The 'Queenslander' home design

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The 'sublime' Queenslander

1. From 'The Conversation' June 17, 2014 by Lindy Osborne, Transformation Fellow + Senior Lecturer in Architecture, Queensland University of Technology
2. From Queenslander Tropical styles
The classic Queenslander
The classic Queenslander

The Queenslander house is a classic piece of Australian architectural design. With its distinctive timber and corrugated iron appearance, it breaks the monotony of the bland, master-planned display villages on the peripheries of our cities.
  • It’s also a great example of “vernacular architecture”, best described as a traditional or indigenous type of architecture, one that has evolved over time in response to local climatic, environmental, building resources and cultural human needs.

In Queensland, timber and iron vernacular houses emerged in the mid-19th century as a response by European migrants to the new subtropical climate.
  • Wide verandas provided relief from the lengthy, hot summer days, punctuated by heavy afternoon downpours of rain.
  • John Freeland, a former professor of architecture at UNSW describes the Queenslander as: "the closest Australia ever came to producing an indigenous style."

What makes the Queenslander so distinctive?

The classic Queenslander is typically a single detached house made of timber and iron, and located on a separate block of land.
  • The floor plan consists of four or six rooms, which branch off a centrally located corridor, and which are adorned by external shading verandas.
  • Queenslanders are ideally located on the peaks of hills, which allow for both views and cooling ventilation.
  • They are purposefully designed at a human scale and to provide a sense of place in the Queensland context.

House in Emerald, Queenland with a short-ridged roof and a generous wraparound veranda, probably built between 1880s and 1890s. This home features acroteria on the edges of the roof and veranda, and carved veranda posts. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
House in Emerald, Queenland with a short-ridged roof and a generous wraparound veranda, probably built between 1880s and 1890s. This home features acroteria on the edges of the roof and veranda, and carved veranda posts. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
Verandah and roof
British colonial traditions previously developed in India and elsewhere influenced the adoption of extensive deep shading external verandahs on two, three or four sides of the typical Queenslander.
  • These protected spaces provide a refuge from Queensland’s extreme summer sun and rain deluges, while also functioning as clever breeze scoops to direct cooling natural ventilation through the house.
  • The verandah provides a unique multi-purpose space, which is neither indoors nor outdoors.
  • Often used as an extension of the indoor living space, verandahs have also been adapted to act as sleep-out areas, or protected areas to hang the laundry.
  • The wrapping of the house in verandahs encourages the house to face outwards, rather than the inward-facing design approach of houses more appropriately situated in cooler climates.
  • Steeply pitched corrugated iron roofs are lightweight, durable and fire-resistant, and allow for high cooling ceilings below.

A high-set Victorian era Queenslander with large veranda in New Farm, Brisbane. Wikimedia Commons
A high-set Victorian era Queenslander with large veranda in New Farm, Brisbane. Wikimedia Commons

Windows and doors

Double hung windows and doors typically open to outside verandahs, and line up internally. Generally left open in summer, with the assistance of the flanking verandah breeze scoops, they encourage cooling breezes into the house and move the hot humid air of the interior spaces out.
  • Movement of air through the house not only provides a welcoming cooling relief, but it also serves as a necessary protection against interior mould growth, which is synonymous with a humid climate.

Facades without verandahs typically have limited roof overhangs. On these facades, timber and sheet metal window hoods with perforated decorative side fins provide shading and divert rain, all the while releasing trapped rising hot air, thus helping to further cool the inside of the house.
  • The Queenslander “touches the earth lightly”. The light timber-framed structure is elevated above ground on stumps, which allows it to be placed on a variable terrain; from the hilly areas in South East Queensland, through to the wetter earth in the more northern Tropics.
A single-storey Queenslander ca. 1935. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Wikimedia Commons
A single-storey Queenslander ca. 1935. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Wikimedia Commons
There are a number of advantages to this approach.
  • In addition to merely allowing a flat floor to be built on a sloping site with minimal ground excavation.
  • Raising the house allows high level prevailing breezes to be captured inside, and ventilation or a cool pool of air beneath the floor, helps to cool it from below. It also provides the timber with protection from white ants.

Lightweight materials

Their light timber frames and corrugated iron materials make Queenslanders simple to modify and adapt to the changing needs of the occupants. They can be raised or simply transported to another site on the back of a truck. Surely recycling a house is the ultimate sustainable design solution?

Decorative features

Unique decorative features on the Queenslander are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also functional.
  • These include cast iron or timber balustrades, gables and column brackets, and timber screens, louvres, fretwork and battens.
  • Battened screening and coloured glass provides privacy for occupants, while simultaneously directing breeze movement and/or reducing solar radiation.
Photo: Sami Keinanen
Photo: Sami Keinanen

This page is largely extracted from the Queensland Museum:
external image 07-qldmuseum-banner-2.jpg?

