House, home and history

By Natsumi Penberthy 3 August 2009
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Take a virtual walk through a neighbourhood of Australian architecture… one historic home at a time.

Heritage Victoria have set up a digital walkthrough neighbourhood of Australia’s architectural history, bringing our attention to elements of houses that we might otherwise blithely walk past everyday.

The neighbourhood takes you through typical houses from the Early Victorian (1860-1875) to Modern (1975) periods, highlighting the features common to each type of house along with tips on preservation, historical asides and videos from architects and wallpaper historians, amongst others.  

As someone who grew up in a heritage-listed Edwardian House… or Victorian – or it might have been Victorian remodel in the Edwardian era – I realise the history of houses is fairly complex. The abhorrence of – shock, horror – exposed a-frames (a steeped roof) during the Late Victorian period, or the pragmatic austerity cream-brick houses designed to fill the demand of growing families in the post-war period, reflect the complexities of wealth and poverty within those eras, and within those stories are a multitude of others.

Jennifer Dawson, the online communication coordinator at Heritage Victoria, says that the site was an extension of a popular booklet called ‘what house is that?’ – which can also be found online. According to Jennifer the site has created debate among historians, architects and the public. “There are quite a few Flickr enthusiasts,” says Jennifer – and because interiors, exteriors and styles don’t morph in an entirely linear manner, the debate began early. Jennifer also said there have been suggestions that a ‘what apartment is that?’ site be created to reflect the changing urban reality.

Australian’s captured by mystery of heritage homes

All this brouhaha is unsurprising, as even heritage neophytes like myself will note that buildings – like family histories – have a little hold on almost everyone. As Alain De Botton points out in his book The Architecture of Happiness, it’s a central relationship in our lives. Most Australians live in a house; many of us have lived in several. And every ingle-nook (recessed space for a bench or a seat by a fireplace), clinker brick (over-burnt bricks popular in the inter-war period) and ridge cresting (ornamentation on the ends of roof gables) was put in place for a reason, and has a history all of its own.

Hence, while this website really covers only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to architectural history, it’s a very entertaining way to get an overview of the historical window panes we can look through everyday, from our houses.