'The ceiling that lasts a lifetime'
It was the Wunderlich brothers’ interest in music that led to their first significant contribution to the field of building and construction in Australia. The new Centennial Hall (the concert hall space in Sydney’s Town Hall) was completed in 1889 and included a huge pipe organ. Ernst Wunderlich successfully argued that the elaborate plaster ceilings would almost certainly collapse when the sixty-four foot lower C pipe was sounded, thus Wunderlich Ltd won the contract to install a stamped zinc ceiling. This proved to be very successful and led to further contracts. A booklet of testimonies produced in 1915 lauding the acoustic properties of metal ceilings includes testimonials from musical luminaries such as Dame Nellie Melba.
Another marketing ploy by Wunderlich Ltd stressed the hygienic properties of their metalwork which was easily able to be cleaned and didn’t harbour germs.
Wunderlich’s entry into the decorative metal market involved not only ceilings, but products such as gargoyles, friezes, urns and statuary. It appears that Wunderlich Ltd was both importing and manufacturing metal wares at the turn of the century, until its factory in Redfern was fully established and able to complete all aspects of metal production. Zinc was the preferred metal, being malleable and have good relief properties, but iron, lead, copper and aluminium were also used. Wunderlich’s process involved stamping, rather than pressing the metal, which gave a cleaner and more precise effect.
Wunderlich’s first foray into decorative metal occurred when the Victorian era was at its height. Decoration was derivative and fussy, utilising decorative motifs such as acanthus leaves, egg and dart patterns, and palmettes. Subsequent changes in fashion and taste can be traced through Wunderlich’s designs: Gothic shapes such as roundels and piers, nature inspired Art Nouveau motifs of foliage and flowers, geometric, symmetrical designs from the Art Deco era and plain, streamlined curves reflecting the International moderne style.