'A versatile medium'
Apart from roofing tiles, the Wunderlich Company was the only Australian manufacturer of glazed architectural terracotta or faience, at its manufacturing plants in Rosehill and Sunshine. Terracotta as a building material (not just a roofing material) first came to prominence in the late 19th century as the introduction of steel-framed buildings meant that external walls no longer had to be load bearing.
Building innovations such as reinforced concrete and lifts led to changes in the sizes of buildings and the materials required. It was a very popular material in the United States of America where many significant terracotta clad buildings in New York and Chicago still exist.
Wunderlich Ltd began manufacturing glazed terracotta cladding in 1924 and the material became so popular that a number of architects changed their designs midway through the construction process. All Wunderlich's architectural terracotta was glazed in single colours or special speckled, mottled or textured finishes. Like metal surfaces, glazed terracotta was seen to be cleaner and more hygienic and simpler and easier to maintain in the urban environment.
Wunderlich Ltd introduced machine-extruded ceramic veneers in 1936 which were cheaper to produce and provided a perfectly smooth surface, which conformed to the new streamlined, International modernist aesthetic. Over 120 glazed terracotta clad buildings were constructed in Australia between 1916 and 1941, with the majority located in Melbourne and Sydney.
Temple Court (1924, Marcus Barlow) and the Century Building (1924-26, Harry Norris) were the first terracotta clad buildings in Melbourne. Both used glazed terracotta which imitated stone. Harry Norris then went on to design a number of typically Art Deco buildings in Melbourne which fully utilised the polychromatic possibilities of glazed terracotta: Majorca House (1928-29) and the G.J. Coles Building (1930; now David Jones men’s store).
Buildings clad in glazed terracotta became synonymous with both the Wunderlich Company and with the Art Deco era.