The first postmodern building in Australia was the Daceyville maintenance depot, in Dacey Gardens. According to chronology, the building would be identified as being in the Federation Arts and Crafts style. If you pull apart that appellation it contains a period (roughly between 1890-1915) and, as noted by architectural historian, Joseph Mordaunt Cook, an attitude, rather than a style (“The Arts and Crafts Movement involved an attitude, not a style [1987, 226]).
However, in terms of likeness based on visual appearance alone, it clearly belongs to the family of late twentieth century postmodern architecture, the representative figures of which include Michael Graves, Terry Farrell, and in Australia Peter Corrigan and the less obviously flamboyant work of Philip Cox, among many others. The buildings of these architects tend to favour bright, contrasting colours and make irreverent references to history that are open to interpretation as reverential or ironic.
Daceyville was the first large scale public housing scheme in Australia and is among the earliest examples of ‘garden suburb’ ideas being deliberately realised in the country. Construction began in 1912 and the last residential property was finished in 1920.
The houses are for the most part bungalows, often with irregular roof extensions. The front yards don’t have fences, which is unusual in Sydney, and the suburb is characterised by a gelato colour scheme of light blue, cream and pink, to which the maintenance depot also conforms. The softness of the colouring, the combination of materials that usually evoke whimsy and the fancy roof vent are in stark contrast to its assertive solidity. The firm four-sidedness of the building can be fully appreciated because it’s in a park and shoots straight up, unobtruded out of the flat lawn. The four gables are brought together in a relatively tight form, so there’s clash of different diagonal planes as well as symmetry. It’s a prop forward of a doll house and the unusual form is reminiscent of some of the weird scaling that’s often evident in postmodern works. Rather than looking like a building that’s meant to be the size it is, it looks like a smaller building that’s been enlarged.
It is false to claim that the architect of the maintenance depot had access to the same set of ideas as the postmodern architects listed above. Whoever it was wasn’t working in a postmodern modality, whatever that might mean. It’s hard to imagine they were challenging modernist stylistic and idealogical principles. Nonetheless, the distinctiveness of the building is inarguable and along with the Greg Lord Pavilion at Kingston Oval, it ought to become a cult favourite. Should postmodern architects in Australia be in search of a model that might readily support their intentions and stylistic adherences this is surely a good place to start.