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Federation Architecture in Australia. Essay

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Updated: Sep 27th, 2021


Architecture is one of the kinds of art, and as every other art, it reflects the basic phenomena that take place in the life of a certain nation. Definitely nation, as it is widely accepted that every nation has its own peculiarities in every art. Special attention should be paid to this question if the nation under consideration is rather specific, like the Australian nation. History of this people is rather controversial as the nation was formed from numerous ethnic groups and appeared as a fact only in the late 19th – early 20th century. In this paper I have studied the national peculiarities of Australian architecture, and namely its period which is called Federation period, or Federation Style. This work aimed at identifying the main similarities and differences of the two directions of the Federation style in the Australian architecture – Federation Queen Anne and Federation Arts and Crafts. I managed to identify their main principles and critically analyze their characteristic features. I also compared Federation Queen Anne and Federation Arts and Crafts, exemplified their typical features by specific buildings that can be found in Australia and explained the appearance of each of the directions from historical, social and cultural points of view. Moreover, the comparative analysis of methods used during building processes in each of the directions was carried out in order to find out what materials and what techniques were dominant in this or that direction of the Federation style. This also allowed me to trace similarities of the Federation style with other styles of architecture in other countries of the world and especially England that has close historical, political and economic ties with Australia. Due to this, the reasons and consequences of the emergence of these two directions and the whole Federation style became clear, and this will be detailed in the current paper.


The term ‘Federation Architecture’ was first introduced in 1973 by a famous Australian scientist Bernard Smith to define a style in the Australian architecture that appeared in the 19th century. Federation architecture is used to refer to the architectural movement in Australia predominately during the Federation period in its history, to be more exact in the time from 1890 to 1915. On January 1st, 1901, a new nation was proclaimed as officially existing and the new state appeared on the world political map – the Commonwealth of Australia. Besides all the economic and political hardships, this union of the British colonies became a reason for its population to feel national unity that could not fail to find its reflection in the styles that started developing in its architecture.1 In this essay, I will examine the distinguishing features of the ‘Federation style’ in Australian architecture together with the implications and limitations that are characteristic of this particular style. My next step will be a more focused examination of two different types of Federation Style that will allow me to prove that changes and variations in design do not neglect its typical Federation characteristics.

Historical and Cultural Background

History of Australia is a rather specific matter and the reflection of it can be found in the architecture of the country. The long-lasting search of the national traditions and style of architecture can be easily compared to the long and troublesome way of the Australian nation towards gaining Independence.

Australia has always been under the British rule after it was discovered in the middle of the 18th century by British Fleet. Since that time, Australia was the land that was exploited hardly and used as a place from where the British Empire received numerous riches. At the same time, Great Britain used to send its criminals to Australia that was considered to be a place of exile. Moreover, lots of people from the whole world directed themselves to Australia that was a king of a lost paradise for them. The territory was far away from all other countries and it was difficult to control its life for central governments. Thus, people aimed at developing their wealth in the conditions that were not limited by any unfaithful laws and taxes. In this way, the multinational and multicultural nature of Australian population was formed by the representatives of various nations of the world, including the British, French, Dutch and many others. Needless to say, that the nations that populated Australia used to make considerable contributions to the culture of this land.

Federation Architecture


Reflection of the process of multinational enrichments of culture can be found in all spheres of arts including painting, sculpture and architecture. Furthermore, as soon as 16 British colonies gained independence and became known as the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, the development of architecture acquired a specific direction and the style that emerged as the result of the above mentioned socio-political and cultural processes became known as the “Federation Style” of Australian architecture. It goes without saying, however, that styles that preceded the Federation architecture also influenced the formation of this style greatly. In the end of the 19th century, for example, Australian architecture, and British as well, were dominated by the Victorian Italianate Style or Boom style. This period is considered to be one of the most hardest for the Australian culture and economy. It is true that the years that preceded the establishment of political Federation in Australia were rather controversial and troublesome for the country: “The decade leading up to Federation was not without its economic and political troubles. Extraordinarily buoyant economic conditions in the Australian colonies in the 1880s had caused companies and governments to expand quickly, often imprudently.”

Nevertheless, the development of culture was fast and effective, which resulted in the emergence of Italianate or Boom style in architecture: “In architectural terms, the 1880s responded directly to these conditions with the emergence of the Boom style; Clad almost always in the apparel of High Victorian Italianate architecture, other stylistic flourishes were sometimes thrown in.” The main features of the Italianate style were the wide use of interior decoration and ornament in architecture. Drawing from this, the typical characteristics of a house built according to the Italianate style were the use made of brick plastered with stucco. The house used to be one- or two-storey with classical mouldings placed around doors and windows. Earthly colors, light brown and ochre were the most often used colors in the Boom style together with asymmetrical construction of buildings and bay windows that were planned to enrich the picturesqueness of the buildings. One of the brightest examples of the Italianate style is the so-called Labassa in Manor Grove, Caulfield, Victoria that was built in 1889. The style had much in common with the medieval French and Italian styles and Baroque due to its luxuriousness and pathos but the economic collapse of 1892 turned the situation in the country, and in architecture in particular, upside down. Thus, the appearance of the Federation style became the reflection of the crisis in the country and of the inspiration of the nation towards independence and national identity, although considered to be quite weak by some scientists.


As has already been stated above, Federation style in architecture appeared as the reflection of the national inspiration of Australians towards their independence. However, Howells (1949) argues that it was not innate to architecture and mainly borrowed from such arts as painting literature.

