Everyday we see more of the suburbs that were developed in the Post War period, such as Beaumaris, Balwyn North, Glen Waverley and Lower Templestowe being demolished for new houses and townhouses. I thought it would be interesting to interview somebody who lives in a mid-century architect designed project home to get a better understanding of what it is like to live in, and to appreciate what we are losing.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Steven Coverdale who lives in an original condition architect designed project home in Lower Templestowe. Steven is a senior designer in a leading architectural practice and also an advocate for the admiration and retention of mid-century housing and runs a Facebook group called “Mid-Century Domestic Architecture Australia” which he regularly contributes to.
Q1) Thanks for your time today Steven, tell me about your household and how long have you been living in this home?
A1) My partner and I are pleased to live in a rare modernist project home designed by Bernard Joyce and built by Inge Bros Pty ltd in 1968. We have been living in the house for 18 months and have loved every second of it.
Q2) How did you find this home, and what attracted you to it?
A2) Throughout my education and experience in architecture, I always felt an affinity with the modest and beautiful expressions of mid-century architecture. I became frustrated that real estate agents would rarely acknowledge the architects who designed the houses they were selling. I decided to take it upon myself to launch a specialist group with the aim is to provide awareness, education, admiration, and preservation of mid-century homes on the market or previously sold. I was also very interested in promoting an understanding of what makes for fundamentally good design.
I first experienced Mid-Century design first hand when I rented a completely original house in Balwyn North, which turned out to be designed by notable architects Montgomery King & Trengove in 1958. The house permanently changed the way I was to view domestic architecture and the positive effect it can have on its occupants and its value in culture and the broader community.
I first became aware of the Bernard Joyce designed project home while trawling old additions of Australian Home Beautiful magazine with which the home was reviewed. The design was a pure exercise in rational modernist perfection, with obvious elusions to Japanese design and a rigor reminiscent of the work of the master Mies Van Der Rohe who I admired greatly.
I eventually tracked the original display home only to find that it was completely altered beyond all recognition. I was heartbroken. Through my research I was able to find out that Bernard Joyce’s architectural drawings had been donated to the RMIT Archives. Setting up a meeting to view the drawings, I was able to locate the original plans for the display home and what appeared to be the only generated sale from the venture; an example built in Lower Templestowe. To my delight it was in completely original condition. I researched the display home extensively, finding clippings, magazine articles and other related references while placing it on Google Alerts should it ever come up for rent or for sale.
To my surprise the example in Templestowe Lower came onto the market at just the time my partner and I were attempting to purchase a Mid-Century house. We were realistic about price and had all our finances in place ready to roll. It appeared like we had secured the house at auction when at the last minute a buyer with deeper pockets outbid us. I was devastated.
We continued to rent the Montgomery Kind and Trengove house until the landlord gave us notice to vacate, as he wanted to demolish the house and redevelop it into two mock French provincial houses. In an extraordinary twist of fate, the project home in Templestowe Lower hit the market for rent. You can imagine how quickly I called the agent and expressed my desire to secure the property.
Q3) It has obviously been designed by an architect, do you know who it was and why it was built?
A3) The house was erected in 1968 for Mr and Mrs G. Hume and was a project home for Inge Bros Pty Ltd and designed by architects Bernard Joyce & Associates.
Bernard Joyce was born in 13th January 1929 Chiswick, London England and was educated at Regent Street Polytechnic before emigrating to Melbourne, Australia in 1950 were he completed his studies at the University of Melbourne, becoming a registered architect on the 16th of September 1955. He established himself as an acclaimed, award winning and respected architect, of modernist houses, strata-titled flats and townhouses. He was also a highly regarded and influential academic at RMIT.
Zig Inge of Inge Bros Pty Ltd who built hundreds of houses in the area, was able to confirm that the design was too progressive and only generated a single sale; the house at 5 Ians Grove Templestowe Lower.
Q4) It must feel good to live in a home that was widely published and acknowledged by academics at the time it was built. I can’t imagine the same thing happening with any of the “products” that our builders display today. What was the appeal that made this home so special when it was built?
