Tuesday, November 2, 2010


The interwar period 1919- 1939 showed some major evolution in the world of architecture within Australia. The influences such as world war one and great depression triggered the need for a new mindset as a way of demonstrating regeneration and positive growth. One side of this was the journey of modernisation which allowed for new trends and styles to be created that no longer payed such homage to the past and tradition, but rather moved forward in obvious progress and difference. We can view this evolution in architecture with new materials, technologies and ideals becoming available, new methods and possibilities were also opened up.   

The interwar period saw architects draw their inspiration from either one of ‘the two ways of being modern’ (RMIT, 2008) – modernism or art deco. Modernism being solely Europe’s influence and art deco coming from both Europe and North America. The change in orientation from our ‘mother country’ England to Europe and North America allowed changes to occur as we were allowing ourselves to gather inspiration from different sources.

The arrival of art deco and modernist architecture within Australia arguably had three root causes.
1) Australian architects travelling abroad either to study or work. These architects then returned to ‘design and execute work in the new idioms’ (RMIT, 2008). Percy Everett is an example of this who designed buildings based around the art deco and modernism principles he had learnt about whilst studying in North America.

Percy Everett’s Technical School Essendon, 1938, a successful three dimensional design incorporating both the full range of geometric shapes and motifs, plus the finishes utilized by the Modernists in Europe, image courtesy of the National Trust- Victoria Australia.

2) International architects who immigrated to Australia bringing with them the influence of their knowledge.
3) Journals and research from overseas ‘which dealt with fresh international impulses’ (RMIT,2008)
Through these ways new modernist approaches and ideas began to spread and take root throughout Australia.

The interwar period sees the movement from neo-gothic buildings to either art deco or modern designs.

Neo-Gothic style 1840-1930:
Neo-Gothic means new gothic. It was the revival of Gothic style that originated in medieval times. England was at the centre of this revival. The amount of neo gothic buildings Melbourne features, demonstrates we were still taking our design inspiration and cues from England.  

Old arts building Melbourne University, built in 1919, designed by S C Brittingham, representing the neo-gothic style, the detail and decoration around the windows is particular to this time, it was the last stone building to be built on campus, image courtesy of Melbourne University.

Art deco style 1930-1940:
Art deco originated in France in the early 1900’s, It’s style had strong impact upon many of the American architects and from there it continued to spread.  American art deco went through two phases; the first in the 1920s was the geometrical and angular phase. The second was more curved and streamlined. The streamlined style came to be a metaphor for progress, representing readiness and speed.

One of the most prominent Australian architects who evoked the art deco Style was Harry Norris. Norris took regular trips abroad to observe architectural trends and because of this his work constantly transformed and evolved with the current styles.

Harry Norris’s Burnham Beeches, 1933, photo courtesy of Wikipedia 2010
In 1933, Norris designed Burnham Beeches a luxurious country residence for millionaire Sir Alfred Nicholas. His design featured a streamline modern style, with a zigzag motif as decoration.

Modernist style 1930-1940:
Modernist architecture emphasizes function. ‘It attempts to provide for specific needs rather than imitate nature’ Craven, 2010). Main features evident in modernist architecture are minimalism, functionality and geometric shapes. The Yule house built in 1932 by Oakley and Parkes is an example of emerging modernist design within Australia. It features strong and bold horizontal spandrels common to modern style and long windows that let in maximum daylight. The single span across each of the floors meant that no columns interrupted the interior spaces.
Oakley and Parkes Yule House, image courtesy RMIT 2008.
Along with the healing process of introducing modernisation to Australia as a way to rejuvenate from the exhaustion of the First World War, also came the process revitalisation of a nation through embracing the outdoors and leisure activities. This is what caused the ‘beach culture’. Beach houses are a form of architecture that pairs the ideals of Australia’s beach culture together with modernisation. The modernisation is apparent in the materials used to build beach houses and the consideration of suiting these houses to Australia’s weather conditions and climate. The houses were characterised by broad verandas shaded by corrugated roofing iron. The temperature of the house was helped by tall stumps, roof ventilators and pitched roofs that allowed air flow. Shutters keep out sun but also helped protect against cyclones.

Sam Hood (1872-1953), Family with car & Queenslander house, 1920's. Image courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales. PICMAN PXE 789 (v.10).

