Ross Brewin travels around Australia to investigate the typology of an Australian icon – the corrugated iron shed.

August 1, 2008

Dotted throughout the Australian landscape are many intriguing and largely unintentional material experiments in the form of rural sheds. Whether parts of working or abandoned agricultural infrastructure or part of a wider constellation of ‘bits’ of a township, these structures, born out of necessity and pragmatism, are fascinating for their unpretentious and unexpected material and formal qualities.

Often simply constructed with what – in terms of labour and materials – was available at the time, sheds display an unconventional use of materials and construction methods that provide alternative ways of thinking about the application of such seemingly ‘ordinary’ materials and techniques. Some even display a material ingenuity and innovation that could potentially be learned from and harnessed.

Much of the material quality of these structures owes itself to the act and ravages of time. The weathering and decay that occurs as a consequence of exposure to the harsh Australian conditions can create beautiful material patinas that would have been unanticipated at the time of their construction. The uneven dulling and bleaching of vertical timber cladding or the flaking of paint on a piece of corrugated iron can provide clues as to how we might consider the aging of materials as a positive, rather than an inevitably negative consequence of exposure. Moshen Mostafavi and David Leatherbarrow discuss this idea of designing in anticipation of weathering in their 1993 book On Weathering; The Life of Buildings in Time, which opens with the telling line: “Finishing ends construction, weathering constructs finishes”, a sentiment clearly shared by the likes of Scarpa, Aalto, Zumthor and Salter.

Moreover, the formal qualities of a collapsed structure or a shed – a structure that has been repeatedly added to in an ad-hoc fashion over time – also catch upon imagination, directing us toward alternative ways of considering architectural composition. These structures, built with little concern for the way things should conventionally look, are, instead, a direct result of maximizing usefulness within a basic economy of means.

The images shown here are a sample of a much larger collection of shed photographs taken in several different Australian states on a number of ventures out into the vastness beyond the city. Many were selected for their odd proportions or their unusual material compositions, some for their weathered materiality and others, simply for their charm and character. The presence of electric fences and bulls were also key determinants in what was selected for documentation! All sheds were photographed as an elevation as a means to register the architectural composition and to retain a degree of consistency in how they are documented as part of an ongoing typological collection.

Ross Brewin

Ross Brewin is an architect, academic and theorist from Melbourne, Australia. He is a lecturer in the Department of Architecture at Monash University.

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