Australia's Architectural Styles

​Colonial c.1788 - c.1840

Australia's first settlers were plagued by distance and unfamiliar surroundings. Their first priority was shelter. They began by camping in tents and huts, and then moved on to simple houses using building materials available to them such as clay, bush timber and stone. Roofs were thatched or shingled.

The cottages they built were simple, influenced by the Georgian architecture popular in Britain.

In Australia, the Georgian style was simplified and restrained, possibly as a response to the social and environmental circumstances in which the settlers found themselves. Typical houses of the period were made with a hipped roof and a verandah. This style was so appropriate to the new colony that it was used throughout the 19th century for many homesteads.

The 1820s and 1830s was a period of expansion and prosperity for the Tasmanian colony. The buildings of this period reflected that prosperity, with architecture introducing subtle classical detailing. The style is commonly called Colonial Regency.

Towards the end of the period, the ordered classical lines of Grecian architecture were being introduced, especially where a powerful look was called for. In contrast, other architects were following their emotions and looking back to the romantic style of medieval England. This Gothic style was often used for churches.

Victorian c.1840 - c.1890

The term 'Victorian' refers to the reign of England's Queen Victoria, which began in 1839. It is divided into Early Victorian (1840-1865), Mid Victorian (1865-1880) and Late Victorian (1880-1890).

Australia was growing from a convict outpost into a strong economic contributor for the United Kingdom. Agriculture, sheep, cattle and the discovery of gold in the eastern states led to an increase in the number of free settlers searching for wealth.

The architecture of the period reflected the confidence, progress and prosperity of the young colonies. Georgian and Regency styles continued to be used for public buildings seeking to reflect wealth and power, while Gothic styles were still the choice for churches.

Differences from the earlier styles reflected new and better materials being available. Corrugated iron replaced the shingled roofs of the Colonial era and glass was being produced in larger sheets.

Stained glass windows were being used in fan lights and front door panels and sidelights. Machined timber, plaster mouldings and pressed metal ceiling and wall linings were becoming more readily available.

Roofing too changed dramatically. Terracotta tiles became popular and chimneys became more ornate.

By 1870 Australia was producing its own 'iron lace', which became a popular decorative choice on both public and domestic buildings, especially on the veranda which had become a necessary addition to many buildings.

Architects were still influenced by British and European trends including those from Egypt, Italy and France, resulting in many architectural styles being used during this period including Gothic, Italianate and Queen Anne.

Federation c.1890 - c.1915

Federation refers to the movement to join the six Australian colonies into one nation, which happened on 1 January 1901.

The Federation style is perhaps the most easily identified Australian architectural style.

Despite new-found national pride, architects still took ideas from overseas and the many fluctuating fashions of the time, resulting in many distinct styles for the period.

Classical styles continued to be used for public buildings that needed to express authority, power, wealth and culture. The Gothic style was still used for churches, though later in the period the Romanesque style which was popular in America was favoured.

For the domestic home, Queen Anne, Arts and Craft and the Bungalow were the choice of the day. Roofs were predominantly galvanized iron, although there was an increasing use of terracotta tiling. With this increased use also came the introduction of decorative ridge tiles, finials and the roof ornamentation commonly seen in the Queen Anne style.

Following the international Arts and Craft Movement, decoration became more important. Cast iron was out of fashion, but ornamental woodwork became popular. Brickwork incorporated detailing around windows, doors and chimneys. Leadlight windows became more common, but the veranda became a simple entry porch.

Inter-war Period 1915 - 1940

Advances in technology during this period greatly changed Australian society. The wireless, the gramophone and motion pictures opened up knowledge of, and interest in, other world cultures, particularly the USA.

Australia's first university trained architects began entering the workforce, all influenced by their English teachers, and following the classical style of architecture and its various off springs, though some fads such as Mediterranean and Spanish Mission influences came through.

By the 1920s the Californian Bungalow was the style of choice, reflecting Australia's growing interest in all things American. This style was less ornate than the Queen Anne home. The roof was lower and flatter with wide eaves projecting behind the walls to give sun protection to the windows. Another common feature was the veranda supported by thick clumpy pillars. While red bricks were still much in favour, the walls were often given a finishing coat of "rough-cast" cement or "pebble dash", which was made by adding small stones to the cement while it was wet.

In Europe, there was a trend to embrace new technologies and the notion of buildings as functional, with elaborate ornamentation being rejected as superfluous. While not common, some architects began following the modern European trend, designing "Functionalist" homes with a flat-roof, big steel-framed windows and bare white walls. Art Deco Styles also became popular.

By the end of the period the streamlined styles were being used for factories, schools and hospitals.

Post war c.1940 - 1960

World War II and its aftermath caused massive social, economic and cultural change in Australia. The love affair with the USA grew stronger, and political associations were being made. With rationing and shortages continuing in the immediate Post-War period, new and cheaper building materials such as plastics, concrete and fibro cement grew in popularity.

Domestic homes were typically austere. Pre-fabricated houses were used to supply demand and simplicity was the key.

From about 1950 things began to improve and 'modern' architecture took hold during a post-war building boom. Most prominent of the styles of the period was the 'international' style. This style was used throughout Australia for both office blocks with their extensive use of steel, reinforced concrete and glass, as well as for the glass-walled private house.

Late 20th Century c.1960

The 1960s were a period of great change, with conventions being challenged, changed and redefined, particularly through a growing youth culture of new music, fashion and thought. In Australia, the birth of a multicultural society was also beginning, with many European immigrants bringing new cultures, ideas, food and fashions.

By the 1960s the typical Australian home was a single-storey house built of brick, brick-veneer, weatherboard or fibro-cement. Sky-scrapers grew taller and urban sprawl continued to change city and street landscapes.

Architects were using new materials and technologies in new ways, resulting in many structural and extroverted forms. Buildings varied from the solid, stark style of 'brutalism' with its heavy use of reinforced concrete, through to the 'structural' style favoured for sporting and entertainment centres.

While these new building styles were also used for domestic homes, many people started looking back to old colonial, Victorian and federation styles as inspiration for their houses.
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