Bring back the brick

By Rhonda Dredge

It has been business as usual for City of Melbourne councillor Nick Reece with days full of Zoom meetings and the added load of three children at his home in Fitzroy.

But while he’s been working outside the CBD and exercising along nearby streets he has fallen in love with the brick.

“Melbourne is a city built of brick,” he said, citing Guilford Lane as an example in the city. 

“I love the look and texture of old brick walls. I think about the hours of hard work and skill of brick-layers, who more than 100 years ago built these beautiful walls literally brick by brick.”  

The council’s chair of planning Cr Reece wants to bring the brick back to the CBD and give more protection to those brick walls that exist, particularly internal ones.

The COVID-19 lockdown has made people painfully aware of what we already have and created a desire among many to protect it.

Cr Reece said he was “heartbroken” when a brick wall was demolished recently next to the 1855 Le Louvre boutique in Collins St because the wall wasn’t on the street.

“It was not covered by heritage protections because it was not part of the street facing façade, but it was part of the character of the square around Nauru House. There are too many examples like Le Louvre,” he said. 

Councillors don’t have the power to save brick walls unless they are protected but they can try and change attitudes.

“There are more heritage controls than in the past but they don’t apply to internal brickwork. There needs to be a new level of protection,” he said. 

Demolition for the Metro Tunnel has unearthed brick and bluestone walls at the back of Young and Jackson’s. While they won’t be demolished, there may be no protection for maintaining their materiality.

Bluestone, Hawthorn bricks and red clinker bricks provide the colours of Melbourne. “You just don’t get the same character in the precast, machine made, tilt slab and glass walls of today,” he said.

The council has recently brought in a new Melbourne Design Guide C308 which provides details down to 20: 1 of materials to protect this materiality. “We don’t want to see beautiful brick under walls replaced,” Cr Reece said. 

He said the council is closely supervising the use of tile brick walls in tilt slab construction. 

“The recent trend towards brick tiles can be hit and miss.  If it is done well then it works.  But if it is done badly then it looks like the cheap faux brick wall that it is.”

In Peel St, Collingwood, there are examples of how this material has been used well at street level. Cr Reece is hoping to see ideas transported to the city and bricks used at the base of glass towers.

“Streets like this combine new and old references in materials,” he said. “We see no reason why the first 20 metres can’t use higher grade materials.” •

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