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A brief history of Perth home designs

The city of Perth in Western Australia was founded in 1829 when the Swan River Colony was established by Captain Sir James Stirling. Since the early colonialists were from England the architectural styles and engineering of buildings reflected English fashions in both private and government sectors.


At the international level, traditional architectural boundaries were challenged in the 20th century and new ways of doing things were explored with enthusiasm. Twentieth century architecture, both in Australia and overseas, bears testament to this time of experimentation. Architects, engineers and planners in the capital cities were among the first to challenge the norms in late 20th century Australia and to find and introduce innovative architectural ways of expressing community, corporate and business optimism. This transformation gained momentum in the capital cities, including the nation’s capital Canberra, as Australia emerged from a crushing Depression and two World Wars.


1829 to 1830s - Georgian Architecture

The first Australian settlements were hardly the place for the finesse of classical architecture, and for more than a generation most buildings were quite rudimentary. Even so, something of the orderliness of the Georgian style could be seen, for instance, in the plain uniformity of brick walling and the simple rectangularity of double-hung sash windows.

The most obvious characteristics of Old Colonial Georgian buildings—both sophisticated and ‘rude’—are a pleasantly human scale, rectangular and prismatic shapes, symmetrical façades, and well-tried proportions. As in other colonies in warm and hot climates, the early Australian house soon protected its principal rooms from the sun by means of the veranda, a device which also served many of the informal functions of everyday life. The veranda of a single-storey house is usually a lower-pitched extension of the main roof a two storey house wears a similar veranda wrapped like a skirt around the lower half of its walls.


Old Colonial Georgian courtesy of Sydney Architecture Images

As towns grew, the quality of the design and workmanship of buildings improved and more overtly classical elements appeared. Some buildings designed to impress the observer exhibited a Palladian central block with wings or pavilions; façades were divided up by breakfronts or emphasised with porticoes, pediments, quoins and the occasional cupola. [5]


Mid 19th century - Victorian Architecture

As the colonies blossomed around Australia, in part spurred on by the gold rush and the agricultural sector and produce a majour boom, so did the building industry. During Queen Victoria’s reign there was an explosion in construction, and the quality of these buildings is such that you will still find examples of Victorian architecture throughout New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia and Western Australia today. Victorian architecture is considered to have three separate periods: early (up to 1860); mid (1860 to 1875); and late (1875 to 1901).


Early Victorian architecture: This style is pared back in comparison to its later counterparts. These houses are made of brick, exposed or rendered, with pitched roofs made from corrugated iron, tiles or slate. They often feature picket fences with a small garden at the entrance. A typical workers’cottage is a good example. Internally, the ceilings are generally unadorned, but moulded skirting (the wooden frame along the base of a wall) and architraves (the moulded frame around a window or door) are common.


Mid Victorian architecture: Much more decorative than earlier Victorian homes, this style often features verandahs with cast iron lace work and facades with ornamental and/or multi-coloured brick work, along with brick rendering. The front yard is generally enclosed with cast iron or picket fencing. The roofs are made from corrugated iron or terracotta tiles and the eaves feature decorative brackets. Stained glass windows add decoration to entrances, while double-hung timber frame windows divided into three sections are a popular design feature. Inside, polished wooden floors and plastered walls are framed by decorative skirting, architraves, cornices (wooden frames designed to hide the ceiling and roof join) and ceiling roses. [6]


1850s to 1890s - Italianate Architecture

From about 1850 to 1893 Italianate architecture was also popular as it allowed greater displays of prosperity through rich and ornate decorate features such as cast iron lace work and slate roofs. Drawing inspiration from the Tuscan late-medieval farmhouses, the Italianate style was especially popular in Australian cities experiencing tremendous growth during this period.


Italianate homes were generally constructed of the most abundant building materials in the area. The construction was typically from timber framed structures with a stucco finish and stone or timber detailing. Stone masonry was also used as an exterior building material to construct Italianate style homes.

1880s to 1920s - Federation Architecture

From 1880s to 1920s the Federation style of architecture developed. The name refers to the Federation of Australia on 1 January 1901, when the Australian colonies collectively became the Commonwealth of Australia. It is believed that before 1895 some 95 per cent of the architects were immigrants and they were from Britain, usually articled to an English architect.


