.

  • Written by Kirsty Volz, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland
A Royal Victorian Small Homes House, designed in conjuction with The Age newspaper, 1955. Photo: Wolfgang Sievers. Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria

Of all the mantras for modernism, the one I think most befitting for Australian mid-century modern houses is L'esprit Nouveau – The New Spirit. These houses represented more than style; they reflected a new Australian spirit that emerged in the postwar era.

Modernism was established in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. An intentional shift away from classical tradition, it was informed by new technology and mass production. While early modernism was weighed down by the avant garde and elitism, mid-century modernism - which includes architecture from the 1950s to the late 1970s - became accessible and was embraced internationally.

The current resurgence in popularity of mid-century modern houses in Australia has been spurred by websites such as Modernist Australia, social media groups for “MCM” enthusiasts, public exhibitions, and even real estate agents dedicated to selling the Modern House.

Boyd House, Walsh Street, South Yarra 1958. Architect: Robin Boyd. Photograph: Mark Strizic, c.1965 Mark Strizic Collection State Library Victoria Melbourne © Estate of Mark Strizic


Read more: Explainer: what is modernism?


A fascination with mid-century modernism has also been explored in the two-part documentary Streets of Your Town, hosted by comedian and self-proclaimed “architecture tragic” Tim Ross. He describes how the popularity of these houses was underpinned by purpose as much as style:

Modernism may have had its birth in Europe and its glamour in America but I think it found its egalitarian purpose, unrivalled anywhere else in the world, in Australia’s suburbs.

Some enthusiasts point to the television series Mad Men as the catalyst for international mid-century modern revivalism. But visual culture has also been central to its popularity in Australia. As these homes emerged, so too did the suburbs, which became the setting for much of Australian television and theatre.

The hit TV series Mad Men is closely associated with the global revival of mid-century modern style. IMDB

I think this is central to the popularity of these houses. Even if you didn’t grow up in one, you probably watched a family who did on television.

I grew up in a late 70s, mid-century modern home. It was designed by a draftsperson, not an architect, but featured many of the design elements commonly associated with the style. Just like the Kerrigan family in The Castle we had a pool room, complete with a purpose-built bar.

Mid-century modern in pop culture

Early 20th century Australian architecture, especially during the interwar period, had been burdened with the nationalistic desire to create a distinctly Australian house.

In the postwar era, however, the cultural landscape shifted from the wide brown land to the interior of our suburbs, and especially our homes. Australian culture was motivated by the kind of self-consciousness often associated with modernism. This was reflected in mid-century modern houses, with their humble facades and efficient planning.

Image of interior of a Royal Victorian Institute of Architects Small Home Services House, designed in conjuction with the Age newspaper, 1955. Photo: Wolfgang Sievers. Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria

Ray Lawler’s 1955 play Summer of the 17th Doll exemplifies this shift and is considered to be the first Australian play to be set inside a house. Around the same time, in 1956, Melbourne was hosting the Olympic Games, and with a shortage of hotel accommodation, families were asked to billet athletes. This placed Australian homes, in a very real sense, on an international stage.

It was this event that inspired the character Mrs Norman Everage (later Dame Edna Everage) of Moonee Ponds. The first Edna Everage show revolved around her domestic preparations for international guests in the lead up the 1956 Games. Barry Humphries then took a satirical view of Australian domesticity to an international audience.

Humphries’ critical view on Australian life, alongside books such as David Horne’s The Lucky Country (1964) and architect Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness (1960), represented a maturing of Australian culture, which emerged from critical reflections on our position in the world through art, architecture, literature and film.

Boyd and Humphries shared an enduring friendship, and there are many overlaps in their critique of Australian domesticity. Boyd’s work has undoubtedly been at the centre of the current mid-century modern revival. The attention it attracts is not just about his architecture, but also the sentiments that informed it. For Boyd, architecture was not an isolated discipline, rather it possessed the capacity to shape, and be shaped by, broader social, political, economic and cultural ideas.

