The Emperor Has Old Clothes…

I have recently been snooping about on the internet to study home building methods in North America in the 1950’s. I am enormously impressed with the enterprise and vigour with which various companies essayed to provide shoddy housing for Americans and Canadians, and the enthusiasm with which the home buyers sacrificed their lives for shacks. It shows that the era of P.T. Barnum has not passed.

If that seems a little harsh, forgive me. I have been living in double-brick/tiled roof houses and flats for the last 50 years and it has skewed my judgement. I can no longer look at a wooden frame house clad with sheet-rock on the inside and anything that they could find that would stand a nail on the outside and think of it as a good design. I am probably missing the point of it all, but I am glad I do not live now in what I occupied for the first 18 years of my life.

It’s a little puzzling to see the designs of houses in North America that depend so much upon layers of thin material backed onto each other in an effort to defeat the climate. I realise that much of it is due to the nature of the material available for construction – vast pine forests – versus the Australian scene with scrubby knobbly trees and a lot of clay and sand about. In both cases people used what they had to do what they needed to do…but Oh, Boy, are the standards of construction different.

There seem to be about the same number of rooms in both cases – more now than in the 1950’s’ – and there are just as many useless ones as there are useful. Dens, games rooms, family rooms, and study areas abound. In a lot of cases they are interconnected with open air and noise. About the only real difference in design within the various price ranges between North America and Australia is that some builders persist with the separate WC instead of putting it all together in one bathroom. At least the Australian designs do not feature a hallway terminated by that WC that allows the visitor stepping in the front door to greet the host who is sitting on the toilet. That was a feature of some Canadian designs…

The amazing part of it all is the accountancy. Looking at the North American markets then and now and a similar price list from Australia we discover that the prices are the same. This, despite the higher population in the northern hemisphere and the generally rickety construction methods compared to the solidity down here. I am at a loss to understand the rationale behind it, but I am glad I am on the bricks and tile side of the world.




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