260 Auburn Road

260 Auburn Road

Our studio at 260 Auburn Road Hawthorn has an interesting backstory. Having driven past the building for many years and being intrigued by the design – prior to leasing our tenancy in 2022 – it has been captivating to learn about the building and Prentice Builders, the company who designed and built it as their head office.

Prentice Builders

Founded by George Prentice, who arrived in Australia in 1909 from Scotland. During the early years the business traded as George Prentice Pty Ltd.

Prentice Builders Pty Ltd was registered 10/02/1941 with George and his son, Robert Shields Prentice, as directors. The company was deregistered 14/09/2009.

At the time of incorporation, the registered business address was 200 Riversdale Road, Hawthorn.

Left, Evans House, 1930. Above left, Hawthorn Town Hall, 1938. Above right, Kantay House, 1940. Right, Town Hall Hotel, 1941. Far right, Xandau, 1948.

Building projects

Prentice Builders were responsible for major building projects throughout Melbourne and Victoria. This includes Evans House (1930), a splendid Art Deco building at 415-419 Bourke Street; the extension of the Hawthorn Town Hall (1938); The Orrong Hotel (1940); Kantay House factories in Little Collins Street (1940); The Town Hall Hotel extension in Swanston Street (1941); the pipeline and reservoir of the Mount Beauty township water service (1947) and the private residence, Xandau in North Balwyn (1948).

Sheridan Close (1953) at 485-489 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, with 78 apartments and a shallow curved façade was a landmark building built by the company. In 1953 Sheridan Close was the largest development of its kind in Melbourne. The architect was Sir Bernard Evans, who later became Lord Mayor of Melbourne.

Of architectural and cultural importance, Prentice Builders began construction of the Baillieu Library at Melbourne University in March 1957. Designed by architect John F. D. Scarborough, the library was opened in 1959 by Prime Minister Robert Menzies. A key feature of this modernist building is the glass curtain wall with ‘opaque spandrel‘ panels that form the façade overlooking South Lawn on the east side. For more information, see: library.unimelb.edu.au/baillieu and library.unimelb.edu.au/baillieu/architects-story

Later works include a research laboratory at CSIRO Clayton (1982); and the refurbishment of the Melbourne GPO (1986).

George Prentice was president of the Master Builders Association during the late 1940s and early 1950s. He died October 20, 1955, aged 73 and was survived by his children, David, Robert and Jane.

Bailieu Library, Melbourne University. Left, under construction, 1957-58. Above and right, completed building 1959.

Head Office

Prentice Builders were located at 200 Riversdale Road Hawthorn – now the site of the Australia Post Delivery Centre – for many years. George Prentice and his wife Annie lived in Cotham Road, Kew before moving nearby to St Helens Road, Hawthorn East.

The head office at 260 Auburn Road was built in 1973 in the Brutalist style, featuring exposed brick and concrete. The office was developed on three blocks facing Auburn Road, with an existing residence and factory being demolished to make room. The exterior concrete facing Leslie Street includes roughened edges as a decorative element. Original industrial windows remain upstairs facing west.

The architect was Sol Sapir Pty Ltd. Sol Sapir was known as ‘Melbourne’s best-known high rise specialist’ during the 1970s. Of note architecturally, is a block of flats from Canterbury Road, St Kilda West, 1970. This too is in the Brutalist style and reminiscent of 260 Auburn Road. A fascinating biographical overview for Sol is here.

Prentice Builders built their own headquarters. Dating by interior features, the building was converted into nine tenancies during the early 1980s. This timing would correlate with Robert Prentice being of retirement age.

The building features two original staircases, both expressing the functional, modernist styling of the era. The main staircase is panelled with slats and has rounded corners and includes 4 short flights with three landings. There are two built-in interior garden boxes in the formed concrete, panelled with the same slats. Other period features remain in the building.

This image of the building was captured from the 1976 Crawfords Production, Bluey, in the episode The Changeling. All aspects of the building as filmed are intact, with the only addition of a portico to the front entrance, likely during the late 1990s.

The font used for the (since removed) exterior signage ‘Prentice Builders’ and extant throughout the building on doors is Volta, a popular 1950s typeface.

Research sources include: National Library of Australia, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne City Council, Boroondara City Council, University of Melbourne, Australian Securities and Investments Commission, The Age and The Argus.

Special thanks to Mary from Boroondara Council Building Services for specific information on the building age and architect.

Other links


Published on LinkedIn here.

The Origin of the Serif

The Origin of the Serif

All travellers to Rome experience the convergence of history; iconic monuments, fascinating architecture, cobbled streets. A maze of narrow roads and lanes to wander, struck by the placement of fragments, fountains, pillars and parks. Not to mention traffic, tourists and tiramisu.

For a graphic designer, the first glimpse of Trajan’s Column is peering into the evolution of serif typefaces. The serif origin begins in Roman antiquity, then moves to the Renaissance when interest in the classical world combines with the advent of the printing press. In particular, the font Trajan takes its direct inspiration from the ancient hand-carved inscription at base of the column. Designed by Carol Twombly for Adobe in 1989, most will know Trajan as a font used on movie posters and book covers.

Walking the Roman Forum is to see up-close carving remnants lying on the ground. In the four arches one cannot but admire the skill of people long-past; the elegance of the letter forms surviving through time. Of course, beyond the artistry, the inscriptions provide direct evidence for events and people of the Ancient World.

In the four arches one cannot but admire the skill of people long-past; the elegance of the letter forms surviving through time.

For a designer, apart from the historical chronicle, the typography has a beauty all of its own. There is a tangible sense to our collective professional past. Long before desktop publishing, offset presses, hot metal type, illuminated manuscripts and Gutenberg; masons elegantly carved roman letters into slabs of stone. Throughout the former Roman Empire, there are hundreds of museums and sites to view artfully carved inscriptions. Two particular favourites of mine are: Lugdunum Museum, Lyon and Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Colonge.

For those wishing to explore further, The Origin of Serif, 1968 by Edward Catich is recommended reading. Whether we can truly say at this point in time serifs originate from brush strokes or if they were used to neaten the chisel end, is perhaps, to miss the point of the underlying typographic elegance.

The serif is one of many fonts used in Ancient Rome. Technically, these are known as: Republican and Imperial capitals, rustic capitals, square capitals (Imperial Roman capitals written with a brush), uncials, and half-uncials, and a cursive script. The Vindolanda Tablets feature mesmerising examples this handwriting.