During the interwar period in Australia the use of new materials and technology allowed changes to occur within the architectural world. Industrial production became an integral part of modern society and ‘a new relationship was forged between man and machine’ (Singingman, 2010). Modernism and the belief that architecture could provide a new better way of living through new technologies methods and materials gave architects the chance to take big steps forward in the evolution of design. Technology directly affected architecture by facilitating the creation of new materials with which to build. These new materials freed the architect from engineering limitations of the past and allowed for new rational designs based on a buildings function. The industrial revolution gave three new materials to the architect of the 20th century: reinforced concrete, steel and glass. The new materials were inexpensive, mass produced and flexible to use. These profoundly affected the way in which architects went about designing buildings; so many more things were now possible.
Between 1901 and 1927 Melbourne was the largest city within Australia. The architectural journey through the interwar period is rich with advances in styles from neo-gothic, to art deco and modernisation. This evolution was made possible through new technologies and materials being invented. This then allowed new possibilities and ideals to grow that weren’t possible before.  This journey in architecture helped pave the way for a new progressive outlook within Australia.


Stephen A, Goad P, McNamara A, 2008, Introduction to modern times: The untold story of modernism in Australia, Melbourne, Miegunyah Press
This book discusses how modernism transformed different aspects of Australian culture from 1917-1967. It explores art, advertising, photography, film, body, architecture and interiors. It talks about how modernism embodied the utopian possibilities of the 20th century and had the ability to transform cities and cultures. It’s a valuable source for research as it includes so much information that all centres on modernisation. It includes the effect wars, revolutions, depressions and technology advances had upon our nation and coinciding modernisation. The book is divided into 5 parts, the part I’m most interested in is 'City living' which explores the reshaping of urban culture through architecture.

Willis J, 2001, Women architects in Australia 1900-1950, Hanna B J, Royal Australian Institute of architects, Redhill A.C.T
This book features a collection of profiles of over 140 women who were significantly involved in architecture in Australia in the first half of the 20th century. It discusses obstacles encountered in the male dominated field. It is an interesting and information rich source including photos. It discusses the effect of the war upon women and Australia in general and how this helped to lead to women’s liberation. It also explores the idea the modernisation can lead to a better world.  

Leslie D, 1980, Australian Architecture, 1901-1951: Sources of Modernism, Sydney, Sydney University Press

Perren C, Ring K, 2007, Living the Modern: Australian architecture, Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz


RMIT, 2008, Modern in Melbourne: Melbourne architecture 1930 -1950 “three ways of being modern”, viewed 3 October 2010
‘Three Ways of Being Modern' was an extremely useful document that came from one of RMIT’s lecturers. It describes in detail key aspects of the growth of expressing modernity through architecture in Melbourne during 1930-1950. It lists and discusses iconic buildings in Melbourne their architects and influences for their designs. Images of all the buildings are included making it a very rich source of information both visually and factually. It also talks about life in the 1920s and 30s explaining effects of the war, people’s mindsets and views on life.

Woodham J, 1997, Design and modernism, oxford University Press, New York, viewed 3 October 2010
This article investigates modernism in the twentieth century. Its talks about the after math of world war one, The Bauhaus, twentieth century living, modernism in France, Italy, Scandinavia and Britain. It uses examples of posters, logos, buildings, photography, product and interior design to highlight different points, influences and common traits. He looks at the spread of modernisation across Europe discussing groups as well as individual designers. It’s a  good source of information that reiterated and expanded on some of the topics we covered this semester.
Smith W, Lewi H, 2008, The Magic of Machines in the House, Journal of architecture 2008, vol 13 issue 5, p 633-660, viewed 3 October 2010

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts 2010, Australian architecture, Australian government, viewed 3 October 2010
This website explores Australian architecture and culture. It discusses early public buildings of the 19th and 20th century, the arts and craft movement, architecture in the twentieth century responding to Australia’s weather conditions, beach houses and wool sheds, the effect of the war upon architecture and post war buildings. It includes some really good images of beach houses and i found the description of the effects of the war upon architecture simple yet insightful. The whole document is easy to comprehend which is nice.

Fishlock S, 2001, walking Melbourne, Melbourne’s Great Buildings, viewed 3 October 2010 
Walking Melbourne allows you to select buildings or architects from Melbourne and from there you can see a clear  time line of when buildings were built and who designed them. You can also view all the buildings one architect designed in a time line which allows you to see their progress through modernization. You are also able to view the buildings by picking different styles. I found this site really comprehensive and easy to use.

Singingman, 2010, What impact has technology had on architecture of the 20th century, viewed 3 October 2010

2010,Australian institute of architects, 20th century architecture, viewed 3 October 2010

2010, modern architecture, Wikipedia, viewed 3 October 2010,

2010, architecture of Australia, Wikipedia, viewed October 3 2010

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts 2010, Great depression, Australian government, viewed 3 October 2010



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