A4) I’m extremely proud of the design and feel that its accolades come short of the complete experience of living in the house. Philip Goad in his PHD ‘The Modern House in Melbourne 1945-1975’ referred to the design as ‘extremely sophisticated’, and an ‘elegant alternative to mass market project houses’. Eric Wilson in his review of the design referred to it as the ‘the ultimate in suburban design’ that provided the ‘utmost in indoor and outdoor privacy’.
While the house was obviously seen as an exemplary piece of architecture it failed as a commercial entity for its builder Inge Bros. For me it combined the aspirations and modernist ideals of its enthusiastic and extremely talented architect while satisfying the merchant builders often difficult brief and need for a viable, at cost ‘product’. Zig Inge, who I met in person, lamented that the house was an incredible design by a very talented young architect, but was just too progressive for the general buying public.
Q5) Do you know how many were built, and how many have survived?
A5) The house was built twice in Acheron Street, Doncaster, once as the headlining display home along with another example located in the broader display village of homes called ‘New Horizons’. Both have been altered beyond recognition. The only surviving example and therefore the only one of any value is the example at 5 Ians Grove Templestowe Lower.
Q6) It looks like it is largely original, what are the best things about living in this home?
A6) The only alteration is a renovated ensuite, which now also includes a toilet. The house has changed the way I view architecture, it is extremely private, yet completely open to its garden surrounds. The central courtyard is a delight of the senses, with its garden potential and the changing weather conditions permeating the home. I love that I can stand almost anywhere in the home and look straight out onto the garden beyond. I also appreciate that every window is a full height French door. This might seem stylistic but it functions perfectly in a sustainable sense, allowing hot air to ventilate across the ceilings and low cool air to flow through.
Q7) Your home looks very understated, some may say severe, from the street, which is quite opposite to the builders’ project homes of today with a focus on the front façade. What other differences are there between your home and contemporary project homes?
A7) Privacy was a major concern and a major preoccupation within the work of architect Bernard Joyce. The planar nature of the façade is a simple extension of the house. The planning is efficient and functional, and therefore no bigger than it absolutely needs to be. Its compact nature is offset by its private connection to a series of courtyards and garden spaces. I applaud Inge Bros for supporting modernism and the work of a young talented architect.
Q8) What do your architect and non-architect friends think about your home?
A8) Everyone loves it, they almost universally gasp at how incredible the central courtyard is and how it become the focus of the entire house. My architect friends think it is complete perfection, and in many ways it really is.
Q9) Would you build this house today? If so what changes would you make?
A9) My partner and I have discussed building the house or a variation of it at a future time. We would look at more low maintenance materials, perhaps substituting the western red cedar windows with black powder coated aluminium, and using a light or white concrete block instead of the bagged and painted brickwork. I would incorporate more storage, and potentially a smaller laundry.
Q10) What is so important about builders’ project and display homes of the 1960’s in relation to Australian society?
A10) Architecturally the house is significant as a highly unusual design solution for a national project home builder, who required specific spacial requirements, buildability, and economic considerations for a ‘model’ home. I think it stands as a prime example of how we build homes in Australia, of the impact of modernism on housing, and the unique and ultimately short lived collaboration between repetition builders and architects.
Q11) Should a largely original home like yours, that was significant when it was built, be considered as part of our cultural heritage?
A11) I think it satisfies the criteria of an individual heritage place in relation to making homes for Victorians.
Q12) What does the future hold for your home?
A12) Unless a heritage overlay is put in place the house will be demolished for two townhouses. I hope that Manningham City Council through our encouragement and the dissemination of this information is able to recognise the value of retaining exemplary examples of Post War Architecture. I also hope this is the start of what might be a broader consideration for the municipality to review and conduct a specific study of post war architecture in the area.
Secret Design Studio agrees with Steven about the heritage significance of the home and would encourage you to object to Manningham Council about the proposed demolition on the grounds that the house is of heritage significance. It’s important to state that the house is of heritage significance and due consideration and investigation should be undertaken before assessing the permit application.
You can lodge your objection via email to the Responsible Authority at
Manningham City Council
699 Doncaster Road
5 Ians Grove Templestowe Lower VIC
Application Number: PL16/026906
You have until the 14th of March 2017
If you have an interesting mid-century home that you would like to be interviewed about, and lots of photos that you would like to share please contact me,
Secret Design Studio
0448 579 707