Nevertheless, Federation style possesses its own typical features which can be listed as follows:

  1. Usage of unplastered and unpainted red brick for the face of a house.
  2. Projecting gables for the construction of roofs.
  3. Picturesque chimneys and use of terracotta Marseilles tiles for roof covering.
  4. Wide use of timber verandahs and fretted balustrades instead of cast iron that was typical for the Italianate style.

However, despite the fact that certain above mentioned features are characteristic of the whole style called “Federation Architecture” there were also considerable differences in the directions of this style depending upon the geographical and preferential factors of areas and owners of the buildings. For example, in Queensland, the main characteristic of the Federation style was the use of iron sheeting of the roof in combination with terracotta tiles, while red brick constructions were mainly accompanied by timber boarding. Moreover, based on the climatic factors, the typical features of the Federation houses in, for instance, New South Wales can be listed as the usage of slate roof constructions and, very seldom, fully-stuccoed walls constructed of red bricks. As can be clearly seen from the above presented information, the Federation Style has never been distinguished by uniformity of typical features and techniques. This, in a long run, led to the emergence of two sub-styles – “Queen Anne” and “Arts and Crafts”.

Queen Anne Style

The term itself appeared as the indication of the process of Domestic Revival as a trend of the last 40 years of the 19th century in English architecture. The very usage of this term was widely doubted by different scholars including architects, philosophers and historians. Their main argument was that the term “Queen Anne” has nothing to do with Queen Anne who ruled Great Britain in the early 18th century.

The chronological contradiction is accompanied by the architectural one according to which there are no similarities between the house-building techniques of the period of Queen Anne’s rule and the period when the “Queen Anne” style emerged. Nevertheless, the style developed and reached Australia in the late 1890s where it was defined as “red-brick and the newly imported terracotta Marseilles-pattern roofing tile… tuckpointed [brickwork]… the plan and silhouette crumbled into a disordered assortment of bays, domes, porches and spires”. Nevertheless, it is currently considered improper to use this very term as the definition of a period in the history of the Australian architecture.The typical features of the Queen Anne style are red bricks and white paint on windows, gables pedimented in a curly way and wide use of brick-made cherubs, sun-flowers and swags for decoration purposes.

The brightest examples of the Queen Anne style buildings in Australia are the House at 104 Riversdale Road, Camberwell, VIC, and the semi-detached house at 50 Ross Street, Glebe, New South Wales. The former is noticeable because it displays many typical features of the Federation Queen Anne, including its picturesque roofline, asymmetrical composition as well as the use of materials, such as red bricks together with stucco with which major parts of the walls are plastered. The house is built with the use of a porch and two bays that are situated on both sides of the building. The latter demonstrates the picturesqueness of the asymmetrical walls, roofs and windows together with exposed ends of the house’s gables and exquisite timber decoration. The house is built of the red brick of the perfect quality, planned so that it were asymmetrical and is decorated with exposed gables that are performed in the brown color. The windows of the house are asymmetrical as well, meaning that their size differs at different sides.

Arts and Crafts Style

The style called later “Arts and Crafts” appeared long before the Federation style emerged. This took place in England in the 18th century. This can be proved by the fact that the typical feature of the Arts and Crafts style is the building of a single-storey house with a verandah and asymmetrical planning, and such houses were built long before the late 19th century when Federation style appeared. Nevertheless, the style “Arts and Crafts” developed quite slowly and only in the middle of the 19th century became popular among wealthy citizens in Great Britain and then among the working class who wanted to have accommodation close to their places of work. Slight innovations were introduced by the “Arts and Crafts” style in the United Kingdom, but when the style developed in Australia in 1900s, its major features concerned picturesqueness and originality of forms of houses and their details.

Thus, the typical characteristics of the Arts and Crafts style in the Australian architecture are multifarious protrusions of roofs, exuberant ridge crestings produced of terracotta and wide use of such means of architectural décor as gambrels, turrets, towers, spears and peaks. “Blood and Bandages” technique was widely implemented in the Arts and Crafts style where red brick presented blood and bondages were presented by bricks of cream-color. Among the typical examples of the Australian Arts and Crafts style such houses can be singled out as Blythewood at 152 Beecroft Road, Cheltenham and the Crossways, 50 Martin road, Centennial park, (Sydney, NSW). The former house is noticeable due to its big slate roof with multifarious protrusions, iron roughcast walls, which are both reassuringly traditional and refreshingly modern design which is characteristic of Arts and Crafts. This house is performed with the help of “Blood and Bandages” technique and decorated with ridge crestings and terracotta gambrels. At the same time, the latter house is the brightest example of a strong affinity to Arts and Crafts ideals by its expansive roofs and cream-coloured roughcast walls. The house is noticeable for its two towers that are of different height and possess peaks.


To conclude, in this paper I managed to compare and critically analyze the Federation style of Australian architecture and its two major movements – “Queen Anne Style” and “Arts and Crafts Style”. I found out that the two sub-styles of Federation architecture are derived from the English architectural styles and possess both similar and different features. Queen Anne is a sub-style used to define the earlier period of Federation but it is considered to be improper and inadequate by certain scholars. Arts and Crafts style developed in Australia later than Queen Anne but achieved greater recognition and popularity among the Australians.


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Fraser, Hugh, and Joyce, Ray, ‘Federation House, Australia’s Own Style’, Sydney, New Holland Publishers, 2002.

Freeland, J.M, ‘Architecture in Australia: A History’, Ringwood (Vic), Penguin Books, 1972.

Hamann C, ‘Nationalism and Reform in Australian Architecture 1880-1920, Historical Studies, No. 18, 1979, pp.393-411.

Howells, Trevor, and Nicholson, Michael, ‘Towards the Dawn: Federation Architecture in Australia 1890-1915’, Sydney, Hale and Iremonger, 1949.

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