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New book 100 Canberra Houses celebrates capital's eclectic homes

From the stately gables of Government House to the knocked-together prefabs in Narrabundah, the retro-chic Forrest townhouses to the dingy public housing flats around Civic, there's a lot of architecture to be crammed into 100 years.

A new book looks at 100 Canberra houses that reflect the city's changing style over the past century, from the original homesteads of the 1920s, to the slick, architect-designed homes that dot the suburbs.

Authors Tim Reeves and Alan Roberts have spent the past four years considering the more than 160,000 dwellings that have been built in Canberra since 1913, and whittled them down to a representative 100.

Reeves said they had chosen the houses based on variety, quantity, historical significance and interest value, rather than just architectural merit.

''It's a book about social history and architectural history combined,'' he said.

He added that the project had been notable because there was no particular, quintessential Canberra style that emerged from the compilation, but rather a profusion of traditions and works by a smattering of important local and national architects.

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There is even a house in Giralang designed in 1977 by Glenn Murcutt, the only Australian architect to have won the international Pritzker Prize.

''I think it's great when you look at the book to see the number of architects that came to Canberra, perhaps to build larger buildings and who designed houses while they were here,'' he said.

''We wanted especially the post-war prefabricated houses, but also houses like those built for workers. They were just built as cheaply as possible, there was a shortage of materials and labour. And when you think about houses that are still standing, especially the Tocumwal Houses [in O'Connor and Ainslie] - I think a lot of people know about the Tocumwals, and most of them are heritage-listed now.''

Many of the houses also come with interesting anecdotes, such as The Pines on the corner of Bougainville Street in Manuka, a Spanish Mission-style house built in 1930, and the site of a grisly murder-suicide in 1947. And many more have stood the test of time - he listed the Roy Grounds townhouses in Forrest, built in 1961, as among his favourites.

''I just walked past them before, and they are beautiful,'' he says.

''Fifty years later, they look as fresh and ingenious in design as they would have back then.''

100 Canberra Houses - A Centenary of Capital Architecture, by Tim Reeves and Alan Roberts, is published by Halstead Press.

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