Unitex Media

Big Brother comes to Melbourne suburbia

Author: Siska Concannon, Marketing Manager, Unitex Granular Marble P/L

I was struck by an article a colleague presented to me this week (Barclay, A, Boroondara Review Local, ‘Council outlaws mock mansions’, October 03, 2012) on the Boroondara councils unanimous ban on rooflines to, in short, discourage neo-Georgian and French provincial houses from being constructed in residential areas. It struck me for two reasons, but both reasons centered on the issue of a home owners right to dictate style and taste on their own home.

This Eastern suburbs city council covers an array of prestigious suburbs, and much sought after addresses in the Melbourne inner eastern area, and has achieved this through immaculate house facades and the timeless classic look of neo-Georgian and French provincial homes. However, regardless of your taste and whether you agree that the neo-Georgian and French provincial look is timeless or even your version of attractive, the point is that councils are looking to have the power to tell you what style is yours and what look your property will have. Now, I cannot speak for everyone, but this lack of choice in one of the biggest investments you will make in your lifetime seems almost not worth it. We might as well stay in the rental game, as it would seem that soon we may have as much rights there as we would in owning our own home!

Whilst the ban in question is specific to sloping rooflines, there was a comment by Cr Jack Wegman to A Barclay urging that the council also ‘redefine period reproduction to discourage “detailing such as mock-Georgian and mock-French Provincial”’. So it begs the question if taste and style is subjective, and as Australian’s we live in a ‘free society’ (or at least relatively free), who has the right to force their beliefs on us? In this case, and especially when it comes to our basic right to express ourselves in and through our private domains – our home.

Now this may open up a can of worms, but what I am mostly concerned with is a persons right to decorate their home facades to their taste and style, which not only says to everyone that views the property, this is a reflection of our style, but more importantly that you have complete ownership over your dwelling – inside and out. When the statistics show that 70% of Australian households own their own home (80% of these being high income owners) this issue is of considerable importance to a vast majority of us all.

After speaking with many experts in the housing industry and listening to focus groups on this matter, opinion is still very much pro choice. Stylish facades are in-vogue, however what constitutes style is where the discussion gets juicy, as no two people 100% agree with the other, but isn’t this the very definition of style – subjective opinion.

One of the experts I spoke with went onto say “take an uninformed child for a walk down the streets of Melbourne and ask which houses are considered beautiful and every time the answer will be the old-world style of rendered facades with architectural profiles and entrance columns”. He went onto add “In the late 1880s to the mid 1930s companies like ‘Hopkins Plaster’ had over 2000 Artisans crafting all the various stylish buildings in Australia that are, today, listed by the National Trust, and some even awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status, and are required to be preserved. These buildings are of Edwardian, Victorian and Georgian style and generally I do not hear these ‘commentators’ calling these listed buildings (ie The Windsor, The Royal Exhibition Building etc) copies or ‘mock’ designs.” Another expert added “Who is the arbiter?! Who says a ‘mock’ brick veneer or ‘mock’ Californian bungalow is better than a ‘mock’ classic style?  The homeowners are the arbiters and currently they are saying they want classic styles and our builder customers agree”.

When I attempted to be somewhat of a Nancy Drew and approached the Boroondara council to provide comment on what this new vote involves for the residents in question, they were very forthcoming and helpful in their response to clarify that the design guidelines aim is to “ensure new development fits in with the character of the streetscape, and in some cases the guidelines discourage period reproduction design where this is inconsistent with the housing styles in the area” and basically to prevent misinterpretation of ‘mock’ Georgian and ‘mock’ French provincial design.

Whilst I do understand that more often than not, one does not just buy a house, they are also buying into a street/community and all the foibles that come with it, and it can be said that there still involves choice as one can choose to not buy in the particular street if they believe they are being restricted. However, my concern is if this is accepted now for certain streets – heritage or not – where does it end? Will eventually the home buyers’ choice be diminished as councils build strong cases against individual design for more and more streets and areas? Are our Architects and Building Designers going to be forced to follow template designs and thus any form of creativity be squashed? Will we find ourselves in our own ‘Truman Show’ (as a side note, great movie!)? I can only hope we as society do not let this happen.

As a former Premier of Victoria once said “The home owner feels that he/she has a stake in the country, and that he/she has something worth working for, living for, fighting for.” So let’s kick out Big Brother type legislation and regulation and continue the fight to own our own home and be able to dictate what that home looks like.

 

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