Much has been written about the architectural history of Glebe. There’s the great website, Glebe walks that allows you to curate your own route through the streets with a good knowledge of the landmarks. And there’s the exceptional book, The Architectural Character of Glebe, by Bernard and Kate Smith, which offers a comprehensive account of the various architectural styles that characterise the suburb, as well as a decent enough insight into its broader history. As a side note, Bernard Smith claims to have coined the term ‘Federation’ as applied to Australian architecture.
Shadowy, dank, enclosed Glebe/Open, bright Glebe
The route I took through Glebe seemed divided into two distinct chapters. The first, beginning on St Johns Rd and following the back streets along the west side of Glebe Pt Rd was characteristically dark, damp and, for those who are sensitive to these kinds of things, claustrophobic. This section of the journey includes Bridge Rd, Woolley St, Hereford St and Mansfeld St. The buildings in this part feature a greater concentration of the Regency and Post Regency Style than the second chapter. The Italianate Style is prominent in both chapters, while Federation is more common in the second. There is a smatterings of Gothic across both areas, but the more impressive examples are perhaps towards the mid section of Glebe Pt Rd around St Johns and Bridge St, including the well known Reussdale at 160 Bridge.
The west side of Glebe Pt Rd is seemingly stuck in a saddle, there are few points that offer views of significant distance. Even though the density is nowhere near that of somewhere like Elizabeth Bay, it feels more claustrophobic. The steepness of the slope down to the harbour in Elizabeth Bay and views across water give the suburb a sense of openness amid the clutter of buildings. The large apartment buildings (six storeys or more) set against the sandstone cliffs add a further vertical element that is lacking in this the dank, suburban area of Glebe.
Despite these mildly negative affects, the architectural enthusiast could hardly hope for a more interesting region to explore, with numerous well-preserved examples of mid-to-late nineteenth century buildings, ranging from the grand (Glebe Town Hall on Bridge Rd, Ruessdale and Kerribree) to the humble (the Post Regency terraces and cottages on Derwent Street, the Post-Regency cottages on Hereford St, and Tranby on Mansfeld St).
As Mansfeld St transitions into Avenue Rd on the Northern side of Toxteth Rd the mood changes entirely and if I could offer one reason to explore the suburb it would be to undergo this subtle but affecting change. The previously enclosed, dark, damp atmosphere gives way to a sense of openness as the ridge slopes down to Jubilee Oval and the water at Blackwattle Bay. The styles of the houses change alongside this change in landscape, with the Post-Regency and Italianate examples thinning out to Federation Style, which to varying degrees displays its Arts and Crafts and Gothic influences. The area around Jubilee Oval is an uplifting clash of amenity and beauty: the light rail, the picturesque oval and its white clad cricketers and picket fence, and the view across the water to ANZAC Bridge.
I’ll limit myself to the discussion of one house along this remarkable stretch. Though I might have just as easily talked at length about the peeping parapets on Arcadia St, the distinctive, contemporary house on the same street that adopts the unmistaken form of a Japanese Pavilion, with a surrounding wooden verandas and floor to ceiling glass walls, or one of the many Gothic inspired Federation houses on the same street, with their prominent candle snuffers.
Instead I will focus on Wynchwood, 4 Avenue Road, in particular its impressive three-quarter moon entrance porch, which Bernard and Kate Smith suggest is most likely a motif borrowed from Japanese architecture (1973, 115), and its wood-ornamented boxy casement windows. As Bernard and Kate Smith note, it is a “bizarre” and original dwelling (115) and shows that there is a good deal of stylistic variation within the Federation Style.
Confronted with such houses, and many neighbouring houses along Avenue Rd, Arcadia St and Allen St, it seems that, as Erika Esua argues, there is “no clear set of architectural principles” define the Federation Style (2010, 160) and it is adequately understood as a motley of varied influences including elements from Britain, Europe and America. In light of this characteristic diversity of influences, Esua suggests that the Arts & Crafts Style—perhaps it better called an attitude—which was defined in part by an informal combination of Olde English Styles and an emphasis on mixing materials and textures, is perhaps the greatest influence and the most appropriate category to use in describing these kinds of buildings. With reference to the work of Harriet Edquist, Esua argues “instead of using the loosely defined ‘Federation’ term, the houses built in this period in Australia can most specifically be labelled as products of a local adaptation of the Arts & Crafts movement itself” (161).
Twentieth Century Post Modern Blonde Brick Apartment Gothic
Glebe also features at least two striking examples of Twentieth Century Post Modern Blonde Brick Gothic. As the name suggests, this style is unique in its combination of gothic elements and the blonde brick associated with less salubrious apartment or townhouse dwellings. The gothic elements are usually limited to clusters of shapely pointed gables which are sometimes finished in bright, garish colours. The style evokes none of the imposing, ominous or terrifying feelings associated with the best of Victorian Gothic. Its most obvious antecedent is the 19th Century style, rustic or picturesque gothic. In Sydney the most stately examples of the picturesque or rustic gothic are built from sandstone and feature ornate, white bargeboards. Unlike the 19th Century style, the Twentieth Century buildings usually feature corrugated iron rather than slate roofs and do not employ bargeboards.
One example is visible from Glebe Pt Rd, with the cluster of blue and cerise gables peeking out over the trees. Other architecture writers have called the style Jumping Castle Gothic.