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.

You're right: most renovations about my area consist of demolishing the back half of the house and replacing it with a big box that rather unimaginatively contains the kitchen and the dining room and the living room. The massive opening-doors to the backyard are a slightly less common element, but one which still features heavily in those properties that get written up in the Melbourne Times. It's the lack of fly screens that disturbs me most. Dengue fever anyone? Anyone?
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