Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Annexing the façade

Australian architecture has two faces. I speak particularly of inner-suburbia since March 1996 – when the Gay (and grunge) Nineties ended prematurely, replaced by no-off-button 24/7 real-estate porn. And who could resist something way better than a wank in front of a screen – the new porn is a Wank That You Can Actually Live Inside. And don’t be shy about inviting friends in on it – they’ll admire what you’ve done with your own wank; even to the point of admitting that they feel dark and cluttered in their own wanks, in comparison.

In case you’ve somehow escaped this 15-year porn deluge, I speak of the identikit renovations of a million-odd pre WWII inner-suburban houses. Like a mullet haircut, the façade will be all business (/conformity/“heritage”) out the front, and party out the back.

“Extension” is the usual name for these airy white cubes, but this seems too unduly modest a word (tacking another bedroom onto a fibro cottage in the 1950s was also called “extension”) for the indisputable money-shot, or crème de la crème of inner-city real-estate porn. I prefer “back façade”. Yes, I know that the usual extension is ten or so metres deep, but there is something about its skin that I, for one, can’t go past. You see, it’s press-button (or twirl a knob) nudey-rudey nude – the back wall actually opens up (and the bigger this on-demand hole in your house, the better, I’m pretty sure) to the outside, when the mood strikes you to do so. Thus, you let your live-in wank spilleth over into the streets, or your neighbours’ backyards, at a minimum.

If you think that my “porn” tag is just the bitterness of an Xer renting for life, let me remind you of some Aussie vernacular architecture from the not-too-distant past. Flyscreens. (!) And the lean-to. Actually, “lean-to” would be as good a de-tumescing describer for these identikit extensions as “back façade”, but for two things. First, there is nothing to lean against, as the new, steel-framed back-side is necessarily structurally superior to the old wobbly-bits out front. And then there’s the voluminous hole out back – there’s already a name for a lean-to that opens to the air: it’s called a verandah. And verandahs that are then re-enclosed are, I’m afraid, not the least bit wanky – any terrace house with an enclosed upstairs balcony positively screams “rooming house” to the street.

Which is why, I presume, almost every new house built in outer-suburbia in recent years is eave-less – to mimic the front façade of a rooming house (no inch of wasted verandah space here, thanks!). With their teasing blank-brothel-façades, we are reminded that outer-suburbia are not being prudish, or slouches in following the inner-suburban trend to being all party out the back. And with nothing in between.

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