Boyd was instrumental in setting up the Small Home Service in 1947, which delivered designs for modern, small, flexible, and affordable homes in response to postwar housing shortages. It is probably this aspect of his work that resonates the most – a solution to housing inefficiencies led by professionals for the greater good, not financial greed.

Brochure of Royal New South Wales Institute of Architects Small Homes Services Catalogue. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums

Great Australian party houses

Of course, there is much to admire about Boyd’s designs, and those of the other architects working for the Small Home Service. Externally, the designs were refined and simple. Australian mid-century modern houses are unique with their pitched roofs in contrast to the flat roofs found in America and Europe. They introduced open plan living areas, a move away from a series of rooms connected by hallways.

This openness brought more light into living spaces, as did bigger windows and glass sliding doors that connected inside and outside. And, as Ross’ book The Rumpus Room, And other stories from the suburbs (2017) describes, this openness made them great Australian party houses.

Made of prefabricated elements, these houses were a builders’ delight - and affordable. By the 1960s, most large building companies, including AV Jennings offered a range of such houses for sale.

AV Jenning Homes Brochure 1960s. AV Jennings

This year marks 50 years since the election party that inspired David Williamson’s play Don’s Party (1971). Williamson drew inspiration from his AV Jennings Type 15 home, built in the Melbourne suburb of Bundoora in the 1960s.

In 2011, I asked him how his home had influenced the writing of Don’s Party. He told me:

a feature of these houses was the openness and connectedness of the living, dining and kitchen areas with the bedrooms down a corridor at the back. This openness allowed one to think of a set design. It was good for the dramatic structure. I drew a floor plan and had the characters’ names on slips of paper which I slid around the floor plan so I knew who was where at any particular time.

Williamson’s reflections show how these houses were a literal backdrop to writers and performers at the time.

Cooley’s Monologue from the 1976 film version of Don’s Party.

The 1976 film Don’s Party was shot in a house built by Australian company Pettit and Sevitt, founded in 1961. Its design, known as the “Lowline”, was created by architects Ken Woolley and Michael Dysart.

Like the Small Homes Service, Pettit and Sevitt aimed to build good quality, affordable, architect-designed homes. Forty years after closing their business, they have recently re-opened it, such is the current enthusiasm for mid-century modernism.

It seems obvious that the combination of affordability and well designed homes is an irresistible quality. However, the popularity of mid-century homes, - both then and now - runs much deeper. I would argue that they are also a reflection of a nation quietly contemplating its place in the world.

The problem child of heritage

The rise of the mid-century modern house unfortunately coincided with the modernist urban planning principles that resulted in car dependent, low density suburbs on the outskirts of cities. The sprawling nature of these suburbs has contributed to the housing stress many Australians currently experience.

The location of these houses, along with their larger lot sizes, means many have now been demolished and replaced with higher density developments. There is now a sense of urgency about their protection and conservation.

Professor Philip Goad from the University of Melbourne describes modernism as the “problem child of heritage”. By this he means, it belongs to an era that has surely passed by, but is too young to be broadly admired as built heritage.


Read more: Uneasy heritage: Australia’s modern church buildings are disappearing


Publications such as Designer Suburbs, Hot Modernism, Australia Modern, An Unfinished Experiment in Living, and The Other Moderns have highlighted the broader cultural value of these houses. This has also been part of the mission of the Robin Boyd Foundation, which has conserved Boyd’s iconic Walsh Street House.

Boyd House, Walsh Street, South Yarra 1958. Architect: Robin Boyd. Photograph: John Gollings, 2012 © John Gollings

This year marks 100 years since Boyd’s birth. In August, an exhibition at Melbourne’s Heide Museum of Modern Art will celebrate ten of his most iconic houses. The exhibition aims to share Boyd’s “humanist belief that good design can improve people’s lives and the world we live in”, capturing both the ethos of mid-century modern and the sense of nostalgia that now surrounds it.

