BrickCOMB, a lightweight brick aluminium honeycomb panel system from RobCOMB helped CHT Architects meet the client’s brief for a brick finish on the façade of the United Apartments in Richmond, Victoria.

Located in the heart of the highly sought-after suburb of Richmond, United comprises of 111 apartments in one- and two-bedroom configurations with the striking architecture of the building featuring an eye-catching brick façade.

Brick was selected for the podium to meet the existing height restrictions and ensure the building remained contextually heritage. A contemporary tower was added to the three-storey podium, set further back from the street, allowing for better views and light. The architectural design and problem solving allowed this design to come to life.

According to Mark Gifford, Project Leader, CHT Architects at United, Richmond, the client wanted a higher quality brick or brick tile finish. However, this would have been tricky structurally because the façade design was in the form of boxes that step in and out where the balconies are; using bricks would have meant having different lintels for support as well as weatherproofing returns on every corner. The structure was designed to take a brick façade, and not the load of the precast panels.

Brick tiles were chosen to resolve this challenge. But brick tile inlays in a precast façade wouldn’t solve the problem, given the front façade’s complex design and structural implications.

The design was altered to accompany the look of the façade, which allowed for clear returns. Robertson's RobCOMB brick honeycomb panel system was selected to solve these structural complications.

CHT Architects identified RobCOMB’s BrickCOMB panel system as one that could overcome all the design challenges. Used for the first time on a project in Australia, BrickCOMB honeycomb panels were made offsite from detailed shop drawings, requiring significant attention to detail but ensuring quality design outcomes. The brick honeycomb panels are less than 25mm thick, weigh a fraction of solid brick, and can easily accommodate multiple returns and corners.

BrickCOMB honeycomb panels not only met their requirement for a lightweight product but also allowed them to have corner details without any joints.

The brick tiles selected for the application included Antico Casale and Mattoncino Grande. Mark explained that they wanted a brick tile that had the texture of brick. Though the design had a monochrome colour theme at the start, they ended up with light beige instead of light grey, which worked really well as it fit in well with surrounding buildings and added more warmth to the development.

The building’s façade system needed to be approved. The only reason the porcelain brick tile was used was because it had a flat back with the adhesive at the back less than 1mm thick - any thicker, it would have been considered a fire hazard and discarded.

The short construction time of RobCOMB’s panels was another advantage. Mark recalled that the panels arrived in January and their lead time was 16 weeks. The project had to be completed by the end of April, so there was no room for error in the construction program.

Once the BrickCOMB panel system was onsite, the builders found it easy and relatively quick to install. The steel frame behind the BrickCOMB system is fixed to the slab, which is what gives the ‘in and out’ effect of each rectangle.

Since the product was being used in Australia for the first time, it was a learning curve for both the architects and builders. However, they had support from Robertson's people throughout the project. The end result was better than anyone imagined with people calling up and commenting on the building, asking about the product, and saying they want to use it on their buildings.

The client is thrilled with how the building looks, how it’s positioned and the finishes. United, Richmond sold out, off the plan, and the project was delivered on time and under budget, resulting in successful outcomes for all stakeholders.

CHT Architects specified the following BrickCOMB aluminium honeycomb cladding products: Mattoncino Grande Nero; Antico Casale Rosato; Antico Casale Fumo; and Mattoncino Grande Bianco.

Photographer: Ned Meldrum (where indicated) and RobCOMB