We’ve all had some contact with one of Melbourne’s Victorian terraces or brick veneer Edwardians – loving them for their homeliness and forgiving them for their lack of light and sometimes gaudy features. In his seminal 1960 text The Australian Ugliness, Robin Boyd mocks the layer of kitsch that adorns such houses inside and out and the “featurism” of our imported vernacular.
Boyd sought to design buildings with qualities beyond surface effect, which foster a better way of life for their inhabitants. At his own house, on a back street of Toorak, he achieved this through the seemingly simple gesture of inserting a void in the plan.
The void is populated by nature – a courtyard dividing the parents’ and communal space at the front from the children’s wing at the back. The house in Walsh Street is now home to the Robin Boyd Foundation and the internal courtyard sets the theme for this Sunday’s tour of six houses, which run the gamut of Australian architecture, from Walter Burley Griffin in 1928 to Michael Markham in 2002.
Each house offers a unique take on the courtyard typology. Roy Grounds’ 1953 Hill Street House cuts a circle through a square, the clashing geometries informing an organic flow of interior spaces. Neil Clerehan’s Fenner House utilises two courtyards to maximise access to natural light, while Markham’s version tackles a very familiar problem in Melbourne: the narrow single-fronted Victorian.
The tour is concentrated in the leafy streets of Toorak and South Yarra, the houses sandwiched between McMansions, terraces and bungalows typical of the inner city. Take advantage of a sunny day and ride from house to house to enjoy these private courtyards. It’s a privilege rarely offered.
Courtyard Houses Open Day, this Sunday December 2, 10am to 4pm. Tickets $90 (must be pre-purchased).