Architect Peter Besley worked closely with PGH Bricks & Pavers to select the right kind of brick for a new family home in suburban Brisbane.
Located in Bardon, a suburb known for its hilly topography, leafy streets, and excellent views to the city centre, the Couldrey Street house with its fascinating brickwork facade is literally turning heads and has become a talking point for locals.
A UK architect working in Australia, Besley was chosen by the clients to create something unique.
“Clients who come to me already know they want something pretty special, and then the project becomes discovering what kind of special thing that is,” said Besley.
“Neither of us knows at the outset, and this is as it should be when creating a unique piece of architecture.”
Besley views brick as a quality material worthy of the attention of the best architects. “I aimed for this house to emerge up out of the ground and speak about permanence and solidity, so brick was a suitable choice.”
Besley worked closely with PGH Bricks & Pavers not only on brick selection but also the mortar mixes. He had a light-coloured brick in mind, with good clay content and minimal rubbish, and dimensions that would work with the linear approach he was taking with the facade.
“The PGH staff were very tolerant of me endlessly rummaging through their stockpiles on the hunt for the perfect brick. They were also helpful talking through the mortar. Like two pastry chefs, I spent some hours debating mortar mixes with a PGH brickie in Oxley, and it was well worth it,” stated Besley.
“I knew the brick would have to complement a white mortar mix, and that these textures and whites would need to work together. I made a long list, then a short list, then finally whittled it down to the Blanco.”
Besley’s choice of brick, Blanco Linear from PGH Brick & Pavers’ Morada range, delivered a striking finish to the Bardon project. Formed in Spain using ultra fine clay, this premium range delivers clean lines and a matte, porcelain-like finish. Morada is a fresh, colour-through brick that is ideal for sleek, sophisticated and creative projects.
Describing his unique approach to the brickwork, both in its overall design as well as the detailing, Besley said, “The brick acts as a beautiful jacket on the building; closed to the west and south elevations, then opening to the views and breezes to the north and east. No windows at all are presented to the harsh Queensland western aspect. Instead, the brickwork is folded in concertinas in a scale play around the main entrance door, which catches the afternoon light. To the south, slots are cut into the brick facade to create brick louvres, giving both shading and privacy to that elevation.
“The design places the common spaces on top rather than at ground level, so together with siting and tall ceilings, it gives the occupant a feeling of living high up in the tree canopies. Unusual for a house, the concrete structure allowed a flat centrally draining roof like a commercial building with parapets. Finally, the doors and windows are oversized vertically, stretching up high for excellent daylighting and permitting extensive views to the sky.”
The brickwork uses extruded mortar snots – a technique that allows the excess mortar that’s pushed out of the joint during the laying, to remain as a projection without striking it off, creating a distinctive feature in the brickwork.
“I wanted this for several reasons,” stated Besley. “The snots are expressed in the bed joint and not the perpend, giving a strong horizontal effect like corduroy. This has the effect of unifying the brickwork, which otherwise has a standard brick unitised, cellularised appearance. Secondly, the projections of the snots catch the strong sunlight and create a visually complex play of shadows. Lastly, the snots are irregular, unlike the bricks, and together the textural effect is striking, and starts to form aesthetic allegiances with landscape features. People have likened the brick to tree bark, for example, or sedimentary rock.”
Builder Tyson Marshall from TMRP described the build as quite unique, utilising pre-tensioned hollow core planks to span large distances creating an open living space. “The extruded snot mortar was quite abstract and it took some research to find a bricklayer who was confident in doing the project,” said Marshall.
The bricklaying was enthusiastically undertaken by the team from BTK Bricklaying, led by Tim Knoblauch.
According to Knoblauch, this was a one-of-a-kind job. “On this project, we had to leave all the bed joints extruding from the brick and all the perp joints were struck off flush. White cement with white beach sand was used to give this a nice white colour mortar. Two shovels of lime were also added into the mix. The lime is there to help strengthen the mortar with the joints pushed out. Also, lime will always self-repair itself if there is any small wear and tear from the elements.”
Due to all the mortar being left out, the bricklayers were unable to use a level to keep the brickwork plumb. “The way around this was by taking measurements off the cavity and checking every brick as we built our corners to attach a line to fill in the wall between the corners,” commented Knoblauch.
“The Morada Blanco Linear bricks we were working with were nice and light, a very true and straight brick to lay. The project was a really good mental challenge. All bricks are different. Every job is different and that’s what makes our job so good.”
In addition to the façade of the house, the PGH Morada Blanco Linear bricks were also used as paving for the entrance path, and for the fireplace backdrop where the bricks were ripped in half and laid back-to-back to create a feature wall of the brick hollows.
According to Marshall, the building has certainly caught a lot of attention. “It is a very bold building with no others like it within Brisbane. As builders, we are always striving to challenge ourselves with new types of construction and Couldrey Street was perfect for it.”
Besley says the design fits the landscape but not the surrounding houses. “Interestingly I have had artists, not architects, say to me they think the building is in closer dialogue with the landscape than vernacular houses. That said, I’ve been surprised by positive comments from some local people.
“Some of the biggest fans of the building are the local bus drivers, who pass it each day and sometimes stop to give their thoughts.”
Describing the style of the home as sober and somewhat other-worldly, Besley thinks the look will change as the plants in the huge planter boxes get underway.
“Buildings should get better over time, and whilst I am generally happy with the finished brickwork, I am expecting it will become more beautiful and more nuanced as it weathers and ages.”