The Artisan Hills is unique in its mudbrick architecture which has accumulated through more than half a century of experimentation, design and construction. Local architects today estimate that there are over 1,300 mudbrick houses within the region.
Older earth and wattle and daub buildings in this area hark back to the brief gold rush days in Warrandyte, Queenstown (Saint Andrews), Smiths Gully, Panton Hill and Hurstbridge. Earth building was later discarded as a medium as it was historically considered a temporary structure to be replaced by a more 'substantial' timber or brick structure as soon as funds could be found.
Justin Jorgensen, at the expanding Monsalvat, (with its many mixtures of European architectural styles), John Harcourt (a local builder who erected homes along classic French provincial lines close to the town centre) and others in the 1930s and 1940s began the revival of earth building into its modern form.
A significant influencer was Alistair Knox who moved to Eltham in 1949 where he was inspired by the creative community there, including at Montsalvat. He developed a design and construction style incorporating active recycling of building materials, while using stone, timber and especially mud brick. Alistair encouraged and inspired many people to be involved in thinking and building for themselves and implemented a collaborative approach to his projects with other local identities. Our communities are so much richer through the commitments and contributions of such individuals.
Their inspiration, along with the regions exceptional building clays, an increased awareness of the thermal properties of earth building, 'do it yourself' labour and the scarcity of cash sparked a revival. Recycling building materials was a conscious strategy employed to control costs and making walling materials by hand using mud bricks became a local trend. Parts of Eltham society began to see itself as different from mainstream suburbia. People of like disposition, with a genuine interest in architecture assisted the industry in becoming self sustaining.
Now, the future of the mudbrick industry is bright. As the building world battles for a greener position we are sitting on the ultimate ‘eco’ product and the definitive environmental medium.
The heritage-listed Eltham Library designed by Greg Burgess, Panther Place, Eltham is open to the public and is an excellent example of mudbrick architecture. For an opportunity to see inside some other local mudbrick buildings and celebrate the regions architectural heritage, the annual Eltham mudbrick tour - showcasing classic Eltham mudbrick homes - is run each October.
Established by a volunteer committee in 2004, the Nillumbik Mudbrick Association (NMA) protects and promotes the mudbrick building industry and aims to strengthen Nillumbik’s standing as Australia’s most important mudbrick region. You can find out more about them and their members on their website.