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Architectural Materials, 1920s and 1930s

The 1920s and 30s were a time of revolutionary change in the Australian construction industry, driven by an influx of international design trends and the emergence of new, versatile building materials. In Queensland the preferred material for residential housing continued to be timber but the design and configuration of dwellings diversified significantly and came to incorporate a new range of structural products and finishes. 


In this collection I have included six catalogues of architectural materials typical for the 1920s to 30s - timber, cement sheeting, pressed metal sheeting, figured glass and Vitrolite. Some of the publicatoins were created as promotional texts and provide a range of illustrations and information and others focus on product specifications, but they should all be of interest to renovators, heritage architecture buffs and history researchers.  The 1920s Pilkington Brothers catalogue in particular is a gem, and if you’re a fan of Art Noveau and Streamline Modernism don’t miss the Vitrolite catalogue. Each document is embedded below with some commentary.


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I do not own the copyright to these publications. The documents have been sourced from on-line repositories and are freely available in the public domain. They are published here solely to benefit local historical research and promote the conservation of our shared building heritage.


Let’s start with the Homemaker’s Book, published by the Brisbane Timber Merchant and Joinery Associations in 1936. This catalogue was intended as a source of inspiration and information for timber homes, and apart from pictures and plans it provides advice on a range of practical matters such as financing, electricity supply, selection of sites, layout, internal fitout and furnishing. It is a very rich source of information for anyone interested in 1930s architecture and domestic life. The building designs shown throughout are typically diverse, including multi-gable, American colonial and bungalow, modernist and hybrid forms.


This document was digitised by the State Library of Queensland and is available here.

Durasbestos Homes of Colourful Beauty is the ominous title of this publication printed in the late 1930s. Written as an advertisement for Wunderlich Asbestos-Cement Sheeting, it shows a range of pictures, plans and colour schemes for contemporary houses and bungalows. A section titled “One Hundred and Seven Uses for Durasbestos” illustrates both the incredible versatility of the material and the challenges associated with decontaminating the houses some 80 years later. It is an important historical document, and a reminder of the potential hazards associated with unproven construction materials.

Wunderlich Metal Ceilings from 1929 covers the contemporary range of decorative pressed metal sheeting from the famous manufacturer. Ceilings, panels, borders, friezes and installation instructions – everything the owner or builder needed to adorn the prospective home. The many century-old metal ceilings that still remain across our suburbs are testaments to the surprising durability of this product. The “Imitation Rock-Face Panel” on page 47 is a novelty – I haven’t come across it in my travels.


This document was digitised by the State Library of Victoria and is available here.

Next up a beautiful catalogue by Pilkington Brothers, British Glass. This richly illustrated text from the mid-1920s covers Pilkington’s product range - cathedral, polished, sheet, window and mirror glass including photos, details on the manufacturing process and uses. A fabulous book for anyone interested in the history of glass manufacturing, and highly relevant for Australian heritage architecture as all flat glass was imported well into the 1920s, much of it from Pilkington Bros. 

Vitrolite is a coloured structural glass that was very popular in the 1920s and 30s and became strongly associated with the Art Deco and Streamline movements. It was primarily used for internal and external wall panelling but could also be sculptured, cut and illuminated for a range of purposes. Vitrolite was an import to Australia and was manufactured by the Pilkington subsidiary British Vitrolite Company. This catalogue from the early 1930s contains some striking exteriors and interiors as well as technical information.

And finally, a straightforward a 1939 product catalogue from Pilkington describing the contemporary range of Cathedral and Figured Rolled glass. Some of the old favourites were still available – “Japanese Flowers”, “Muranese” and “Arctic” – but by the late 30s they were supplemented by new designs such as “Waterwite”, “Hammered Cathedral”, “Majestic” and ”Kaleidoscope”. Again, the catalogue should prove useful for home renovators and researchers.

If you know of any other catalogues out there, digitised or otherwise, I’d be very keen to hear from you - magnus.eriksson.ercons(at)

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