17th June, 2020.
The 1960’s proved to be a pivotal moment in the definition of the Australian residential lifestyle. It was an era that nurtured a design evolution of the Australian home and propelled it into the establishment of its own identity. One that was resonant with the natural landscape, the needs of the Australian family vernacular, and realised a design language that would ultimately inform the emergence of an aesthetic distinguished as ‘Australian’ throughout the world. This revolution was spearheaded by David Yencken and John Ridge. The pioneers of the Merchant Builders.
Founded in 1965, Merchant Builders ignited an ideology that has shaped a suburban metamorphosis. Adopting principles of collaboration – between architects, landscape architects, interior designers and graphic designers – within the built industries, a profound sense of cohesion was evident in the homes that were built. This seamless integration of disciplines shaped successful multidisciplinary facilitation that led to the reformation of the Australian suburban frontier.
The design sensibilities of suburban architecture prior to the Merchant Builders’ arrival on the scene were very much adopted from a desire to recreate domestic environments from abroad. The worker’s cottages of inner-urban areas came from a necessity to provide cheap homes that were built for convenience rather than any significant regard for domestic interior amenity and aesthetic harmony. The sprawling elegance of Toorak’s mini-mansions emerged as a desperate attempt to instill a little slice of England in an otherwise entirely foreign streetscape and the domestic functions required by the wealthy. Both housing models eschewed any sonority with the temperate climate. They snubbed the indigenous natural environment in favour of zero-maintenance concrete or the manicured grandeur of gardens that battled against the elements to recreate spaces meant for an entirely different climate. Suddenly, the Merchant Builders ignited thoughts and ideas on how Australians should be designing homes for their own climate and landscape. Homes that challenged the status quo and initiated a dialogue between interior and exterior. They integrated designs into suburban contexts that used new forms, materialities and layouts. Pragmatics, when given the limelight, innovated novel outcomes in terms of sustainability and internal zoning that inspired an entirely contemporary liveability that has since inspired the way we continue to build our homes.
Perhaps the best known Merchant Builder development – Winter Park, Doncaster, 1971. Image by Kurt Veld.
Winter Park Residence. Image by Trevor Mein.
Today, the vision of the Merchant Builders has developed into an approach to residential design that is driven by the synergy between good design, sensitive integration with consideration for environmental context, and the relevance of our homes within the big picture of lifestyle. Essentially, it was the Merchant Builders that paved the way for ‘liveability.’
Words by Tiffany Jade.