The Future is Brick

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-By John Boley

Con Zarafetas believes in brick. As construction manager of Conrina Constructions, one of eastern Australia’s leading masonry contractors, he might be expected to like working with brick. But Con is keen to stress its bright future as a building material at a time when some people in the industry are tending to write it off.

“Brickwork has been around for thousands of years and it’s tried and tested. All the new products that are trying to replace it haven’t really been around long enough to be thoroughly tested to see what the outcomes are going to be. We are a traditional trade but still relevant – obviously not to the scale we used to be but I’m convinced and confident that there is a good future for brick as a construction material.”

Much of Conrina’s recent work has been on schools. “The bricks on the schools are going to last over a hundred years. Most of the schools in this country are brick-built and they are still there, as an example of the longevity of brickwork. They will still look good in a hundred years’ time. They don’t deteriorate.”

Brick is evolving to meet changing demands from architects and contractors, says Con. At the Redfern Housing Redevelopment, for example (see sidebar), the 4-5 storey buildings on the corners of the development are finished in glazed brick, “moving into more architectural design, more features.”

In general, then, brickwork is “not finished yet, not by a long shot – we might have lost the internal walls in buildings to other products but the facades will still remain, I think.”

In another project, Knox Grammar school in Wahroonga, currently under way, good old-fashioned craftsmanship is what Con believes sets his company apart. “It’s a very detailed job with old fashioned brickwork – something of a landmark project that will advertise the quality of brick.” He explains that the architect is “brick-friendly” and the school, a boarding school with a lengthy heritage, was keen to ensure continuity in new buildings so wanted the facade to be brickwork to match its other buildings. The design features many “old-style features from yesteryear – huge dome arches, a herringbone pattern in the brickwork, which is very difficult and time-consuming. We were pre-selected for that job because of our quality – we have men able to do that sort of work – and because of all the awards we have won for excellence in brickwork.”

It’s a big job too, involving laying some 100,000 bricks. “On the Knox project we have a site manager who has more than 30 years experience; he can remember doing these sort of things as an apprentice, whereas today’s bricklayers, a lot of them would not have the skill any more. There’s definitely no substitute for experience.”

So is Conrina better placed than anyone else do do this type of work? “I think so, yes.” In any case, says Con, “there are not many companies that could get it done in that time-frame. It’s all about servicing the programme, and the scale of a project. In this kind of project, the brick is the most visible part of the project; if the builder doesn’t get the brick right, then the job won’t be successful. He has to select a bricklayer that can deliver the quality.”

Conrina does not advertise and relies mainly on repeat business from clients that recognise the company’s quality – Con acknowledges that its prices are not always the cheapest but sufficient project owners do understand and appreciate that cheapest is rarely best.

Although the use of brick has declined for some purposes, Conrina remains well placed. “The service we offer will become more niche, we’ll end up being more of a follow-on trade, less critical-path, more ‘feature’ than ‘bulk’. People will choose brick more as a feature, less as a construction type.” Finally, Con recalls just how old brickmaking is: “It’s the second-oldest profession in the world. Don’t forget the first industry in the convict settlements was brickmaking.”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

July 16, 2020, 9:42 AM AEST