The Queenslander, that odd and ungainly looking house, is unique to Queensland.
  • First created in the 1850's, this wooden house on stumps was surrounded by verandahs and lattice, had straight through halls and corridors, and was capped by a pyramid shaped red tin roof.
  • It created a unique lifestyle and helped shape the Queensland character.
  • The outdoor, leisurely way of life in sub tropical Australia, was moulded by this home with its wide verandahs, huge area underneath and yard out the back providing the perfect place for Queensland kids to play.
external image Queenslander1.JPG

Development of the Queensland house

Picture of Ermabrae House in Brunswick Street, New Farm, built in 1902
Picture of Ermabrae House in Brunswick Street, New Farm, built in 1902

A tall double storied Queenslander in Boundary Street
A tall double storied Queenslander in Boundary Street

A domestic postcard, Queensland 1910s
A domestic postcard, Queensland 1910s

Key factors in the development of the Queensland house were the:
  • availability of affordable, easy to use building materials;
  • the Queensland climate

Building Materials

  • Timber and iron are the characteristic materials used to construct Queensland houses.
  • Sawmilling was established in Queensland in the 1850s, and timber became readily available for construction. Iron could be transported long distances throughout the Queensland colony, and was more durable in tropical storms than tiles.
  • These readily available and affordable materials were also easy to use and so contributed to the popularity of the Queensland house.

Queensland Climate

  • The materials also directly affected their form. Timber was a light, inexpensive material, but it was vulnerable to attack from termites. Houses were constructed on stumps to raise them off the ground, and the stumps were capped with plates to prevent white ants from getting to the
    Basic Queenslander, largely symmetrical
    Basic Queenslander, largely symmetrical
    wooden superstructures. The greater height also allowed easier surveillance of termite activity.
  • The warm Queensland climate further contributed to the form and popularity of Queenslanders. The high heat conductivity of tin iron roofing and the poor insulation offered by timber meant that ventilation was critical.
  • Queensland houses were usually constructed to face the street, irrespective of the direction of sun and wind. Houses belonging to affluent members of society were more likely to be situated in higher locations and constructed with more windows to take greater advantage of prevailing breezes.
  • Nevertheless the raised structures provided natural ventilation beneath and around the house, and airflow was enhanced by numerous windows, louvers and fretwork fanlights. Verandahs proved popular in providing additional living space that was outdoors yet protected.
The Ascot Queenslander design a Federation Queenslander Big, bold and beautifully ornate, 1901 – 1914

Informal spaces

  • The raising of houses on stumps created valuable space beneath the house that was used for many varied purposes including drying the washing, accommodating animals and even housing an extended family.
  • The retreat from hot internal rooms to the verandah further reflects a less formal Queensland domestic lifestyle. A comfortable verandah allowed residents to spurn formal living rooms and upholstered chairs that enveloped hot bodies. However, in the postwar years, the verandah was enclosed to create more room.

Formal spaces

  • By the 1890s, Queensland houses exhibited many of the features of Victorian domestic ideals.
  • The drawing room was the most important room, where visitors gained an impression of the standing of the owner. During the 1880s, drawing rooms became more decorative and splendid.
  • By contrast, the desired impression in the dining room was of formal dignity and even grandeur. This was the domain of the husband as host and man of the house.

Private and Utilitarian Spaces

Drawing room suites from a Furniture Catalogue
Drawing room suites from a Furniture Catalogue

  • The main bedroom was a private, predominantly feminine space, decorated in delicate pastels, with an emphasis on comfort and prettiness.
  • Service rooms, on the other hand, were severely practical in their presentation.
  • The kitchen was usually a simple undecorated room, while the bathroom was often no more than a built-in corner of the back verandah or beneath the house.

Federation furnishings

  • The furnishings of the main rooms of Queenslander houses changed with the transition from the Colonial/Victorian era to Federation.
  • Red cedar disappeared from fashion – just in time to save it from extinction – to be replaced by silky oak, Queensland maple, white cedar and stained pine. The timbers were often fumed with ammonia to enrich their colour to a warm brown.
  • The new fully-upholstered lounging armchair made its appearance. In the bedroom, the dressing table was a chest of drawers with a mirror attached, and a box ottoman replaced the old trunk for clothes storage.
  • There was a real acknowledgment of our climate in the design and use of furniture. Cane, willow, bamboo and linen grass furniture entered the scene.

Evolution of the Queensland house

Queensland has more than one type of housing but a tradition of timber building is dominant.
A decorative Queenslander built around 1890
A decorative Queenslander built around 1890

  • This distinctive tradition originated with rough timber huts of early settlement and developed into the multi-gabled bungalows of the 1930s.
  • Buildings continued until, and were adapted after, the Second World War, leading to contemporary ‘Environmentally Sustainable Timber Houses’.

The most typical early twentieth century Queensland house is characterised by:
  • timber construction with corrugated-iron roof;
  • highset on timber stumps;
  • single-skin cladding for partitions and sometimes external walls;
  • verandahs front and/or back, and sometimes the sides;
  • decorative features to screen the sun or ventilate the interior; and
  • a garden setting with a picket fence, palm trees and tropical fruit trees.

