Location: 205 Gipps Street, Abbotsford VIC
Structural Engineer: Wallbridge & Gilbert
Developer: Common Equity Housing Ltd
Builder: Becon Constructions
Bricklayer: C&S Lightweight
Photographer: Emma Cross, Roger du Buisson
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A century ago, the inner Melbourne suburbs of Abbotsford and Collingwood were the powerhouse of the Australian boot and shoe industry. After almost 90 years residency, the area’s last footwear manufacturer, the Harold Boot Company, moved out of a single-level, red-brick factory in Abbotsford in 2008.
With three street frontages, the site was ripe for redevelopment as housing. The purchaser was Community Equity Housing Limited (CEHL), a not-for-profit company holding title to over 2200 properties across Victoria, most of which are managed by local housing cooperatives.
Of the 59 apartments and townhouses constructed on the Gipps Street site, 34 were sold and the balance retained by CEHL for letting as community housing. “The project had to be attractive to the market,” explains Peter Dunn, CEHL’s manager property developments and asset management. “We wanted a good finish to the development so we were not keen to progress with a rendered or textured wall finish.” All the dwellings are designed to the same high standard.
CEHL and the architects, KANNFINCH, chose Daniel Robertson® Hawthorn Black clay bricks as the dominant cladding material for the extensive new walling. Not content just with their natural textures and colours, the designers used these premium-quality bricks in creative patterns to add interest, shadow and articulation. “We were keen to demonstrate that social housing is not about straight-up-and-down design,” says Dunn.
The brick facade of the old factory was retained on two elevations and two buildings constructed behind it over a common basement. There are five townhouses on the other (minor) street frontage. The remaining residences are apartments, mainly with one or two bedrooms. A delightfully landscaped communal courtyard sits between the two buildings.
The retained facade forms a plinth to the new structure which is progressively set back and appears to float above as it rises five levels. If anything, the required setback on the top level is a little extreme and obscures the zinc-clad, quasi-industrial sawtooth roofline from the street.
The brickwork is constructed as a simple veneer but laid in a Flemish bond, a pattern normally associated with solid brickwork, that is, two leaves without a cavity. This traditional brick pattern alternates headers and stretchers (the short and long sides of a brick), with each header sitting above and below a stretcher. A whole brick laid as a header traditionally links two thicknesses in a Flemish bond wall. In this application, a single thickness veneer, bricks were halved to create two headers.
“This particular bond gave us the opportunity to use three very different wall textures,” says Max Bachimov, architecture director of KANNFINCH Melbourne. Omitting the header created a perforated wall, also known as hit-and-miss brickwork, which allows light penetration without compromising privacy.Alternatively, some headers project, creating a 3D pattern, an intriguing and surprising texture that also creates shadowplay. The majority of the walling is conventional two-dimensional, although the “dot-dash” rhythm of the Flemish bond is unexpected.
Site context – this is a heritage precinct with old warehouses, light industrial sites and workers’ cottages – was also a factor in selecting brick as was maintenance. “Since CEHL retain ownership of most apartments, it needs to be as low maintenance as possible,” says Bachimov. “Obviously brick fits into this category perfectly.”
KANNFINCH normally works on large commercial projects and Bachimov admits that his brickwork skills were a little rusty but says it was a “great experience. It took me back to the days when I started, when I worked on extensions and houses and you had to understand the courses and where the windows site and so on.”
He praised the work of the bricklaying team who rose to the challenge of the unconventional bond and the design details. “I’m glad this art hasn’t been lost.We were blessed with a contractor who had subbies on the site who could perform these skilful artforms.”
The brickwork veneer is laid on shelf angles, flying past the slab edges to create a uniform soffit. The insulated brickwork mass assisted the buildings to achieve a 6.2 Stars NatHERS rating, along with double glazing, solar-boosted gas hot water and rainwater collection. “Brick played an important part in reaching some of these ESD targets,” says Bachimov.“ It takes the brunt of the external temperature fluctuations.”
Unsurprisingly, the townhouses and private apartments sold promptly after the development’s completion in May 2013.
In other good news, the Harold Boot Company, which traces its roots back to 15th century Leicestershire, successfully relocated to a nearby suburb, only its fifth move since 1650! The company continues to manufacture high-quality equestrian and dress boots, some under the Polo Ralph Lauren label.
All of which goes to show that quality and good design will always find a ready market, a fact that applies equally to footwear and housing, as it does to Daniel Robertson’s distinctive clay bricks.
DANIEL ROBERTSON® HAWTHORN CLAY BRICKS
Daniel Robertson’s Hawthorn Range is a development of the iconic Hawthorn bricks that helped define the character of Melbourne’s prestigious inner-ring suburbs. Their colours reinterpret the Hawthorn bricks while retaining their traditional charm.