After the Second World War, Australia faced a demand for housing which far outstripped the number available.
In 1945, the Queensland Housing Commission (QHC) was established, with the goal of making housing affordable to those on limited incomes. The priority, however, was on providing a large number of homes as quickly as possible. To achieve this, the QHC experimented with a number of new house designs.
One of these new designs was the pre-fabricated house. The components for these ‘pre-fab’ homes were mass-produced in factories cheaply and could be quickly assembled on site. This allowed for rapid erection of large numbers of low cost houses. Various styles of pre-fab houses were imported from Italy, Sweden, The Netherlands and France, along with skilled workers to construct them. The majority of these houses were established in Brisbane, including French timber houses at Zillmere and Dutch concrete block houses at Coopers Plains.
In addition to these pre-fabs, the QHC also explored new techniques and materials to construct houses from scratch as quickly as possible. The post-war shortage of traditional building materials such as brick and timber, meant that alternative materials such as asbestos cement sheeting and concrete were explored.
The most interesting concrete house designs are found at Inala. From the early 1950s, the firm of CR Boss used an innovative method of poured concrete construction to complete thousands of houses in record time. The houses were built on site by erecting timber formwork, then pouring the concrete in from the top to form the walls. For these houses, the material and the construction technique largely determined the dwelling designs.
The material shortages also had more indirect effects on post-war house designs. During the war, and until 1952, floor areas of new homes were restricted. In a time of escalating building and material costs, limiting the size of a house was a way to keep it affordable. Hence the design focus was on floor plans that maximised the usable space. That ubiquitous Queensland icon, the verandah, started to disappear from QHC houses, as did exterior decoration. In fabric and form, the post-war QHC house was a pared back, simpler version of its former self.
These pre-fab and concrete houses, as well as the huge variety of other post-war home designs built by the Queensland Housing Commission, provide crucial evidence of an important, but often undervalued, chapter in the architectural history of Brisbane.
How might architects and designers learn from these house designs to tackle the issue of housing affordability?
Marianne Taylor is an historian and her research is part of the Brisbane Retro Project.
When: Sat 16 April & Sun 17 April 2016
Time: 3pm – 8pm; with 6pm talk each night
Where: Can You Keep a Secret, 619 Stanley St, Woolloongabba
Image credit: Photo from the collection of May and Donald Whyte