The architectural style had antecedents in the Queen Anne style and Edwardian style of the United Kingdom, combined with various other influences like the Arts and Crafts style.[3] Other styles also developed, like the Federation Warehouse style, which was heavily influenced by the Romanesque Revival style. In Australia, Federation architecture is generally associated with cottages in the Queen Anne style, but some consider that there were twelve main styles that characterized the Federation period. The Australian Romanesque also occurred in the fifty years between 1890 and 1940.

1907 - 1930 - Californian Bungalows

In November 1907, the Sydney magazine Building published pictures of some 'quaint American homes': the houses were Greene and Greene bungalows in Pasadena and the illustrations were supplied by the manufacturers of Malthoid roofing. Over the next decade, the Californian bungalow and 'how it can be best adapted to Australian conditions' was the most discussed subject in articles on domestic architecture in Australia. By the end of World War One, the vast majority of houses being built in Australia were influenced in some way by the Californian Bungalow style. [1]


Classic Californian Bungalow (courtesy of Realestate.com.au)

The depression of the 1930s affected Australia dramatically and it was not until the conclusion of the World War II that building activity increased again.


1930s to 1950s - Art Deco

Art Deco arrived in Western Australia (W.A.) in 1934 and rapidly influenced local architecture and interior design in the post-depression surge of affluence. Perth the capital of Western Australia, is the world's most isolated capital city, and in the 1930s its predominantly conservative British population numbered less than 500,000. However, this was a time of sudden affluence and population growth, fueled by the state's second gold boom. The newly wealthy, yearning to be modern, looked for new designs. The spirit of Art Deco filled this need, embodying the glamour and excitement of the latest technologies - cinemas, ocean liners, fast cars and aeroplanes, as well as the intrigue of the exotic in Mayan, Egyptian and Aztec motifs. [2]


Modernist architecture

Contemporary architecture is going through an exciting period of experimentation. However, many architects seem to be repeating the same dreadful mistakes that our twentieth-century predecessors have made. Architecture–technology relationships are commonly over-simplified and many designers who are apparently working at the cutting edge are in reality still glaringly conventional in how they actually use and conceptualize technology.


Lately there's been a resurgence of interest in this style, which is best characterised by its flat or raked roof lines, floor-to-ceiling windows, easy interior flow and great indoor-outdoor connections. In other words, many of the qualities in a home that we now recognise as quintessentially Australian. [3]


In an urban environment, Modernist architecture tends to emphasise rectilinear shapes and horizontal lines. The structure used to support a building is no longer hidden. At times raised on stilts, these box-like homes almost look suspended in mid-air. Design features include flat roofs, spiral staircases and wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling glass. The garage is commonly located under the home.


Modernist architecture [7]

Internally, these homes were designed with open-plan living in mind. In particular, multi-level open plan living was introduced, inspired by the work of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright. The extensive use of windows embrace the surrounding environment and maximise a home’s outlook, rather than looking inward as seen in earlier home design, and make great use of natural light.


Textured wood, stone and wallpaper finishes were common design tools of the period, along with the use of a bold signature colour within the interior design palette, such as yellow, orange or aqua. Overall ornamentation was kept to a minimum. [4]


Closing Remarks

The authors would like to emphasize that this article is not exhaustive in terms of containing all architectural styles that have been used throughout Perth. Our research regarding the architecture of Perth homes prior to 1900 indicated that there is very limited information available. We therefore welcome comments as to how this article can be improved and expanded.


As with any home purchase, be sure to get a thorough pre-purchase building inspection to see whether the house needs any repairs or major work. If you have any questions, get in touch with us to discuss your requirements and to obtain a free quote.

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[1] Clare, John. The Californian bungalow in Australia [online]. Historic Environment, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1986: 19-39. Availability:<https://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=866126219135115;res=IELAPA> ISSN: 0726-6715. [cited 05 Jan 19].

[2] Geneve, Vyonne and Davies, Rosalind Lawe. Art deco domestic in Perth, Western Australia [online]. Spirit of Progress, Vol. 8, No. 2, Autumn 2007: 21-23. Availability:<https://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=986457947520570;res=IELHSS> ISSN: 1443-7554. [cited 05 Jan 19].

[3] Australia's obsession with mid-century modernism. Homes To Love.

[4] Modernist or International architectural style in Australia. Domain Media.

[5] Sydney Architecture. Old Colonial Georgian.

[6] Domain Media. Victorian Architecture in Australia.

[7] Home Design. Modern Architecture.

[8] Main blog image courtesy of Culture Victoria

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