Very few surveys of mid-century modern houses in Australian suburbs exist. In 2018, Bayside Council in Melbourne started a heritage survey of them in the suburbs of Beaumaris and Black Rock. Unfortunately, less than a year later, council had abandoned the project.

The connection between Australia’s mid-century modern houses and popular culture demonstrates their cultural and heritage value. However, heritage is not simply determined by perceived aesthetic merit – it also needs to address practical issues such as the maintenance of building materials, as well as good planning principles.

The efforts of mid-century modern enthusiasts have produced greater awareness of the cultural significance of these buildings. In time, they should secure the same heritage protection afforded to other architectural styles.

Kirsty Volz does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: Kirsty Volz, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland

Read more http://theconversation.com/friday-essay-why-old-is-new-again-the-mid-century-homes-made-famous-by-dons-party-and-dame-edna-113363

Why Small Businesses Should Invest in a Point of Sale App

Throughout the modern era, there have been an innumerable amount of changes to our society; many of which have been brought about by web-based technologies. The Internet has continually changed our ...

News Company - avatar News Company

Your Airbnb guest could be a tenant. Until the law is cleared up, hosts are in limbo

A Victorian court decision that an Airbnb agreement had the status of a lease has profound implications for guests and hosts. Daniel Krason/ShutterstockWith summer holidays around the corner, many Vic...

Bill John Swannie, Lecturer in College of Law and Justice, Victoria University - avatar Bill John Swannie, Lecturer in College of Law and Justice, Victoria University

5 reasons I always get children picture books for Christmas

Children who love being read to are more likely to find learning to read easier. from shutterstock.comChristmas is just around the corner. If you’re wondering what to get your child, your friend...

Kym Simoncini, Associate professor Early Childhood and Primary Education, University of Canberra - avatar Kym Simoncini, Associate professor Early Childhood and Primary Education, University of Canberra

Tough nuts: why peanuts trigger such powerful allergic reactions

The humble peanut. Tasty for most, treacherous for some. Dr Dwan Price, Author providedFood allergens are the scourge of the modern school lunchbox. Many foods contain proteins that can set off an ove...

Dwan Price, Molecular Biologist and Postdoc @ Deakin AIRwatch pollen monitoring system., Deakin University - avatar Dwan Price, Molecular Biologist and Postdoc @ Deakin AIRwatch pollen monitoring system., Deakin University

Must end soon! But not too soon! The catch in time-limited sales tactics

Time-limited offers leverage risk-aversion. That is, the more you dislike risk, the more likely it is you will take the bait and buy now. www.shutterstock.comAs Christmas shopping ramps up, you may be...

Daniel Zizzo, Professor and Academic Dean of the School of Economics, The University of Queensland - avatar Daniel Zizzo, Professor and Academic Dean of the School of Economics, The University of Queensland

Refugees without secure visas have poorer mental health – but the news isn't all bad

Refugees without permanent visas can experience a prolonged sense of insecurity and displacement. From shutterstock.comThere are more than 29.4 million forcibly displaced asylum seekers and refugees a...

Yulisha Byrow, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UNSW - avatar Yulisha Byrow, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UNSW

God made the rainbow: why the Bible welcomes every colour in the gender spectrum

The Bible affirms, in various ways, the inclusion of those who diverge from male-female gender norms. ShutterstockThis article is part of a series exploring gender and Christianity “God made ...

Robyn J. Whitaker, Senior Lecturer in New Testament, Pilgrim Theological College, University of Divinity - avatar Robyn J. Whitaker, Senior Lecturer in New Testament, Pilgrim Theological College, University of Divinity

Jojo Rabbit: Hitler humour and a child's eye view of war make for dark satire

Jojo's allegiances in the film are split between an imagined friends and a real hideaway. Fox SearchlightJojo Rabbit is not Disney Studios’ first foray into Hitler parody. In 1943, it produced ...

