If you ask anyone what their idea of a ‘commercial building’ is, you’re likely to get a different answer every time.
Restaurants, offices, aquatic centres, petrol stations and even universities can all be considered ‘commercial’. Yet each of these building types has a unique architectural style and with that comes different cladding needs.
For some buildings, external materials are chosen to make a bold statement, while others are more concerned with what’s practical for the climate and conditions of the site. And of course, fire safety is of the utmost importance for all new and existing Australian structures.
Considering how wide-ranging commercial structures can be, there are endless cladding and external wall materials to choose from. In saying this however, there are a number of high-quality, versatile materials that can serve the purposes of any commercial building.
The rise of timber in commercial builds
The last few years have seen a significant increase in the use of timber cladding for Australian commercial structures.
Timber cladding certainly has a long history in Australian residential structures, if we recall the weatherboard cladding of the nation’s Federation and Queenslander houses. But the use of timber for commercial structures is more of a recent trend, particularly with the advent of engineered timber and the growing awareness of timber as a material that promotes physical and mental wellbeing among employees.
There are some negative perceptions timber has had to overcome – such as its vulnerability to termites, moisture and fire. While these are still valid concerns, Australian timber products have come a long way from what they were in the 19th century, with cross laminated timber (CLT) for example offering superior strength, fire protection and energy efficiency when compared to traditional timber materials. There are also a number of resins and powder coats that when applied improve timber’s ability to stand up to harsh Australian weather conditions, not to mention the growing use of techniques such as Shou Sugi Ban, a Japanese method of charring wood to make it fire and weatherproof.
Timber is sometimes associated with Japanese design, bringing images of tranquil, minimalist and natural structures to mind. However, it is a material that lends itself to many cultures.
Te Ara a Tāwhaki is a stunning example of timber being used to reflect elements of Māori culture.
Situated in Otaki, New Zealand, Te Ara a Tāwhaki is a new building as part of Te Wānanga o Raukawa (a unique learning laboratory specifically for Māori). The building houses a library, main lecture theatre, student services and student hub.
Designed by Tennent Brown, the facade has a unique criss-cross pattern that is reminiscent of traditional Māori flax weaving patterns. This project required a timber that would be stable enough to cope with this application, while weathering gracefully. Maintenance was also a key consideration given the elevated nature of the structure on a commercial building.
The product used was Abodo’s Vulcan Screening, which was chosen for its stability and weathering characteristics. According to Abodo, Vulcan is sustainably sourced thermally modified timber – a chemical-free, heat-based treatment which dramatically increases the durability and stability of the wood.
For additional protection, the timber is coated with Sioo:x, a patented silicon technology that cures by reacting with atmospheric carbon dioxide and moisture to form an insoluble and flexible silica network within the timber surface. The formation of this silica network toughens the surface of the timber and forms an effective barrier against insect attack and rot. The application of Sioo:x also leaves the timber with an aesthetically pleasing natural silver-grey finish.
Another stunning application of this product can be seen in South Australia’s Fleurieu Aquatic Centre, a sustainable indoor aquatic centre designed by lead architect Hames Sharley. The building’s facade is clad in Vulcan in a WB10 profile, which has been used to create a vertical shiplap look.
In this case, Vulcan was chosen for its aesthetic as well as its invisible fixings and sustainability; Vulcan is FSC certified natural wood sourced from sustainable plantations in New Zealand.
Keeping buildings ‘cool’ with aluminium
While modern timber products have certainly proven themselves more than capable of facing up to the Australian environment, there are some applications where aluminium or ‘timber-look’ aluminium might be preferred.
One good example is the BP and David Jones Bayside Store in Melbourne.
Designed by Modus Projects, the store is a new petrol station concept that aims to deliver high quality and innovative food options to consumers. The project used Deco’s 50x50 ‘Quick Click’ DecoBattens to create an entrance that is both welcoming but also reminiscent of a high-end convenience store.
In particular, the ‘Smoked Ash’ DecoWood finished battens are featured above the store’s entrance, creating a soft, elegant and warm presence.
