City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.


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Brisbane’s vernacular domestic architecture

A series of images from a decade ago, when I visited Brisbane for the first time. I was immediately entranced—admittedly with the exotica-attuned eyes of the newcomer—by the arrays of ‘Queenslanders’ peppered over the rearing and rolling hills of the city.

The Queenslander is one of those rare things: a form of domestic architecture distinctively associated with a particular city—just as there is with Shanghai and longtang/shikumen, Beijing and hutong, Amsterdam and its canal houses, and just as there isn’t particularly with London, Liverpool, Manchester or Milan, say.

Emerging sometime in the early 19th century, and appearing to draw instinctively from a few indigenous Pacific traits, if not indigenous Australian, as much as the British or European types, the Queenslander appears well-suited to this hot, sticky place.

It’s a simple construction, in timber and tin, with a large verandah girdling the square cruciform plan, open from front to back—and often left open—to allow cooling draughts to clear the house, as well as accommodating a few furtive glimpses of interior activity – or simply of views beyond, as in the image at the top.

The verandah props up long overhanging eaves of a pitched corrugated metal roof, which would sound like a drumkit in the occasional bursts of torrential sub-tropical rain, and whose general lack of insulation does not exactly help in 40+ degrees Celsius.

This usually single-story base is propped up high above insects and snakes, its long spindly legs also meaning it can cling adaptively to Brisbane’s voluptuous hillsides. Capable of being hoisted up on the ridges of Red Hill, Spring Hill, Dornoch Terrace or Paddington, it’s able to catch whatever passes for a breeze. This necessitates a set of steps out-front, rendered with varying degrees of grandiosity.

The open verandah was originally for sleeping outside in the heat, as well as sitting and eating out in, engaging with the street, but is now increasingly being closed in, sadly, with the bogus intention of buying extra internal floor space. This closing-in at least sometimes has means a permeable skin is stretched over the gap, often with little ornamental metal filigrees in the corners of its otherwise boxy forms, or wooden latticework giving an almost Middle Eastern frontage (I suppose Robin Boyd would’ve described this as a form of “featurism”.) Nothing will really keep out Brisbane’s generally rampant foliage, however, nor its similarly intrusive fauna, and some of these simple wooden houses look wonderfully engulfed in cooling greenery.

Under this, we find a kind of multi-functional knockabout space under the house, called, with disarming lack of poetry, the “Under The House”.

Charmingly, the whole thing can be popped on the back of a truck and driven up the freeway as required.


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