Benjamin Nickl, Lecturer in International Comparative Literature and Translation Studies, University of Sydney - avatar Benjamin Nickl, Lecturer in International Comparative Literature and Translation Studies, University of Sydney

Boosting Your Child’s Learning through Play

Being a parent is probably the highest responsibility one has in a lifetime. Once it happens, it becomes ongoing and keeps posing new challenges to us. Of course, it may seem easy from some perspe...

Diana Smith - avatar Diana Smith

Different ideas of Christmas Gifts to give to your beloved ones

"CHRISTMAS GIFTS – one of the best festival gifts to give to your closed ones. Find Christmas presents for everybody on your checklist. Christmas is now here, and if that you haven't got a hop on ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Ultimate Guide to Sneakers and Sneaker Brands

When it comes to finding the perfect pair of sneakers, it can be hard to know where to start. Finding the right pair for any kind of occasion can be difficult, so brushing up on your knowledge of sn...

News Company - avatar News Company

Conservative landslide at UK's Brexit election; Trump's ratings rise on strong US economy

Led by Boris Johnson, the Conservatives won 56% of the vote and will have an 80-seat majority. AAP/EPA/ VIckie FloresAt the December 12 UK election, the Conservatives won 365 of the 650 House of Commo...

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne - avatar Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

Johnson's thumping win an electoral lesson in not just having policies, but knowing how to sell them

With Johnson's crushing win, Brexit will now happen. But this may also be the start of the break-up of the UK. AAP/EPA/Vickie FloresSo for all the talk of narrowing polls, tactical voting, and possib...

Simon Tormey, Professor of Politics, University of Bristol - avatar Simon Tormey, Professor of Politics, University of Bristol

View from The Hill: Morrison won't have a bar of public service intrusions on government's power

Scott Morrison has rejected or sidelined a number of recommendations from the long-awaited Thodey review. AAP/Paul BravenScott Morrison has rejected or sidelined a number of recommendations from the l...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

VIDEO: Michelle Grattan reflects on the year in politics

For their last video for the year, University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini and Michelle Grattan look backwards to the big issues which have shaped political discourse. They discuss the surpr...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Choosing a Heavy Weighted Bathmats

Decorating your bathroom doesn’t finish with the paint choice or tile colours. You can change the whole room with the change of your towel set. There are no rules that say that you need to have a ...

News Company - avatar News Company

God as man, man as God: no wonder many Christian men today are having a masculinity crisis

How men saw God shaped how they saw themselves, and in turn, how they saw women. WikimediaThis article is part of our Gender and Christianity series. To understand contemporary Christian ideas about...

William Loader, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Murdoch University, Murdoch University - avatar William Loader, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Murdoch University, Murdoch University

Australia needs a national crisis plan, and not just for bushfires

Bushfires aren't the only catastrophic emergency Australia is likely to see. AAP Image/Mick TsikasCalls are growing for a national bushfire plan, including from former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull...

Andrew Gissing, General Manager, Risk Frontiers, Adjunct Fellow, Macquarie University - avatar Andrew Gissing, General Manager, Risk Frontiers, Adjunct Fellow, Macquarie University

Your Christmas shopping could harm or help the planet. Which will it be?

Many Australian consumers are concerned at the environmental impact of their shopping habits, especially at Christmas. AAPAustralian shoppers are set to spend $52.7 billion this Christmas. In the word...

Louise Grimmer, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania - avatar Louise Grimmer, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

Boosting Your Child’s Learning through Play

Being a parent is probably the highest responsibility one has in a lifetime. Once it happens, it...

Different ideas of Christmas Gifts to give to your beloved ones

"CHRISTMAS GIFTS – one of the best festival gifts to give to your closed ones. Find Christmas pr...

How to Have a Peaceful Retirement

Retirement is the time to treat yourself after a lifetime of working, to complete your bucket list...

Latest Wednesday Lotto Results

Wednesday Lotto draw 3917 Lucky numbers for this draw were 43 followed by 25. The rest of the...