729-731 Burwood Road, Hawthorn East VIC
Builder / Bricklayer:
Wallbridge & Gilbert
HAWK WITH A PEDIGREE
Heritage or contemporary? Building in the historic heart of Melbourne’s brick industry.
In the mid to late 1800s, the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn was the centre of a vibrant brickmaking industry which gave rise to the character-filled Hawthorn bricks which are still a byword.
The most famous of these were made by the Upper Hawthorn Brick Company founded by the Holzer brothers and Gustav Fritsch. Their legacy continues not just in the polychromatic facades of Victorian and Edwardian Melbourne, but in the Fritsch HolzerPark, their former brickworks site.
Architects Ola Studio took their material cue from that heritage for the new Ari Apartments, located a few hundred metres from the 5.6 hectare (14 acre) park. Although alternatives to brick were considered, Ola Studio director Phil Snowdon explains “we just felt it was right to do a brick building in the location because of the history of the area. So we locked into brick fairly quickly.”
The Ari complex – nine two-bedroom apartments and a retail tenancy – sits on a narrow site that previously held a Victorian-era shop with residence above, sandwiched in a terrace of similar buildings. The site is well located, being in striking distance of the Burke Road and Glenferrie Road shopping precincts, Swinburne University, and Glenferrie Oval, the historic home of the all-conquering Hawks AFL team.
A hardwood timber batten screen rises three levels from the street, framing the shop window and screening upper-level balconies. Entry to the apartments is via a narrow walkway to the right of the shop, paved with bricks salvaged from the old building and laid on their edge. A rear laneway provides vehicle access to the 13 car stacker.
The apartments – there are three on each of three levels – are efficiently planned and accessed by an external corridor, avoiding a typical long and narrow layout. The design allows for good light and cross-ventilation while enabling very liveable accommodation and room sizes. The tight site constraints restricted structural options such as precast concrete panels. Consequently the building is clad in brick and concrete masonry over a structure of suspended slabs with in situ columns, effectively a hybrid of conventional residential and commercial practices.
Both Austral Bricks (Victoria) and Daniel Robertson make modern interpretations of traditional Hawthorn bricks. However, after “tirelessly researching” these modern bricks, Snowdon decided to select a darker unit with a more contemporary materiality, Austral Bricks Elements Zinc. These metallic-glazed units change colour and reflectance with the ever-changing light. “The metallics are more neutral in colour and texture than older-style bricks,” he explains.
The brickwork was laid in Flemish bond, that is, with alternating stretchers (the long side of the brick) and headers (the short side). Most brickwork today is laid in stretcher bond, that is with the stretchers half overlapping the unit above and below. “Old brick walls look fantastic and the majority of those are built with a Flemish bond,” says Snowdon.
A further reason for specifying Flemish bond on this project was the ease with which it can incorporate hit-and- miss (perforated) brickwork. In this case half bricks are omitted to create perforated screens at balconies. This allows ventilation and views out, while retaining privacy. This was especially important to the rear where oversighting by an eight- storey apartment building could have been an issue, “so we felt it was quite important to screen the private spaces in the bedrooms as much as possible.”
The ‘full’/half’ rhythm of Flemish bond imparts an unexpected texture to the wall, something that cannot be achieved with painted or sheeted surfaces. “We love the modularity of brickwork,” Snowdon tells us. “It allowed us to add a layer of texture and patterning to the facade, which is a little unfamiliar,” adding that Flemish bond “feels more crafted than stretcher bond. It was a way of getting the texture we wanted across the building.” He adds that the brickies “did a great job, the brickwork was fantastic.”
Although Snowdon has used brick tiles on other projects “we find just using brick as it is meant to be is good.” He considers brick tiles to be “too perfect. You don’t get that beauty that a brick wall has, and certainly we like to play with the modularity of brick, to be able push it forward or pull it back in places.” Patterning is also important “and you can’t do that with tiles. We have also found that building in brick veneer is about the same price as a brick tiled wall.”
Brick tiles can be applied off site to precast panels but in his experience they come at too high a premium and are vulnerable to edge chipping during transport and installation. Snowdon describes the strict geometry of the Ari design as “an edgy aesthetic for Hawthorn,” and more likely to be seen in the hipster suburbs of Richmond and Fitzroy.
This is reinforced by the hardwood vertical battens screening busy Burwood Road from the front balconies, and the narrow entry walkway which is paved with red bricks salvaged from the former premises.
Internally, the use of off-form concrete finishes and plywood lining complements this feeling of solidity and sturdiness. “It’s quite raw and has less shiny aesthetic than is usual for Hawthorn.”
Ola studio, a partnership between Phil Snowdon and Manos Mavridis, works mainly in residential – standalone and multi – as well as hospitality design. Their unusual specialty is zoo projects. Ola’s Lemur Exhibit at Melbourne Zoo won the 2014 People’s Choice Award for Public Architecture at the AIA’s World Architecture Day celebrations.
It’s over 130 years since Johann, Martin and Anton Holzer and Gustav Augustus Fritsch merged their neighbouring brick operations. No doubt they would be gratified that their name and legacy is still commemorated. They would be even more surprised at the developments that the humble clay brick has undergone, especially in this past decade.
Ari Apartments reached practical completion in early 2015.
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