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.

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Cedar House, by Michael Graves
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Riverside Sanctuary, by Michael Graves
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Boathouse on the Thames at Henley, by Terry Farrell
Corrigant RMIT
RMIT Building 8, by Peter Corrigan

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.

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One of the low pitched roofs of a Daceyville Bungalow

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.

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The Greg Lord Pavilion at Kingston Oval in Canberra

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Daceyville maintenance depot: A forerunner of late twentieth century postmodernism

  1. Hi Tom the irregular massing and playful decoration of the maintenance depot is typical of the arts and craft movement – which is in itself could be considered postmodern as an interpretive revival of English Vernacular. I don’t agree that this building stands out against other arts and craft buildings as an example of early postmodernism, but you do make an interesting comparison. Keep up with the articles- really enjoying them!

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    1. Dear Nina,
      I’m very grateful for your thoughts and encouragement. Often my responses veer toward impressionism and caricature when it comes to comparing architectural styles and movements, which I find myself using as a crude route to create the hopefully interesting comparisons you mention. I’m doing a tour of Marrickville with frontyard.org on Saturday afternoon if your interested and happen to live in Sydney.
      RSVP info@frontyardprojects.org
      https://www.facebook.com/events/238312009860827/
      Cheers,
      Tom.

      Like

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