Today most new homes in New South Wales are bought ready-built, in a housing market dominated by big construction companies.

In 1952 more than half the new houses under construction in NSW were being built by their owners. They were mostly modest houses, built by low- to middle-income earners. The extraordinary number of owner-builders was the result of an unusual combination of postwar circumstances – an extreme shortage of housing, scarcities of building materials and labour, and full employment. These same conditions drove architects to focus on the challenges of designing small houses, and to search for ways to simplify construction and make more efficient use of space.

One response was to adopt an L-shaped ground plan as standard in many postwar houses. This allowed the long, dark central hallway of the prewar house to be truncated, the front parlour to be eliminated and the living and dining areas to be combined in open plan. A new interest by architects in the importance of climate also framed this move towards functional design. The L-shape allowed for better light throughout the house and prompted a new emphasis on siting t to make best use of the morning and afternoon sun. The result was an austerity version of modernism, with an Australian inflection.


23 August 2014 - 23 November 2014

Post-war Sydney Home Plans, 1945 - 1959

Book cover title on blue background.
Cover of booklet: Homes and plans by Norman Reed, c1945 (detail). Caroline Simpson Library and Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums

For architects and prospective homeowners alike, the most seductive promise of the immediate postwar years was the prospect of a clean slate, an opportunity to build new, light-filled, houses appropriate to Australian conditions.

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Unlocked is now onlineThursday 12 June 2014

The Winter Edition of Unlocked, Sydney Living Museum's Gazette, is now available to read online!