The ever-changing faces of Australian commercial design



If you ask someone what their idea for a “commercial building” is, you will probably get a different answer each time.

Restaurants, offices, aquatic centers, gas stations and even universities can all be considered “commercial”. However, each of these types of buildings has a unique architectural style and with that, different cladding needs.

For some buildings, exterior materials are chosen to make a bold statement, while others are more concerned with what is practical for the climate and site conditions. And of course fire safety is of the utmost importance to all new and existing Australian structures.

Given the diversity of commercial structures, there are endless siding materials and exterior walls to choose from. However, in saying this, there are a number of high quality versatile materials that can serve the purposes of any commercial building.

The rise of wood in tertiary buildings

The last few years have seen a significant increase in the use of timber siding for Australian commercial structures.

Timber siding certainly has a long history in Australian residential structures, if one recalls the wood plank siding of Federation and Queenslander homes across the country. But the use of wood for commercial structures is more of a recent trend, especially with the advent of engineered wood and the growing awareness of wood as a material that promotes the physical and mental well-being of employees.

The wood had to overcome some negative perceptions, such as its vulnerability to termites, humidity and fire. While these concerns are still valid, Australian forest products have come a long way from where they were at 19e century, with cross-laminated timber (CLT) for example offering superior resistance, fire protection and energy efficiency compared to traditional wood materials. There are also a number of resins and powder coatings which, when applied, improve the ability of wood to withstand harsh Australian weather conditions, not to mention the increasing use of techniques such as Shou Sugi Ban, a Japanese method of charring wood to make it burn and waterproof.

Wood is sometimes associated with Japanese design, evoking images of tranquil, minimalist and natural structures. However, it is a material that lends itself to many cultures.

Te Ara a Tāwhaki is an amazing example of wood used to reflect elements of Maori culture.

Located in Otaki, New Zealand, Te Ara a Tāwhaki is a new building that is part of Te Wānanga o Raukawa (a unique learning lab specifically for Maori). The building houses a library, a main amphitheater, student services and a student center.

Designed by Tivez Brown, the facade features a unique crisscross pattern reminiscent of traditional Maori linen weaving patterns. This project required a wood stable enough to cope with this application, while resisting the elements. Maintenance was also a key factor given the high nature of the structure of a commercial building.

The product used was Abodo’s Vulcan Screening, which was chosen for its stability and weather resistance characteristics. According to Abodo, Vulcan is thermally modified wood of sustainable origin – a chemical-free heat treatment that dramatically increases the durability and stability of the wood.

For added protection, the wood 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 on the surface of the wood. The formation of this silica network hardens the surface of the wood and forms an effective barrier against insect attack and rot. The application of Sioo: x also leaves the wood with a natural and aesthetic silver gray finish.

Another amazing application of this product can be seen at the Fleurieu Aquatic Center in South Australia, a sustainable indoor aquatic center designed by Chief Architect Hames Sharley. The facade of the building is clad in Vulcan in a WB10 profile, which was used to create a vertical rebate look.

In this case, Vulcan was chosen for its aesthetics as well as its invisible fixings and durability; Vulcan is FSC certified natural wood from sustainable plantations in New Zealand.

Keeping buildings “cool” with aluminum

While modern wood products have certainly proven to be more than able to cope with the Australian environment, there are some applications where aluminum or “wood look” aluminum might be preferred.

A good example is the BP and David Jones Bayside store in Melbourne.

Designed by Modus Projects, the store is a new concept of gas station that aims to provide consumers with innovative and high quality food options. The project used Deco’s 50×50 “Quick Click” DecoBattens to create an entryway that is both welcoming and reminiscent of a high-end convenience store.

In particular, the finished DecoWood ‘Smoked Ash’ slats are featured above the store entrance, creating a soft, elegant and warm presence.

Although they look like wood, the slats are actually made from 100% aluminum. The advantage of the slat series is its ease of installation. Available in widths of 50mm and 25mm, the slats have a base and cover system where the slat base is fixed to the surface and the slat cover is simply snapped onto the base.

According to Deco, slats are an alternative to premium wood, providing durability and flexibility that traditional wood or composite products cannot achieve. With their powder-coated finish, the slats are also resistant to UV rays and marine environments, while providing a low-maintenance solution that never needs painting or staining.

Another aluminum product suitable for commercial exteriors is Mondoclad from HVG Façades.

Mondoclad was used to cover two buildings on the Berwick campus of Federation University in Victoria. As these buildings had a contrasting design from the rest of the site, it was essential that the cladding works meet the architects’ strict specifications to maintain the original ‘cubic’ aesthetic.

Mondoclad was chosen not only for its style, but also for its strong fire safety ratings.

This product was also used in the Brisbane 183 North Quay office and residential development, where the building had its existing aluminum composite cladding removed from the ground level columns and main portal, then replaced with Mondoclad panels in a natural brushed finish.

According to HVG Façades, Mondoclad is an ideal non-combustible coating alternative for constructions focused on exceeding fire compliance laws, as well as for coating existing projects that may have previously used a combustible coating project.

Made from marine grade aluminum, this product is very durable, with its architectural PVDF paint finish ensuring UV stability and color retention. It is also a sustainable option which is 100 percent recyclable.

Revisiting a traditional choice: brick

Not to mention brick, a traditional choice that has been making a strong comeback in recent years.

The Kaz Tower is a vivid example of a modern and traditional commercial and residential building.

Designed by Tony Owen Partners, the Kaz Tower is a 14-story tower surrounded by heritage buildings in the city of Sydney.

There were challenges from the start, with strict heritage requirements from the City of Sydney. One of these requirements was to construct a brick podium for the first three floors of the building, as the Kaz Tower would adjoin several historic brick buildings.

With the architect simultaneously wishing for a glass facade that would maximize sunlight through each window facing the street (a challenge in the Sydney shopping center), the design of the Kaz Tower required the use of a innovative parametric design.

“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 oriented the windows of each part of the building according to the source of the light at a certain time of the day. And we ended up with a building that had patterned glazing where each window was at a different angle because the different height would get the sun at different times, and at different times the sun would have a different angle.

The addition of a three-story brick podium and brick side facade to the slanted red, yellow and white glass facade resulted in a very unique design. While traditional facing bricks were chosen to build 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 a suitable color,” says Marianna Mioduszewski, director of Tony Owen Partners.

“We had a lot of samples that no one was happy with. Then Robertson’s Building Products came up with a solid brick and a brick tile, which was extremely attractive to us. So when we found the same face, it was like, that’s it. And color wise, it was comparable to the desired look as it was dark – a gray / brown – and not a uniform color across the face, which was also very appealing.

The next challenge was to figure out how to combine the sloping facade with the bricks.

“We thought the assembly of the side facade would be very difficult, but Hanson Precast suggested the brick inlay from Robertson Facade Systems,” says Mioduszewski.

“We went to the factory to see how the individual panels are formed and shaped and we gained great confidence that these panels would be made right. So we were very confident from day one and they proved this is definitely the way to go. “

According to Robertson Facade Systems, Brick Inlay is a solution that involves placing thin brick, porcelain, or stone tiles in precast concrete panels, to create the look and feel of a facade or brick wall. traditional brick with the efficiency and advantages of precast concrete. The panels are then delivered to the site, ready to be built.

The advantage of this product is that it speeds up construction time, which in turn can significantly reduce construction costs. The product also allows you to customize any pattern and texture you need for your facade efficiently and economically.


Robertson facade systems

Britton Wood

HVG facades


Image: Tour Kaz / Partners Tony Owen


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