The enduring legacy of Daniel Robertson bricks
Daniel Robertson bricks have long attracted brand loyalty from architects and home owners, for their distinctive style.
Mark O’Brien, Regional & Commercial Sales Manager of Daniel Robertson, reveals the history and heritage of an enduring Australian manufacturer of high-quality bricks.
Daniel Robertson was established as brick makers in 1853. What can you tell me about the history of the company?
The Robertson business started in the mid-19th century as a roof tile importing company. The first Robertson, who wasn’t in fact called Daniel, transported shale roof tiles to Melbourne in the ballast of ships leaving England. For most of the 19th century Daniel Robertson supplied the Melbourne market with roof shale. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that Daniel Robertson, the company, started creating the boutique bricks it is now known for. In 1960’s, the then company-head travelled to England to look at the brick styles in London. Upon returning to Melbourne, the roof tile factory in Nunawading was converted to manufacturing ‘StockBricks’, which were a unique rustic brick with a texture that reflects light, picking up the varying colours in the bricks at different stages of the day.
What is the charm of the crafted clay brick?
The pre-automation process of brickmaking generated bricks with a wide variety of colours and textures. Some had the typical Melbourne brick red, while others were toned more brown. The variations developed naturally during the firing process and became a signature for the boutique brand. The clay crafted bricks are like a tapestry. If you see one brick alone, you may think it’s not much, but when you see all them laid out, it all comes together.
Architects, not builders, were the early exponents of Daniel Robertson bricks. This was partly a strategic move, because the builder’s market for bricks was inevitably dominated by larger makers with higher production capabilities. However, it was also because of aesthetics. These bricks had a more authentic look that fitted architectural style. Architects and unique clients are drawn to the rustic nature of the bricks because they look distinctive. Sometimes there would be a wait of up to 16 weeks for a load of bricks, but people would wait, because they were loyal and the bricks were worth the wait for the look.
Whether they are used in a heritage project, a demolish and rebuild, or surrounded by heritage buildings, Daniel Robertson bricks won’t date. You can drive around Melbourne and date buildings by the colour and style of their bricks. But these bricks are timeless. The rustic aesthetic has drawn and retained our customer base, even as the company has changed with new technologies and moved under the umbrella of Brickworks Building Products. While the bricks had a very traditional style originally, today they are used in even the most contemporary cutting edge designs.
Are there any examples of original Daniel Robertson brick buildings in Melbourne?
The old Burvale Hotel in Nundawading was one of the original buildings to use Daniel Robertson bricks. When it was designed in 1968, the architects Jorgensen and Hough wanted a textured brick facade as an homage to Frank Lloyd Wright and his advocacy for local materials. The brick factory was nearby and the bricks were made specially for the Hotel. Daniel Robertson were the first to introduce the ‘Roman’ size, which was a 50mm high brick. This was based on Frank Lloyd Wright, whose work was synonymous with this style of brick, even if it was just in the façade. This size is still very popular today.
There a number of newer examples too, such as John Wardle Architect’s Nigel Peck Centre for Learning and Leadership or Glenn Murcutt/Bates Smart’s Swinburne University of Technology, Lilydale Campus. And the Q Apartments in Melbourne, currently under construction, will be a new brick apartment building.
Daniel Robertson is one of the only Brickworks Building Products brands to achieve a carbon neutral certification. What processes do you put in place to achieve this?
The operations of the Tasmanian arm of Daniel Robertson qualified as carbon neutral because we use what is a effectively waste product – saw dust– to fire the kilns. Interestingly, when the factory was still in Nundawading, nothing was wasted there either. Even the seconds were sold under their special category. They were sought after as well, because they also had such a distinctive look.