The 1950s was a trailblazing decade of colour television, frozen meals, roll-on deodorant and Velcro. It was also the decade that revolutionised Australian architecture.
It was during the post-war years of the '50s that Australian architects embraced the incoming wave of modernism, and abandoned the overdone styles that had been borrowed from other countries. Cheap, corrugated iron façades? Done. Georgian homes? Out. California bungalows? No more. It was at this point that a distinctive Australian style – influenced by global modernism – began to emerge, eventually producing iconic Australian architects such as Harry Seidler, Peter McIntyre, and Ian McKay.
Following in their footsteps came wave after wave of architects who continued to progress the distinctly Australian style – from Glenn Murcutt to John Wardle to Barrie Marshall. Although it would be a stretch to say that the cloth they cut was used to fabricate a more widespread, identifiable movement applicable to a larger swathe of Australian homes (a minority of houses are, after all, architect-designed), the houses they did produce went on to become some of our country’s most iconic.
It is this decades-long golden age of Australian architecture that a new exhibition at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery intends to celebrate. Iconic Australian Houses takes a close look at 29 Australian architect-designed homes, built from the 1950s onwards. Some of these homes have lived long enough to become cultural touchstones (take for instance the Butterfly House by Peter McIntyre). Others, such as Phillip Island House by Barrie Marshall, are more modern icons. Across years, styles and material choices, the homes featured in the exhibition have been chosen as telling examples of a distinctly Australian approach to residential design.
Not just photographs, the exhibition explores the homes through a diversity of media; illustrations, 3D models and filmed interviews all complement photography of the houses. Within the interviews, a more comprehensive story unfolds; from the project architects to the clients who commissioned them, visitors are able to catch a glimpse of what inspired the homes, and what it was like to live in them.
A number of talks and tours will run in conjunction with the exhibition, including one by artist Bin Dixon-Ward, who spent a large chunk of her childhood in the Peter McIntyre-designed Butterfly House. The talk will take place in the house itself, meaning that Dixon-Ward’s personal experience of the home will be accompanied by tangible examples.
The Iconic Australian Houses exhibition, curated by Karen McCartney, will run at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery until 9 July 2017. More information available on the gallery website.