Defining the character of Australian architecture and design

By Penny Craswell

Australia’s relaxed outdoor lifestyle, unique natural beauty, history and culture are reflected in our approach to architecture. Seven architects and interior designers reflect on the character of Australian design.

House at Big Hill by Kerstin Thompson. Photo: Trevor Mein. Read more on The Design Writer blog.
House at Big Hill by Kerstin Thompson. Photo: Trevor Mein

Australian architects are influenced, like all architects, by the context of their project – whether that’s a bush setting, an ocean view or an urban laneway. In Australia, this sometimes means taking account of proximity to the bush, potential floods and fires, access to fresh water. Our tendency to spend a lot of time in the great outdoors has also had a huge influence on our design choices. Architect Peter Stutchbury believes this has an impact on our architecture: “Recreation permeates our thinking. Verandahs, gardens, courtyards, swimming pools, ponds, clothes lines, tree swings and vegetable gardens were all, until recently, integral to the design brief.” Read more

Melbourne house, with cloister

By Penny Craswell

While the word “cloister” evokes images of monks roaming crumbling monasteries, in fact the term merely refers to a covered walkway, usually with garden connections. Melbourne-based practice MRTN Architects has used the architectural device in a new alteration of a Victorian-era single-fronted terrace house in Carlton.

Carlton Cloister House by MRTN Architects. Photo:
Connecting old and new at Carlton Cloister House by MRTN Architects. Photo: Shannon McGrath

The addition to the house is placed at the back of the site, with the cloister connecting the two buildings. This layout has a number of benefits, offering an internal link between the two buildings while retaining valuable garden space. By orienting the cloister at the south of the site, the property also gains access to northern sunlight. Read more

Sydney house, with Hawaiian verandah

By Penny Craswell

A Hawaiian-style verandah that opens completely to the outdoors has transformed an introverted Federation Queen Anne era 1900s house in Sydney’s North Shore, with design by Luigi Rosselli Architects. The architecture team were inspired by the Hawaiian ‘lanai’ verandah which is usually furnished – more like an open-sided living room that the traditional verandah.

Custom shutters, design by Luigi Rosselli Architects. Photo: Justin Alexander
Custom shutters, design by Luigi Rosselli Architects. Photo: Justin Alexander


In order to create a true ‘lanai’ verandah, the architects designed custom shutters that are tall and able to slide, as well as being supported column-free over the long span of the verandah, with options for various levels of shading according to the sun, wind and other environmental factors. Read more

Perth house, with sculptural brick extension

By Penny Craswell

In the Perth suburb of Mt Lawley, a sculptural form pops out above the houses, an irregular tower made of red clay shingles that seems to wrap in on itself in an unusual architectural shape that is also strangely familiar. This is the Camino House, a Perth house extension designed by Bosske and inspired by the shape of a kiln or oast (a traditional building where hops is dried as part of the brewing process).

View from the street, Camino House, designed by Bosske. Photo: Peter Bennetts
View from the street, Camino House, designed by Bosske. Photo: Peter Bennetts


“We initially envisaged the extension as a distinct object, as different to the existing house,” explains Caroline Hickey of Bosske. “It could be something which might ‘sit’ behind it, lean against it, looming above it from the street view, creating a casual relationship between these two elements.” Read more

Design writings: Dezeen interviews Ex Machina production designer

“Alex Garland’s science-fiction movie Ex Machina features just one location: a tech billionaire’s minimalist hideaway in Alaska. Production designer Mark Digby told Dezeen how architecture was used to create the thriller’s clinical mood and provide a ‘seducing’ backdrop (+ slideshow + transcript).

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“‘It’s a very particular film,’ said Digby. ‘There are only three or four people in it and it’s all set in one house. There’s very little space to escape to somewhere else. So the house had to be important.'”

Dezeen’s Marcus Fairs provides an in depth interview with Mark Digby which covers the role of a production designer and how, at least in the world of film, hard, shiny surfaces are for bad guys.

Read the whole interview at Dezeen here.

Melbourne house, with vestibule

A vestibule, like a portico or a gazebo, is one of those architectural words that evoke a sense of romanticism. In the case of a vestibule, a small entry hall that connects the front door to the main interior, the term has an added exotic flavour for Australians, simply because our architecture does not often include one.

Interior, exterior. Photography: Shannon McGrath
Interior, exterior. Photography: Shannon McGrath

This is primarily for practical reasons. In Scandinavia or other cold climates, a vestibule is a space for you to shed and store your snow clothes which are not needed inside. In the UK, the same applies but usually for raincoats and muddy wellingtons or gumboots. In Australia, we often need a verandah, where we can shelter in the shade with the benefit of a cool breeze, but we do not normally need a vestibule. Read more

Seidler Horizon Apartments architecture insider tour

By Penny Craswell

Did you know that the Horizon Apartments in Sydney by architect Harry Seidler includes two low-rise buildings, pool, tennis court, underground carpark and beautiful landscaping as well as the iconic tower? This was one of the many new things I learnt about the project on a tour organised by Sydney Living Museums.

The tower
The tower

Horizon Apartments is located in the inner city suburb of Darlinghurst surrounded by suburban housing and next to SCEGGS school. The site itself had previously been the location of the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABC) Sydney office. Seidler’s intention was to create a tower that makes the most of incredible views to the harbour and city with a tall, slender tower that covers only one third of the block. The rest of the site is made of up two low-rise apartment buildings, while a beautifully landscaped garden, pool and tennis court provide serene grounds above an underground carpark. The building was originally designed in 1990 or 1991, with the building completed and tenants in residence in 1998. Read more