'Queenslanders' are now valued as a key element of Queensland heritage
  • Conservation and renovation of Queenslanders is widespread.
  • "Many Brissos will also have renovated a Queenslander. What to other people might look like a humble box of a house, the Brisso can see as a potential “traditional Queenslander”.

  • The Brisso will talk about “lifting it up”, “pushing it back” on the block, “turning it around”, “building in underneath”, “opening up” verandahs, putting on a deck, extending out the back, and so on.''

  • "This may end up costing more than the construction of a whole new house, but the wonderful thing is that the real estate market tends to reward such labours of love. There is nothing as reliable as the street appeal of a Queenslander."

- Living in a traditional Queenslander house
  • Our forebears were very practical people and when they first settled in Queensland they came upon flood, white ants, snakes and heat. And they also found plenty of timber. The house that was created in answer to these problems was the Queenslander, which is an amazingly a practical house.
  • Set high on wooden stumps, the house was safe from all but the highest floods. The blackened tar coated wooden stumps also kept the white ants at bay and being so high off the ground meant those unwelcome visitors from nature – snakes, fleas, ticks and leeches, could be kept at arms length.

But it was in keeping Queenslanders cool during the intense heat of summer that the house excelled.
  • The huge shaded ground underneath the Queenslander, coupled with the wide verandahs, straight through halls and five metre high ceilings meant the slightest breeze gave maximum relief from the heat- But of course this air-conditioning effect continued on into winter. Well you can't have everything! And when those bitterly cold westerlies blew, pushing blasts of cold air through the cracks in the tongue and groove panelling and the floorboards, the family huddled together around the kitchen stove. Of course this provided the opportunity of hearing that choice piece of irony, as the Canadian or English visitor, while shivering in the kitchen, complained bitterly that they had never been so cold.[1]

Queenslander architecture

- from Wikipedia
Queenslander architecture is a modern term for the vernacular type of architecture of Queensland, Australia.
  • Shares many traits with architecture in other states of Australia but is distinct and unique.
  • The type developed in the 1840s and is still constructed today, displaying an evolution of local style.
  • The term is primarily applied to residential construction

The Queenslander, a "type" not a "style", is defined primarily by architectural characteristics of climate-consideration.

Filigree Type

Queen Anne Type

external image 220px-Queenslander3.JPG
A high-set Victorian era Queenslander with large verandahin New Farm, Brisbane.
external image 220px-Queenslander1.JPG
A large Federation stylesuburban Queenslanderin New Farm, Brisbane.

Bungalow type

Porch & Gable -

Edwardian or Arts & Craft style

external image 320px-Queenslander2.JPG
An interwar Queenslander in New Farm, Brisbane.
external image 220px-StateLibQld_1_100516.jpg
A single-storey Queenslander ca. 1935

Evolution of the Queensland house

There are differing styles of the famous 'Queenslander', but all (four federation) styles share distinct construction style, internal spaces, furnishing, and gardens.

These are the four Federation Residential Styles corresponding to the 'Queenslander' styles illustrated above and below:

Victorian to Edwardian Periods:
  • Federation Filigree (with wrap-around verandahs, symmetrical frontage, and square roof)
  • Queen Anne (Victorian Boom period, asymmetrical frontage, verandah roof discontinuous, window awnings)

Edwardian to Inter-War Periods:

Postwar Period:
  • Federation Revival post war construction, built high on stumps, large verandah, can be two storied.
Victorian to Edwardian Periods

1870s - 1930s: (Filigree)
Colonial, Federation and Interwar Bungalow
Colonial, Federation and Interwar Bungalow

1870s - 1930s (Boom, Queen Anne)
Colonial, Federation and Interwar Asymmetrical Pyramid/Hip House
Colonial, Federation and Interwar Asymmetrical Pyramid/Hip House

Edwardian to Inter-War Periods

1900s to 1930s (Bungalow)
Federation and Interwar Asymmetrical Bungalow
Federation and Interwar Asymmetrical Bungalow

1910s - 1930s (Edwardian, Arts & Crafts)
The Interwar Porch and Gable House
The Interwar Porch and Gable House

Postwar - 1980s

Postwar Timber and Tin Housing Revival
Postwar Timber and Tin Housing Revival

The above information reprinted from: -
Evolution of the Queensland house
(Queensland Museum Illustrations)

The traditional Queenslander house

Illustration of the above four Federation styles from the blog: ART and ARCHITECTURE, mainly on The traditional Queenslander house
Typical Federation style Queenslander with filigree screens
Typical Federation style Queenslander with filigree screens

Ornate Boom style with gazebos echoing Queen Anne style
Ornate Boom style with gazebos echoing Queen Anne style

Bungalow with filigree screens
Bungalow with filigree screens
Arts and Craft style, with porch and decorative gables
Arts and Craft style, with porch and decorative gables