An Observation of Disconnection – are our front decks an endangered species?
Queensland lends itself to an outdoor lifestyle. Our houses traditionally had sweeping verandahs, large yards with no fences, and it wasn’t uncommon for a game of cricket to be started with all the kids in the neighbourhood. Parents watched their children in the front yard, chatted to pedestrians walking up the street, sipped their morning cuppa whilst reading the weekend paper in the sun. All from the comfort of the street facing verandah or deck.
As our lives seem to have become busier, we are less engaged face to face with people. Blocks of land are getting smaller, houses more internally focussed and ‘functional’. The sense of community ownership or that ‘village feel’ appears to be a decreasing priority for designers, and yet masked by inclusion of fancy street-calming. A few external factors contributing to these changes could be the ever-increasing desire to ‘keep up with the Jones’s, our reliance on self-amusing technology and the skyrocketing costs of living.
Current house design trends appear to be an unfortunate tick box exercise from energy efficiency rating software, most of which appear to cast minimal weighting on good architectural design principles. Instead, solid massing with small closed windows is favoured (‘esky buildings’), with each then mechanically climatised. Our changing town plans are structured towards higher density built environment, with building codes and standards necessitating fire resistance, thermal efficiency and low energy consumption.
You only need travel from an older suburb with leafing front yards and open decks / verandahs to a newer residential area of double garages dominating the street façade, one can notice the apparent disconnection of human activity at street elevation.
As an Architect who has fond early memories of living in traditional timber homes (Queenslanders, Post War, Workers Cottage, Ashgrovian / Tudor style), and subsequently having bought and renovated several of them, I once again cannot argue a case for or against. You either love them or loathe them. The older timber dwellings were generally freezing in winter, sweltering in summer, lacked internal room openness and air flow (apart from the gaps in the VJ walls!), had no acoustic privacy between rooms and floor. Put that aside however, there was an emotional warmth that the structures retained from owner to owner. It was felt, not visualised.
Many of these dwellings connected softly with the front yards and street activity via a roofed deck. Light-weight in construction, they were never complex in design, often with several access doors from internal rooms, and were frequently the entry zone up from front timber stairs. These homes enabled the occupant a transitional space to greet visitors before entering the home. When the external hinged doors were latched back, a beautiful flow-through connection between inside and outside could be identified.
Are these elements of social street engagement becoming an endangered species?
For more than a decade now, Craig Dinte Architect has had the pleasure to be involved in renovations to reinstate, revamp or add decks or verandahs. A common client brief requirement has been the re-connection with streetscape or creation of an additional outdoor space for socialising. Although relatively minor in architectural project significance, it is always refreshing to identify with the immediate improvements in a client’s lifestyle these projects bring. It’s a clawing back of the ‘work / life’ balance.
We at the firm of Craig Dinte Architect love renovation projects of this nature. We respect the era and understand the construction principles. There is a history and warmth of culture in this climate that we ideally strive to revive and retain. What would Queensland be without its traditional timber homes?