Design Icons: Wunderlich


From my regular series of Design Icons written for ABC RN Blueprint. You can find others on my Blueprint page and in Podcasts.

Wunderlich was broadcast on 24th July 2021. You can listen to the audio here.

Wunderlich

The red earth of Australia is iconic but in the early twentieth century a different kind of red crept over the face of its towns and cities– the Marseilles roof tile. The terracotta tiles, imported from France, are forever linked to one name: Wunderlich. Because it was the Wunderlich brothers – Ernest, Alfred and Otto – who truly transformed the look of the Australian built environment.

The brothers were all born in London and educated in Switzerland. Ernest was the first to make it to Australia, arriving in Sydney with his new wife Fanny in 1885, intending to make a living from selling architectural fittings, including pressed metal mansard windows, the sort you see on Parisian roofs. He also imported pressed metal ceilings which, when painted, looked as fine as any in plaster. It was quite a coup then when he managed to persuade the builders of the new Town Hall in Sydney that their grand auditorium, with its thundering pipe organ, would be much safer if its ceiling was made of pressed metal, which was unlikely to fall, as plaster might, the moment the organ let rip. Alfred arrived and patented a new method of stamping metal, which they sold to the building and furniture company, WH Rocke. It was Rocke that had first imported the red Marseilles tile, and when the company foundered, the Wunderlich brothers took it over. It meant they were now responsible for supplying tiles and pressed metal from factories in both Melbourne and Sydney. With Otto arriving in 1900, the trio expanded the company, each brother having a particular aptitude for sales, marketing, or product development. When the First World War stopped imports from Europe the Wunderlich company continued to grow, popularising their locally-made pressed metal using Australian motifs like flannel flowers and waratahs, adding decorative terracotta kangaroos and kookaburras to their range of roof tiles. The company captured the spirit of the newly Federated nation, defining a national style.

As architectural tastes changed, the company explored the potential of a new wonder material, asbestos. Durasbestos, as theirs was known, looked like rough-cast plasterwork, perfect for the popular Californian bungalow, and didn’t rot, proving to be immensely popular with builders and homeowners. Today we shake our heads, knowing the disaster and heartbreak the use of this material would bring. One suspects the Wunderlich brothers would have been horrified, too, given they promoted decent working conditions and health benefits for their staff when this was a rare thing. Ernest became a cultural force, too, helping establish the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney and boosting the profile of the Australian Museum. 

The Wunderlich story is a true Australian story, of outsiders finding their fortune and making a difference. The company was absorbed by James Hardie in the 1960s, but it’s a joy still to walk the suburban streets of Australia and admire fine examples of the early Wunderlich legacy, still casting a red glow over the roofs of a nation.

Categories: Architecture, Australia, Design, Icons, radioTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 comments

  1. Was so enjoying reading this Colin, until I got to the ‘Oh dear’ moment. Classic example of things going awry despite the best of intentions. But will be on the lookout for red tiled roofs in future.

  2. This is great! There’s nothing I like more than learning, and this post filled all the criteria. What a gorgeous story. And what amazing names. With a name like Wunderlich you would have to change the world in some wonderful way, wouldn’t you? What legacies to leave. I have one question, what are flannel flowers and waratahs?

    • They do sound like a circus act, don’t they. Nice to introduce them to you… And those special Australian flowers! The flannel flower is rather like a leggy edelweiss, and the waratah is heaven on a plate, the symbol of New South Wales – so beautiful, like flames. Do Google them both!

Leave a Reply to claredue Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

annabellabraydotcom

This WordPress.com site is the bee's knees

Avisha Rasminda

Hi, I'm Avisha Rasminda. Twenty years old.

Ananda Only

an empty space between silence & stillness

Are we there yet?

Diversions, detours and discoveries

Nick Alexander

Author of From Something Old, The Road to Zoe, You Then Me Now, Things We Never Said, The Bottle of Tears, The Other Son, The Photographer's Wife, The Half-Life of Hannah, the 50 Reasons Series. And more...

Dr David T Evans, OBE NTF PFHEA RN(T)

Sexual health matters! It really does!

Dr. Eric Perry

Psychology to Motivate | Inspire | Uplift

Cole Moreton

Award-winning writer and broadcaster

Wildonline.blog

British Wildlife & Photography

Colin Bisset

writer, traveller, broadcaster

Place, Plots and Plans

The PlaceMatt Blog

yamey

ADAM YAMEY - Haikus, history and travel .. and much more!

viewer site

Barbara Heath & Malcolm Enright - our viewer site blog

Museum Travelers

Cultural travel for curious minds

kirilson photography

the stories behind the pictures, and vice versa

Not-So-Modern Girl

Thoughts of a twenty-something girl navigating her way one blog post at a time

Anthony Hillin

Training, Facilitation and Policy development

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.

MOVIE-WARDEN

T.V/Movie News & Reviews

SAVING OUR TREES - Marrickville municipality

Community Tree Watch - working to protect healthy public trees in Marrickville municipality from inappropriate removal

MOVIE MUSIC UK

Film Score Reviews by Jonathan Broxton since 1997

A life in books

Book news, reviews and recommendations

150 great things about the Underground

An unofficial birthday salute to a public transport titan

Mistakes & Adventures

What I've always wanted

Expedictionary

Literary Geography

UNSW Built Environment's Blog

Information from students and staff at Built Environment at the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia.

joe moran's words

on the everyday, the banal and other important matters

The Back Road Chronicles

Curious soul...and it makes me wanna take the back roads!

Fool for France

A house of one's own

Wee Notions

Notes on a napkin

ABOUT SOMETHING AROUND

There is no time to be bored in a world as beautiful as this.

Philip Butler Photography

Documentary / Architecture / Art

Susie Trexler

Secret Knowledge of Spaces

Rebecca Renner

Welcome to Gator Country

DynamicStasis

DynamicStasis is basically an attempt to think about and discuss integrity, beauty, and delight - in architecture and elsewhere.

%d bloggers like this: