21 August 2020 The evolution of Australian housing

From Cal Bungs to McMansions, Australian housing has changed dramatically over the past two centuries. While design trends and economic conditions have influenced architectural trends, the Great Australian Dream has never waned.

Australians have always been willing to commit the time and money it takes to own a home, whether it’s a country weatherboard or a city apartment. Owning a home has long been seen as providing a sense of security, comfort and sanctuary.

Early days

Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that there has been 60,000 years of continuous inhabitation and culture of the Australian continent before the British ever arrived to establish a colony at Sydney Cove.

Those early settlers brought with them the British penchant for Georgian architecture, named after the King George of the monarchy who reigned between 1714 through to the 1830s. Georgian homes were renowned for their brickwork, hipped roofs and double-hung sash windows.

Victorian architecture took over from 1840 through to the 1890s with Gothic and Italianate architecture among the most popular styles. Victorian-era mansions can still be seen in the more well-heeled inner-city suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne.

During the Victorian era, Australian designers departed from traditional British architecture and began adapting to the climate. The Queenslander introduced wrap-around verandahs and wide doors that accommodated cross-breezes, which proved much more comfortable.

The Federation and, later, Edwardian periods followed between about 1890 and 1915. These homes still clung to British and European trends, inspired by the worldwide arts and crafts movement. Red bricks, timber fretwork and stained-glass windows were the hallmarks of Federation homes.

Inter-war and post-war period

Californian Bungalows, affectionately called Cal Bungs, came on the scene from 1915 and were loved by Australia’s middle-class. Spanish mission and Tudor-style houses also sprang up between the two world wars, but after World War II more austere housing began lining Australia’s streets.

With the exception of Art Deco homes of the 1930s and 1940s, this period was characterised by a lack of building supplies following the war.

This inspired some cheap housing ideas, says Professor Hannah Lewi, from the University of Melbourne’s faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning.

“There were lots of failures such as trying to introduce things like demountable houses made out of aluminium sheeting, which was a complete fail because they were like hot boxes,” she said.

“Those prefabricated ideas have never worked in the last couple of decades. But it’s very contentious because a lot of people would love them.”

The early signs of the modern era first appeared during the 1950s and 1960s, as austere fibro cottages gave way to brick veneer homes that would dominate the next fifty years of Australian suburban architecture.

The quarter acre block of Australia’s suburban expansion through the second half of the 20th Century would be defined by shades of blondes, oranges, and reds of common brick construction styles all across the country. Even as the contemporary era was ready to take over, the heart of the changes to come were a question of whether the brick façade would be left visible or rendered for a more modern finish.

Contemporary housing

McMansions, introduced in the 1990s, were a derogatory term for oversized suburban homes seen as status symbols. But in recent years, their sheer sizes have come in for criticism largely owing to energy inefficiency.

As urban density increases, today’s version of the Australian dream has come to include apartments in high-rise city towers and low-rise suburban complexes. This has seen a rise in the diversity of Australian housing, Lewi says.

“There seems to be lots of competing influences, on the one hand towards better design for smaller houses on smaller blocks that take into account being a bit more gentle to the environment, and on the other hand there’s the growth of the sheer footprint of houses,” she explains.

“There’s definitely some competition on scale and we’re not quite sure how that’s going to play out.”

Today, we are seeing greater diversity of architectural style enter the Australian market. Designing to suit many different lifestyles and environments across the country has become a more prominent part of the property mix.

DHA has followed this trend, offering a diverse range of housing options in its investment property portfolio. Freestanding homes in regional towns through to apartments in inner city locations, there are DHA properties to that match the markets they are found in and offer different investors options to suit their budgets and targets.

Choosing an investment that has been tailored to the needs of those likely to reside in any given part of the country can help to ensure the property has great long-term potential. And every good investment should have that long-term thinking at heart to make it worthy of consideration.

The housing landscape will continue to change in the 21st Century, and events like the pandemic we’ve faced in 2020 also shows that people’s lifestyle preferences may change quickly as unexpected events arise throughout our future history.

Whatever the future holds, DHA will continue to follow best practice principles to offer well targeted opportunities that aim to meet and beat the standards of the market to give investors a solid path toward achieving their goals.

Attention: DHA does not take into account an investor's objectives or financial needs. Investors should always seek appropriate advice before making any investment decisions with DHA.