More to it than meets the eye

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-By John Boley

First it was just bricks. Then a variety of materials became popular as so-called ‘cladding’. But the decoration of outer building surfaces has become a much more complicated science in recent years and nowadays the term façade is more appropriate.

There is much more to façade design than merely aesthetics. A well-designed building façade combines both the aesthetic appeal of the architect’s original intentions with the practicality of being durable and energy efficient. Likewise, the choice of materials with which to construct a building’s façade has widened considerably not just with regard to the visual effects available but the environmental and energy-efficiency considerations too.

An expert in this field – with a string of awards to back this up – is Erincole Building Services, based in Queanbeyan, New South Wales. Erincole describes itself as “an innovative and progressive building company that prides itself on being an industry leader in the ACT and NSW, in the installation and fixing of new façade products. Erincole specialises in external building facades, timber construction and flat bed routing, and has facilities to process aluminium composite panels and medium-density fibreboard materials.”

Erincole was founded in 1989 by Alan Richards and his sons David, Craig and Wayne. David went his own way but the others remained, with Alan taking a well-earned retirement in 2004. Since then, the brothers have run the company jointly. Nowadays, Craig told us, Wayne looks after business development, quoting and tendering, while Craig himself runs the sites as a hands-on project manager.

Building specifications and design have changed a lot during the company’s existence, Craig agrees, certainly around Canberra where most of Erincole’s work is but also right across Australia. “You can’t just build a concrete building and splash a bit of paint on it now.” Most types of construction are required to be covered with a certain percentage of decorative panels. “Basically it is making our buildings get away from the concrete, in some way hide the concrete structure. In any case, building with lightweight materials, we can build the buildings a lot quicker these days.” Craig points out that it is easier now; for example, with a building of eight to 10 storeys with lightweight walls and panels, “when the building gets to the fourth floor, we can start on the first floor and follow them up with the structure, cladding the building as they build in front of us.”

The family began mainly as fitout carpenters, doing fitouts in shops and office complexes. But the work was inconsistent – “always up and down” – so they branched out to become one of the fist companies in Canberra to extend its offer beyond the carpentry contract to the Gyprock and the external finishing. “So with us, the builders got a whole package. We would quote for the fitout and all the external works on the project. That went on for ten years with really good results,” by which time there was a lot of extra competition for inside work from people coming from overseas, so Erincole took a decision to specialise more on the external work.

The company prefers something with a little more interest than merely nailing on some form of cladding outside a building. “We take on the projects that are more challenging,” says Craig. “We like to get in early with the architects and the owners and help to develop the design.” Erincole can design and program a project in order to help it run as smoothly as possible. “If possible, we get in on the ground floor early on and we do take on the harder projects, the more specialised projects.”

Working on buildings such as Brindabella Business Park and Acton (the Acton project is a 25 storey building, most of which is curtain wall with some aluminium composite panels and a stainless steel panel as well) earned Erincole a reputation for delivering innovative and complex external façades together with completing projects on time and on budget. “This was evidenced in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010 with MBA awards for external building façades, and we were named the ACT sub-contractor of the year in 2007 and 2008.” Craig says winning the subcontractor award multiple times has never been done before, “so we’re pretty happy with that.”

The company is relaxed about advising architects on the appropriate type of façade. “They come to us and describe their vision of how they want the finished building to look, with perhaps several alternative materials in mind, and ask what we recommend and which way to proceed.” Getting involved in design is a good part of the job. Craig says there is considerably more focus nowadays on the appearance of the finished building so the architects and designers can present their building design as more than just a structure. He says that two of the company’s clients are seriously enthusiastic about creating what is more or less a work of art, not just an office block or apartment house. In the New Acton South apartments, for example, there is creative use of Corten.

Corten steel is a material which produces a corroding protective layer when it is in contact with the atmosphere. The material is suitable for the construction of strikingly attractive façades, is an unfavourable surface for graffiti artists and maintains a high light fastness. In this case it is used to make a feature, a waterfall, and “for months and months we were talking to the builder, the designer and the draughtsman about how we were going to build it. We came up with a sketch that showed how we could manufacture the product, we built it and it looks fantastic.” This is a quarter-million dollar feature on the building that the client wanted.

Erincole still does internal work if it overlaps, so to speak, with the exterior. For example, the atrium of the Canberra airport terminal currently under construction will feature some 2000 square metres of alucobond panelling on the inside of the atrium. It is three storeys high and also features extensive glass.

Erincole is geared to multiple projects, with its own team which Craig and Wayne prefer to rely on rather than outside subcontractors. “We find it is easier to manage our own workforce, we can control it more,” explains Craig. With subcontractors, “you get ones that just come and go. When we take on a project we can say to the major contractor, “˜we’ve got 40 of our own men’; there will be 40 men here for the project that we know, that will not just be blokes coming in off the street.” This is not always important to the project owners, but Craig believes it is becoming more significant across the board as more and more independent staff just “chase the dollar. When you’ve got your own staff you can control your own destiny better.”

The company makes a point of finding and training at least two or three apprentices per year. “We put them through the carpentry and joinery apprenticeship ourselves. A lot of our apprentices stay on. A couple of them who were trained from day one are now running major projects.” In Andy and Jeff, the company has two experts with more than 70 years’ combined experience, but there is also Jackson Roberts, “who has just come out of his apprenticeship and is now running million dollar projects. He is still only in his early 20s, but he is very confident. Wayne does all the quoting and the running of the business. I run the sites as a project manager overseeing Jeff, Andy and Jackson Roberts and a couple of the junior foremen. We run anywhere from 40 to 60 full time carpenters.”

The company has an in-house programmer and design abilities and manufactures from its workshop in Queanbeyan to distribute to all the different sites. “There is minimal manufacturing on-site apart from any alterations that have to be done with the sheets, such as penetrations. We have four staff working full time in the workshop just cutting and manufacturing anything that is needed for the sites.”

Business prospects are bright, says Craig. In general there was something of a downturn in the first half of last year, as with everywhere else. “That’s across the board. We’re talking with all subcontractors, builders, plumbers, electricians. But we seem to be a little sheltered here.” This area takes longer than the national average to get back to speed, “but everybody seems to be on their feet now and everybody is positive. There are projects springing up everywhere.” The sight of building cranes around the place indicates a positive outlook, he says, “and every building project manager or builder I speak to is very positive about the year, the next 18 months at least.”

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 14, 2020, 1:14 PM AEST