Home Design - UK vs. US vs. Australia
Posted: Jan 11, 2019
Besides speaking a common language, with a few interesting variations, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia host highly urbanised population centres that require efficient, precise home design. Though they are separated by vast oceans and several thousands of miles, these countries are tied together by a common thread – they have essentially regulated and modernised residential design for their individual milieus. Residents of the UK, the US and Australia live in homes that are designed primarily in accordance with space and weather diktats. While certain home design styles are common between the three countries, the specific climates they experience year-round and cost of materials have a bearing on typical home design options. While it is comparatively cold in the UK and tends to be extremely warm in Australia, the large area of the US, straddling several time zones, means America sees a range of temperatures on a given day. Though specific comparisons of home design would be complicated, a general analogy presents certain key differences which would affect design and residential drafting services.
Firstly, what are the commonalities of architectural home design among the three Western nations?
Fundamentally – design styles. Most of these design styles developed in the UK for independent or semi-detached houses over the decades and were adopted in the US and Australia simultaneously or at a later date. They are, in brief:
Tudor : Thatched roof, exposed timber frames, casement windows (diamond-shaped glass panels with lead castings), masonry chimneys, elaborate doorways
Stuart : Dutch gables, Palladian parapets, depressed arches, constructed with the more expensive stone and brick, rather than timber
Georgian : Elegant, with symmetrical facades, elaborate decorations, many featured Greek motifs
Victorian: Asymmetric brick houses, with pointed arches and patterns, lavish designs and decorations to exhibit wealth and status
Queen Anne : Homes with timber hoods over the front door, windows with glazing bars, terracotta tiles and panels, red brick houses, similar to old farmhouses
Edwardian : Colourful and ornate, with carvings and patterns, timber framing, pebble-dash, hanging tiles, white painted timber porches and balconies, introduction of electricity, so interiors became light and bright
30s Semi : Homes with pebble-dashed walls, recessed porches, mock timber framing, hipped roofs and curved bay windows
Art Deco : Open interiors that celebrated sunlight, with flat roofs, plain white walls and many had Egyptian-style motifs
Airey Houses : Due to the scarcity of materials following World War II, houses were mass produced in factories, transported and assembled on site, with concrete columns, metal tubing, smaller windows and plain glass
70s Terrace : Affordable terraced homes, with traditional hanging tiles, weatherboarding, central heating, a garage
90s New Build : In the 1990s, many wanted traditional homes, with mock timber framing, rendered walls and terracotta tiles
Modern Minimalist : Currently, modernist architecture is popular, with eco-friendly designs, priority on sunlight with solar panels, energy efficiency, with open plan interiors, exposed steelwork and lots of glass
UK and US Homes
Typically, in urban conclaves of the UK, houses on a street are almost identical, with very little differences between them, from the exterior. They are usually semi-detached, which refers to two houses joined together, with a gap before the next two houses. Another architectural style of houses are terraced houses, which are a row of houses all joined together.
The size of houses in the UK can be quite small, sometimes just 4 metres wide. There have been one-bedroom terraced cottages that were less than 3 metres in width.
Generally, in the US, similar to the UK, most of the houses are modernist in style, which covers futurism, post-modern and new classical styles. It is a style based on the use of glass, steel and reinforced concrete. Unnecessary detail is avoided on facades and the designs are simple, highlighting the use of modern materials. Buildings are low and there is greater interaction with interior and exterior spaces, more use of natural light, shade and glass.
Modernism is considered to be one of the most important developments in architectural style, which also incorporates a logical and analytical approach to building function. It promotes a practical use of materials, structural innovation and the absence of ornamentation. Its features include:
- asymmetrical elements
- cubic or cylindrical shapes
- flat roofs
- reinforced concrete
- metal and glass framework
- large horizontal windows
- little or no moulding
- predominance of white or cream
When it comes to differences, if we look at UK and US homes, the fundamental differences occur within homes and are as follows:
UK – It is illegal to have a power outlet within 3 metres of a shower or bath.
US – Building codes require a power outlet to be within 3 feet of the bathroom sink.
UK - 0.5% of homes are air-conditioned
US – 87% of homes are air-conditioned
UK – Letterboxes are built into the front door.
US - Mailboxes are built separately from the house.
UK – There are typically separate faucets for hot and cold water.
US – There is a single faucet for hot and cold water.
UK – Houses don’t generally have built-in or walk-in closets. When people move, they usually take their wardrobes with them.
US – Most houses have built-in or walk-in closets, a standard requirement.
UK – Houses are much smaller, averaging 1,063 sq. ft.
US – Houses average 2,330 sq. ft.
Type of Homes
UK – Semi-detached duplexes account for 27% of all homes, the single majority
US – Single-family detached homes account for 80% of all homes
UK – All-in-one washers and driers are typical.
US – Most homes have separate washers and driers.
UK – It is uncommon for sinks to have food disposal.
US – Almost all homes have kitchen sinks with their own food disposal system.
The fundamental differences within houses influence and dictate the architectural styles of home design in these countries.
Regarding Australia, industry professionals are quick to note that no two houses are the same. Most are detached, or independent, and have space around them in low density residential areas, much the same as in America. Medium or high-density residential areas will have homes built on smaller land sites. Overall, though, Australian houses are quite large.
In fact, Australia reputedly has the largest houses in the world. A survey in 2011 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found the average Australian home has floor space of 214.6 square metres. Average American homes have 15 square metres less than that, and Australian homes are three times the size of an average British home.
Though detached houses are a majority, Australia does have ‘units’ (terraced properties) as well, reportedly 74% of housing in major cities. That percentage increased to 81% outside major cities.
Typical, traditional homes in Britain are comparatively sturdier than Australian ones. Thick stone walls are used to construct cottages, terraced houses and other properties in the UK, seemingly built to endure for centuries. In Australia, the typical ‘Queenslander’ is a wooden or weatherboard home on stilts for areas with regular flooding. These stilts help keep the interiors dry, but such houses are generally unstable.
Before World War II, the majority of Australian houses were made of timber or double brick, which was relatively expensive. This led to the development of brick veneer in housing, which is made up of an internal timber structure covered with a single external brick layer. Garages were introduced, and houses increased in size with extra annexes, patios, family rooms, studies and bedrooms being added at a rapid rate.
Homes in Sydney are, on average, the largest in Australia, with new independent houses measuring almost 263 square metres and providing more than 100 square metres per person indoors. So, Australians, in general, are currently living in the biggest homes in the world.
Nearing the end of the last century, more environmentally friendly homes and renovated older houses became popular. Basic elements for construction remained the same, though, with brick, timber, nails, mortar and glass.
Homes in Australia were designed and constructed to reflect their owners’ lifestyle. For instance, Australians rarely feel the need for a clothes’ drier, as everything can be air-dried. This is where the weather becomes a factor. Also, people in Australia are more conscious of water usage, frequently aiming for a 3-minute shower, after experiencing the vagaries of regular droughts. Toilets have 2 flush buttons, one for a half flush and one for a full flush.
Those that have lived in Australia, the US and the UK had broad insight into how homes in these countries compared. European and US nationals, 45% of them, felt that Australian houses looked better in terms of style and for having more daylight inside, but they also concluded that American and British homes were more comfortable and energy efficient. A good majority of expats (almost 75%) felt that Australian houses had less insulation than their American and British counterparts, observing that double glazing, which regulates heat entering and leaving the home, was almost a standard feature in the US and the UK.
Extreme temperatures experienced in Australia require design to improve the thermal comfort of residents. Though natural light and energy efficiency are common features of Australian homes, typically there is little to no insulation, double glazing, central heating or air conditioning in the majority of homes, meaning sweltering heat during summers and freezing cold during winters.
Other features which were different between American and Australian homes were closets. Homes down under have fewer closets in general, perhaps only in master bedrooms and none for other bedrooms. They must use standalone armoires or wardrobes. Even toilets are designed differently, with most houses having toilets in separate water closets rather than part of a larger bathroom.
The practice of DIY (or Do It Yourself) plumbing and electrical work is frowned upon in Australia. It is illegal to do anything other than change a lightbulb, without a licensed electrician present. Any damage caused by DIY wiring will not be covered by insurance and less than satisfactory electrical work can be a liability during inspections. Trade unions are well organised and regulated. Electricians and plumbers can be expensive and difficult to find.
Precise, efficient design is mandatory for the success of construction in these countries, and high-quality preconstruction design drawings are essential to enable this. Drawings for home design require a range of architectural working drawings. Firms that provide residential design drawings, architectural CAD drafting, architectural CAD modelling and BIM modelling services to architects must conform to American AIA (American Institute of Architects), British RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and Australian AIA (Australian Institute of Architects) standards. These firms can ideally provide residential construction drawings and plan updates as well, with a sound working knowledge of timber-frame, traditional and steel frame homes. Residential construction drawings normally incorporate foundation drawings, floor plans, roof plans, structural and roof framings, elevations, sections, interior elevations, options and typical details. With the right design support, architectural design in the UK, the US and Australia will continue to improve, improvise and innovate.