Secret world of bricks revealed ahead of Melbourne development launch

Secret bricks

Kathy Demos with samples of the mirror-like bricks. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

Reflective bricks developed under intense secrecy will make their debut in a Melbourne development later this year.

And the unusual product has provided a rare insight to the innovators working behind the scenes with a product that has barely changed in generations.

Five years ago a team of five at PGH Bricks & Pavers — a subsidiary of building products giant CSR — hatched the idea alongside interior product designer Kathy Demos.

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The idea of the mirror-like finish that changed colour throughout the day was to give bricks a “sense of lightness”, allowing them to reflect the world around them and seem less bulky.

“No one saw it as an odd idea, or one to be dismissed,” Ms Demos said.

“It was a very serious undertaking, but the fact that we were doing something in secret did make it very intriguing.”

While the idea was formed in Melbourne, the bricks were made at a factory in NSW where access could be limited.

Close up of industrial bricklayer installing bricks on construction site

The world of bricks hasn’t changed much in centuries.

A member of PGH’s acquisitions team was told to source a powder with “metallic-like properties”, but never knew what it was for.

Once it came in, a single line operator was selected to place every test and sample into the 1000 degree kiln and retrieve them before anyone else saw them.

They were then kept under lock and key in an operations manager’s office.

A lab technician tested them for quality and eventually they wound up with colours ranging from amber to gold and zinc.

CSR marketing manager Kim Roughan, then with PGH, was the only other person who knew they existed.

“It was one of those times in your career when you are acting on a gut instinct,” Ms Roughan said.

Production complete, the bricks were locked away until a Melbourne developer asked for something different.

The Luminess development in Essendon will use the reflective bricks across its lower two levels.

The Luminess development in Essendon will use the reflective bricks across its lower two levels where they will interact with those passing by on the street.

Permarc developments boss Lawrence Lee will use the bricks to build the bottom two levels of an Essendon project named Luminess in honour of the new material.

“We feel really proud to be the first to use these bricks,” Mr Lee said.

“The cutting-edge design will make the building truly one of a kind, and we’re confident it will be enjoyed for generations to come.”

The project will commence sales later this year.

Ms Roughan said a handful of developments would have the bricks in the next few years, but they had never been designed to replace the industry standard.

But “bricks have to change”, according to Ms Demos.

Last year ASX-listed Fastbrick Robotics caused a stir using their Hadrian X bricklaying robot to build a three-bedroom house in under three days.

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“I think you will soon see more evolution in the way bricks are made and installed than in almost any other product sector,” Ms Demos said.