Australia Arts and Culture: Architecture

Australia's first European settlers arrived in the country with memories of Georgian grandeur, but the lack of materials and tools meant that most of the early houses were almost caricatures of the real thing. One of the first concessions to the climate, and one which was to become a feature of Australian houses, was the addition of a wide verandah which kept the inner rooms of the house dark and cool.

The prosperity of the gold rush era in the second half of the last century saw a spate of grand buildings in the Victorian style in most major towns. Many of these buildings survive, and are a fine reminder of a period of great wealth, confidence and progress. The houses of the time became much more elaborate, with ornamentation of all sorts gracing the facades.

Increasing population in the major towns saw the rise of the terrace house, simple single and later double-storey houses which, although cramped at the time, today provide comfortable dwellings for thousands of inner-city residents. By the turn of the century, at a time when the separate colonies were combining to form a new nation, a simpler, more 'Australian' architectural style evolved, and this came to be known as Federation style.

Built between about 1890 and 1920, Federation houses typically feature red-brick walls, and an orange-tiled roof decorated with terracotta ridging and chimney pots. Also a feature was the rising-sun motif on the gable ends, symbolic of the dawn of a new age for Australia.

The Californian bungalow, a solid house style which developed in colonial British India, became the rage in the 1920s and '30s, and its simple and honest style fitted well with the emerging Australian tendency towards a casual lifestyle.

Differing climates led to some interesting regional variations. In the tropical north the style known as the Queen-slander evolved - elevated houses with plenty of ventilation to make the most of cooling breezes. In the 1930s the first buildings in Darwin appeared with the same features, and have developed into the modem 'Troppo' (tropical) style of architecture.

The immigration boom which followed WW II led to urban sprawl - cities and towns expanded rapidly, and the 'brick veneer' became the dominant housing medium, and remains so today. On the fringe of any Australian city you'll find acres of new, low-cost, brick-veneer suburbs as far as the eye can see it's a bleak expanse of terracotta roofs and bricks in various shades.

Modern Australian architecture struggles to maintain a distinctive style, with overseas trends dominating large projects. Often the most interesting 'modern' buildings are in fact recycled Victorian or other era buildings. There are some exceptions, notable ones being the Convention Centre at Sydney's Darling Harbour, which was designed, by Phillip Cox, and the new Cultural Centre at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in central Australia, which was designed in consultation with the traditional owners of the national park.