A Brief History of the Terrace House

Introduced Style

Developers introduced the concept of the terrace house from Europe to Australia in the 1850s, especially cities like London and Paris which had been trailblazers of the style almost a century earlier.  Early Terrace Houses in Australia adopted the Georgian form, often mirroring many of their European counterparts.

Boom Era – A Local Vernacular Emerges

Lyon’s Terrace in Sydney, overlooking Hyde Park is probably the grandaddy of all Australian terraces, at least according to historian Brian Turner.  The now long demolished three storey terrace was designed in 1937 and completed in 1841 features the distinctive double storey verandah which has become the hallmark of the Australian terrace.  Lyon’s Terrace became a prototype for the local vernacular was quickly formed in response to Australia climate and taste and evolved over time.  The verandah functioned as both a screen for the hot Australian sun and a decorative feature.

Between the 1860s and 1880s extensive stands of terrace housing were built in the major capital cities of Sydney and Melbourne to accommodate booming populations. 

While rare elsewhere, optimistic and growing cities around Australia followed. Regional sub-styles and variations also developed in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland.  While similar parallels can be drawn to homes in parts of New Zealand, New Orleans and South Africa, the Australian Terrace remains a significant regional style.

Rows of terraced housing cropped up in areas close to transport – in particular rail and tram.  Fashionable inner-city terraces were often built overlooking parks or close to the waterfront.

Dark Times for the Terraced Home

As early as the 1890s, many terraces had become slums and governments began talking about laws to ban them.  By the 1920s terrace housing was banned in almost all parts of Australia and during the postwar 1950s, the Australian Dream was well and truly the quarter acre block.    In the major cities they were frequently demolished in the name of slum reclamation or subject to large inner city urban renewal projects.  The remaining  Australian Terraces fell into disrepair and frequent tragic renovations often included unfortunate paint schemes, stripping their ornamentation or enclosing the verandahs.

Revival, Gentrification and Heritage Protection

However the timeless Australian Terrace has almost always been held with affection by their owners from renovation and restoration buffs to immigrants and new Australians many were passed from generation to generation.

The Australian Terrace Houses not only endured but as it became more scarce, they became highly sought after real estate in the late 1960s.

Terrace Houses continue to  drive gentrification and high demand in the major cities.  There has even been several revivals of their form and style in new medium density planning schemes.  Appreciation for the style has seen many, but not all, older terraces protected by heritage controls.  Some are sympathetically restored with period features intact, however many renovators choose to retain just the front portion and build modern extensions as a means of overcome local heritage controls.  As a result, terraces in their original condition, unrestored are extremely rare.

Recent Times

Terrace houses have become a popular theme in reality television, particularly renovation shows, coinciding with a revival of interest in the potential of the style.  The Renovators TV show in 2011 featured the “inner city terrace”, with two terraces featured, the contestant’s terrace at 12 Heggarty Street in Glebe as well as one in Birchgrove.  Rival reality series The Block’s 2012 series five is set at the row of four rundown terraces at 401 – 407 Dorcas Street in South Melbourne.

Recent Discussion
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