Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent
The theme of the dwelling is quite fittingly explored by the Historic Houses Trust, Sydney in the Sydney Open Talks: House, from Thursdays 26 April – 14 June 2012. Historically, housing has functioned as the key cultural symbol as well as instrument of colonization, ownership, commodity, belonging, citizenship, and more recently sustainability and compact urbanism. The talk series covers eight typologies, Bungalow, Apartment, Villa, Mansion, Shack, Terrace, Project Home, and Portable Home, covering varied cultural, economic, climatic, and ecological milieus in Sydney, NSW, and Australia.
Dr James Broadbent considers the mythologies surrounding the Bungalow whereas Scott Robertson maps the rise and fall of the Bungalow from its introduction in 1906 to its decline in the 1930s. Dr Caroline Butler-Bowdon considers the tower, the slab, and the walk-up Apartment types in Sydney with Adam Haddow reflecting on the challenges and challenges as well as the rewards for creating ‘new living environments’ that foster compact living in cities. While Scott Carlin locates Sydney’s inheritance of the British suburban Villa as the origin of the ‘love of the quarter acre block and Sydney’s urban sprawl’, Philip Goad uncovers the two kinds of Villas, based on conceptions of the landscape as pastoral and wilderness, arguing that the Villa is a ‘resilient and romantic ideal’. The Mansion is considered historically by Charles Pickett, who observes the ‘Australian desire to dwell in excess’, from colonial to contemporary times. This is complemented by Jonathan Chancellor’s presentation, which notes that the ‘residential monumentalism’ of ‘McMansions’ has failed to gain cultural legitimacy.
The Shack is presented as domestic architecture without architects by Michael Bogle, complemented by Peter Stutchbury’s discussion that regards the shack as the logical response to coastal occupation and economy in Australia. The Terrace, according to Keri Huxley, has changed from its humble beginnings as working class dwellings in the nineteenth century to gentrified commodities in the contemporary Sydney. This is complemented by Hannah Tribe’s presentation of a Victorian, a Federation, and a Georgian terrace, which demonstrates the indivdualization of typologies that appear to have a uniform exterior form. The link between successful Project homes and the involvement of architects and designers with project builders is considered by Dr Judith O’Callaghan. This is accompanied by Tone Wheeler’s discussion of Environa Studio’s projects homes that seek the middle path of negotiating standardized design of the draftsman and the customized design of the architect. The Portable House according to Megan Martin is an outcome of intersecting political, cultural and economic factors, like the colonial expansion, military endeavour, and gold discovery. Sean Godsell imparts political potency to this typology, as projects such as the Bus Shelter House, Park Bench House, and Picnic Table House respond to the urban infrastructure’s resistance to occupation by homeless citizens.
Presented as eight ‘conversations’ between historians, writers, and commentators on the one hand, and architects, policy makers, and property specialists on the other, the talks close the supposed ‘gap’ between theory and history, and the practice and the contemporary, as well as that between the ordinary and the innovative. Even though the talks do not overtly engage social and cultural practices of domesticity (based on ethnicity, gender, and class) focusing exclusively on the object, the dwelling, they generate a great deal of optimism by showcasing the breadth and depth of scholarship and expertise that exists on Housing in Sydney.