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Grand Designs Australia Handbook

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“We are seeing a golden age of experimentation in architectural design in Australia,” writes Peter Maddison in the opening pages of his Grand Designs Australia Handbook.

This is, if you think about it, an enormous claim to make. And an odd footing from which to launch into what is ostensibly a how-to guide for building your own house (the key tip: hire an architect).

The book itself is also both odd and useful.

Maddison’s been hosting the Australian version of the much-loved British architecture show Grand Designs since 2009. His book uses the program’s featured projects as illustrations for the lessons he hopes to teach the reader.

Grand Designs Australia

Images from the book. Copyright XYZ Networks

It is extensive in scope. Almost 290 pages long, it covers the entire journey from making a decision to move house to final sign-off; along that journey, Maddison includes sections on getting council approval, choosing an architect, getting the house siting right, building toxin-free and how to install a lift.

“Having a lift is only for the super-rich, right? Wrong!

“It’s for the forward thinking, for the kind of people like Bernie and Ruth Ryan… they don’t need a lift right now, but who knows whether they’ll be able to manage the stairs a couple of decades down the track?”

It is these small insights that are the real strength of this book; they’re the useful bit.

The odd bit is how Maddison has sliced the entire book with inserts covering some of the houses on the Grand Designs Australia TV series. The inserts come without any warning or, it would seem, structure. They just appear unannounced in the middle of the section, splitting the text into two. It makes the book seem a little unfinished; like Maddison’s written a clever how-to, and then someone’s had the bright idea to add the Grand Designs content to make it a bit more sellable.

That said, it would be useful for anyone planning to build a house. Maddison creates a template or a path to follow, and his small insights are also valuable. It’s not going to give you everything you need, but it’s a good starting point.

Grand-Designs-handbookGrand Designs Australia Handbook, by Peter Maddison, is published by Harper Collins ($35).

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