Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Icons are a big deal for Queensland, a place with an insatiable preoccupation for self-promotion. Much of our market branding is focused on big-bang tourism, like the Ekka, giant steaks and the Big Pineapple. Secretly, we also enjoy claiming rights over having the highest rate of shark attacks or the shame of having borne Pauline Hanson.  

Few would argue against the worthiness of the Queenslander house as an icon of our state, unless you are a certain type of architect, blithely seeking some self-promotion of your own. Sitting cheek-to jowl, Queenslanders in Brisbane are the making of some of the city’s prettiest inner-city suburban streets. Often humble in their beginnings, these timber homes now innocuously house people from every strata of socio-economic background. 

The truth is, not all Queenslanders may follow the Broncos, but every Queenslander wants to do up / rent / raise / landscape / live in a Queenslander house of his own, whether he admits it or not.

Of course, it hasn’t always been the case, as the proliferation throughout the last century of brick, concrete and masonry houses attest. Many even possess charm and character equal to that of the Queenslander. The elegant simplicity of the art deco era and trippy geometry of 1960s are just a couple of examples of desirable historical aesthetics all of which, for the ease of real estate literature, fall under the broad category of ‘vintage’ or ‘retro’.

When there's always the option to build from scratch, I’m curious why some of us can be so drawn to live in a home which reflects the passing trend of a particular era.

First, let’s consider the desire for the unique. The potential home-owner wants a sweet little worker’s cottage in Paddington with personality, because in some sense, it is a rejection of the indignity of sameness in the style of affordable cookie-cutter housing out in the endless suburban boon docks. However, this theory crumbles when one looks at the original intent of the Queenslander worker’s cottage as cheap, functional, undifferentiated suburban home. When first built, their fresh immaturity might have seemed disquietingly not like a home, but a place to subsist. Only in their modern-day context within a landscape of mature trees, piece-meal backyard sheds and generations of familial personality do they acquire an authenticity. I wonder if the future affluent will aspire to a house in North Lakes 50 years hence . . .

Is the reason we are charmed by the old and familiar because of what they inherently are, old and familiar ? Have we become a city drunk on the future promise of recompense from all the years spent detouring around perpetual quarries of construction, driven to cling desperately to the comforting buoys of historicity in a sea of precast concrete and steel ? The truth may lie somewhere in that Queenslander homes, and other such characterful architectural icons, anchor us sentimentally to a period when there was more richness, sincerity and time for consideration, in life, as well as design. 

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