiency, functionality and in the case of childcare, the lives of children. Our key knowledge is that we understand the client and we understand how people occupy a space.

In our office we work collaboratively to ensure our designs meet the unique demands of each project.

In our practice, we prioritise questioning and challenging where architecture can still influence and push for healthier, more social and active home lives. With the changes in contemporary lifestyles, it’s common to no longer be connecting on a street level or in a community or neighbourhood. Architecture can play the role of pushing for community, providing opportunities for people to still connect with others outside of their immediate family. The movement in alternate lifestyle arrangements such as co-housing is a fantastic shift fostered through supportive architecture that can assist more communal lifestyles. It is equally important within single residential properties along with good apartment design, reflected in the shift now in multi residential architecture that sees a priority in shared facilities and social spaces.

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