While they have the appearance of timber, the battens are actually made from 100 percent aluminium. The benefit of the batten series is its easy installation. Available in widths of 50mm and 25mm, the battens have a base and cover system where the batten base is fixed onto the surface and the batten cover is simply clicked onto the base.
According to Deco, the battens are a premium timber alternative, providing durability and flexibility not achieved by traditional timber or composite batten products. With their powder coat finish, the battens are also resilient to harsh UV rays and marine environments, while offering a low maintenance solution that never needs painting or staining.
Another aluminium product suitable for commercial exteriors is Mondoclad from HVG Facades.
Mondoclad was used to reclad two buildings at Federation University’s Berwick Campus in Victoria. As these buildings had a contrasting design to the rest of the site, it was essential that the recladding work met the architects’ strict brief to maintain the original ‘cube’ aesthetic.
Mondoclad was chosen not only for its style, but also its strong fire safety ratings.
This product was also used in Brisbane office and residential development 183 North Quay, where the building had its existing aluminium composite cladding removed from the ground-level columns and feature portal, then replaced with Mondoclad panels in a natural brushed finish.
According to HVG Facades, Mondoclad is an ideal non-combustible cladding alternative for builds focused on exceeding fire compliance laws, as well as for the recladding of existing projects that may have once used a combustible cladding project.
Made from marine grade aluminium, this product is highly durable, with its PVDF architectural paint finish ensuring UV stability and colour retention. It is also a sustainable option that is 100 percent recyclable.
Revisiting a traditional choice: Brick
Not to be forgotten is brick, a traditional choice that has been coming back into favour in recent years.
Kaz Tower is a striking example of a modern-yet-traditional commercial and residential building.
Designed by Tony Owen Partners, Kaz Tower is a 14-storey tower surrounded by heritage buildings in urban Sydney.
There were challenges from the start, with strict heritage requirements from the City of Sydney. One of those requirements was to build a brick podium for the first three floors of the building, considering the Kaz Tower would adjoin several historic brick buildings.
With the architect simultaneously wanting a glass façade that would maximise sunlight through each street-front window (a challenge in Sydney’s commercial centre), the design of Kaz Tower required the use of an innovative parametric design technique.
“At different times of the day the sun hits different parts of the building,” says Tony Owen, director of Tony Owen Partners.
“So [using parametric design], we angled the windows in each part of the building according to where the light was coming from at a certain time of the day. And we ended up with a building that had patterned glazing where every window was at a different angle, because the different height would get sun at different times, and at the different times, the sun would have a different angle.”
The addition of a three-storey brick podium and side brick facade to the angled red, yellow and white glass facade made for a highly unique design. While traditional face bricks were selected to construct the podium, a brick inlay facade was the system of choice for the side walls.
Choosing a brick product was not easy, as it was crucial to ensure visual continuity across the podium and facade. In the end, the architects chose the Iron Mountains bricks and brick tiles from Robertson Facade Systems.
“We just couldn’t find a brick tile in an appropriate colour,” says Marianna Mioduszewski, director of Tony Owen Partners.
“We had many samples that did not satisfy anyone. Then Robertson’s Building Products came up with a solid brick and brick tile, which was extremely attractive for us. So, when we found the same face, it was like, that’s it. And colour-wise, it was comparable to the desired look because it was dark – a grey/brown – and not a uniform colour on the face, which was very attractive as well.”
The next challenge was figuring out how to combine the angled facade with the bricks.
“We thought putting the side façade together would be very difficult, but Hanson Precast suggested Robertson Facade Systems’ Brick Inlay,” says Mioduszewski.
“We went to the factory to see how individual panels are formed and shaped and gained a lot of confidence that these panels would be well done. So, we were very confident from day one, and they have proven that it’s definitely the way to go.”
According to Robertson Facade Systems, Brick Inlay is a solution that involves placing thin brick, porcelain or stone tiles into precast concrete panels, to create the look and feel of a traditional brick facade or wall with the efficiencies and benefits of precast concrete. The panels are then delivered on site, ready for construction.
The benefit of this product that it speeds construction time which can in turn significantly reduce construction costs. The product also allows you to customise any pattern and texture you need for your facade, efficiently and cost-effectively.
Robertson Facade Systems
Image: Kaz Tower / Tony Owen Partners