After the Second World War, the international style put its stamp on cities throughout the western world. Sometimes it pushed regional architectural forms into the background or caused them to disappear altogether. Despite this trend towards uniformity (and perhaps because of Australia’s relative isolation), some recognisably regional modern architectural styles developed in Australia’s major capital cities. These styles were most often found in houses and small buildings.
The idea of a Melbourne interpretation of modern architecture was first articulated (and in many ways driven) by Robin Boyd. His book Victorian Modern (1947) traced the history of Victorian architecture and described a style of architecture that he hoped would be a response to local surroundings as well as the popular international style. He identified the early stages of a Melbourne regional style, seen in the work of Roy Grounds and in some outer suburban bush houses of the 1930s.
The houses were typically narrow, linear, single storey dwellings with a low pitched gable roof, exposed rafters and wide eaves. Walls were generally bagged or painted brick, and windows large areas of glass with regularly spaced timber mullions. As the 1950s progressed, larger, more expensive versions of the style began to appear in the better suburbs of Melbourne (and Canberra) and the flat roofed house with the wide, overhanging eaves became more acceptable. The Fenner House is of particular interest: it was one of Robin Boyd’s first commissions not built to a tight budget and is a superb example of the style.
The post-war Melbourne regional style is generally found in Melbourne, and its presence in Canberra is unusual. It came about for several reasons.
First through the movement of Melbourne academics and public servants to Canberra in the 1950s, initially with the establishment of the ANU and then with the slow but eventual transfer of government departments to Canberra. Typically, Melbourne émigrés often sought the services of Melbourne architects.
Second, when Grounds, Romberg and Boyd established an office in Canberra in the late 1950s as a result of the Academy of Science commission, the contact became direct, both with other architects such as John Scollay and Theo Bischoff, and clients—Grounds designed a number of houses for scientists in the early 1960s.
Finally, the National Capital Development Commission engaged the services of Melbourne firms for its program of works, such as the design of schools and housing. The Downer Primary School (Mockridge, Stahle & Mitchell, 1962) and Woden Special Housing I (Leith & Bartlett, 1963) are both fine examples of Melbourne regional architecture.