The 2017 season of The Block showcased the hottest trends in bricks – dark colours, blends of rich textures, complemented by dark metal cladding and slimline roof tiles.
Last year the show centred on five rescued weatherboard homes – uprooted from all over Victoria to be renewed in front of the cameras and then added to in the form of spectacular and imposing two-storey modern brick additions, which feature some innovative and exciting products from PGH Bricks, the bricks and pavers division of one of the most trusted leaders in building products, CSR Limited.
Texture becomes the hero in the additions. Layering different structural materials underscore the tactile dimension of the darker tones in the brick selection.
Located in Elsternwick, the teams had the opportunity to restore period features in the older homes – then complemented them with state-of-the-art modern fittings and modern architectural elements in the two-storey additions. A perfect blend of styles.
Lead architect Julian Brenchley has been the architect behind the scenes at The Block from day one – from 2002, in fact. Along with his team, he sources the houses, designs the exteriors and deals with all the necessary planning permits along the way.
He’s really the show’s best-kept secret.
“I am the architect behind the scenes,” he says. “I don’t get involved in interiors at all, which is probably a good thing. That’s their [the contestants’] bag really. Really the outside is my domain. I work on all the architecture and the approvals for the houses. Sourcing the houses, making sure the design works; that’s where I kind of step in.”
Elsternwick is very much a traditional brick-and-tile suburb and Brenchley wanted to show respect for the neighbourhood aesthetic, while still adding elements of modernity to his design choices.
He chose a complementary palette of dark coloured face brick for the pavilions, as he calls the two-storey additions, while still including a diversity of textures and finishes. Three of the five teams – Sarah and Jason, Ronnie and Georgia and Josh and Elyse – have the same brick on the exterior walls, Balmerino Blend, a dry-pressed brick, which creates harmony within the development.
What also makes the bricks such an effective element of the houses is the dark colour shared by all bricks, another conscious decision on the part of Brenchley to create a powerful and modern palette.
“We got the bricklayers to use a darker grout, so you see more of the brick colour, not the mortar colour,” he explains. “If you use a lighter colour, your eye goes to the crisscross of the mortar pattern, which is itself a design idea or a design intent, but we’ve gone the other way. We want to see the brick rather than the mortar. And it’s really quite a significant feature.”
“It’s about texture. Texture, texture, texture,” he says. “It’s a counterpoint against all the other modern finishes that tend to creep into modern buildings these days. It’s a textural response.”
Brenchley says he always designs his buildings, whether for The Block or his own practice, with commercial reality in mind. Brick is a good choice because it is low maintenance and has a classic appeal, he says.
“That’s been the benefit of face brick since time immemorial,” he adds. “You put up a face brick and as long as you are happy with the colour you won’t have to touch it until you demolish it 80 100, 200 years later.
“Low maintenance is a big thing nowadays.”
Because, despite the seeming glamour of the television series, it all comes down to the local real estate market. At the end of the day, he says, it’s about winning.
“The show is about being able to sell these places for the best possible price. That’s what it comes down to. That’s how you win, so really, it’s about finding the product that suits the architecture of course, the timeframe and then the end product – so what it looks like.”