When you look up ‘mid-century modern architecture’ on the internet, what do you see? Photos of floor-to-ceiling glass windows, flat roofs, and houses that are very low to the ground. This style of architecture hails from Palm Springs, California. So what does it look like locally?
According to Dengarden, “modernism, as a global movement, actually spanned five decades—from the 1930s to the 1970s. Mid-century modern is most closely associated with the period between the mid-1950s through the early 1960s.”
Local History of Mid-Century Modern Architecture
The post-World War II baby boom led to a housing boom. So new mid-century modern houses popped up locally. In addition, two architects made an impact on Australia’s architecture in this era: Harry Seidler and Robin Boyd.
Seidler was behind many gorgeous buildings including the famous Rose Seidler house; a 12-room home originally designed for his parents Max and Rose. It is now a heritage-listed museum. The two-storey house has a full view of the outside from every room. Except for the bathroom, that is, Seidler was intent on bringing the outside in – a very mid-century modern move!
Boyd’s Featherston House in Victoria challenged existing ideas of architecture at the time. The indoor garden, floating platforms, and transparent roof were experimental and fresh. As a result, it set mid-20th century architecture in Australia.
Signs of Mid-Century Modern Design
Unlike the flat roofs displayed on the sunburnt houses of Palm Springs, houses in Queensland needed to be rainproof. As a result, Australia’s modern movement strayed from the flat roof. In keeping with local conditions, Queensland architects responded with shallow-pitched roofs that mimic the flat-roofed mid-century design style.
Queenslander houses of the time followed set rules. The windows had to be in the middle of the room. Each room had to have a different purpose. Yet, post-war modern houses rejected these rules. When walking into a mid-century modern home you notice the flow of the spaces. Thus, the inside holds a very strong connection with the outside and surrounding environment.
Mid-century modern architecture values function over form. This is lore, knowledge gained through study or experience. It is seen in the floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors. Glass assists with the flow of these post-war buildings and brings the outside inside.
The homes influenced contemporary design with their steel, concrete, and timber construction. The steel columns and exposed concrete added value to the overall aesthetics of the home. The timber was kept as natural as possible and stained, rather than painted.
The Impact Of Mid-Century on Queenslanders
In Queensland, the most common pre-war house is a Queenslander. Funny that!
The 1920s and ’30s saw many Queenslanders built in Brisbane’s inner suburbs and beyond. Yet, post-war Queenslanders built in the 1950s and ’60s have different characteristics from the classical architecture of the 1920s and ’30s. These include:
Queenslander homes with windows in the corners of the room, rather than in the middle, were most likely built post-World War II. Windows in the middle of a room were very common, so a change of style provides clues as to when the house was built.
The Queenslander style showcases beautiful timber balustrades to match the details and materials of the rest of the house. So, if a house has welded, steel balustrades instead of timber, yet another classical rule is broken. The house was most likely built post-war.
Another aspect that differentiates a classically designed Queenslander from a post-war Queenslander is the flooring. Classical architecture in Queenslanders features timber walls, and floors, you name it. However, in some Queenslanders the flooring is terrazzo. This is a post-war twist on a classic Queenslander.
Steeply pitched tin roofs are a classic Queenslander design. More recently, some Queenslanders sport a tiled roof as a nod to modernism.
One more thing… The post-war era was an extremely optimistic time. Many houses built in the 1950s and ’60s showcased bright colours to signify the relative freedom of the period.
Examples of Mid Century Modern architecture may be your suburb. Are you living in one? Now you know more about post-war architecture, it will be impossible not to spot!
Learn more about mid-century modern design style from ‘A Pocket Guide to Mid-Century Modern Architecture and Design‘.