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Spatial Awareness: Imagining 1880s architecture

Oldest pub in Sydney though it doesn't look like this anymore. Fortune of War

I was busily writing the other day and everything was going swimmingly well. My family of characters had come together in a room of their home, which is also a hotel, and needed to go to their rooms to get ready for dinner. At that point, I realised that I need to have a better idea of exactly what “go to your room” entailed for the family (the fictional one that is. My real family know exactly what that means). So I put aside the writing to do a quick sketch of the family hotel. For me, that means opening up InDesign and turning a bunch of text boxes into a 3-story 1880 Sydney hotel.

For a start, I had only a vague idea of what the façade would look like – there went 30 minutes of researching building frontages in 19century Sydney. Luckily, my imagination and reality met up nicely so I was able to continue my afternoon of lay-architecture. After four hours of diligent mind-mapping and text-box reconfiguration in order to work out how people would get from the ground floor to the top floor, from the public bar to the ladies lounge, and from the kitchen to everywhere else, I finally came up with a functional design. No doubt, there are many things wrong with it, but as I’m not going to build it but use it as a set-piece of spatial awareness for characters to walk through, it is perfect.

I now know for instance, that to walk from the ladies lounge to the dining room to a bedroom, we will need to open several doors, trudge up a functional staircase, and stroll down narrow corridors. I also know that from the bedrooms, we’ll be able to see the park across the road and the moon on a clear night (that’s actually where my main character is waiting for me at the moment), and that the two public bars are separate but the Proprietor is still able to keep watch over both at the same time from her raised nook, and that the Ladies Lounge opens up on to a small private garden courtyard.

From my exploration of “old Sydney” two weekends ago, I also know that once I step out the front door of the hotel, I’ll see the iron fencing of the Botanical Gardens across the road and walk along woodblock-paved streets, past any number of bakeries, hotels, billiard rooms, law offices, bookshops, and milliners to reach my destination.

This is almost like world-building. Perhaps more like past re-building. Finally, my love of TV shows like Victorian Farm and The Restoration Man (etc, there is far too many heritage architecture shows to list) is paying off!

Victorian Farm is a great series for learning how people lived during the Victorian age, and easy enough to compare to Australian history of the same period.

The Restoration Man shows a variety of architectural styles and how to replicate or restore them using traditional methods.

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