Corobrik – SA’s substantive brick brand

Corobrik – SA’s substantive brick brand

The Coronation Brick & Tile factory in Briardene in the 1950’s

Reviewing the origins and history of Corobrik over the past 115 years, technical competence in clay brick and tile manufacture stands out as one of the key business fundamentals applied to underpin the integrity of the Corobrik brand, sustaining competitiveness, growth and the financial success of the business. From small beginnings, and having successfully overcome the vagaries of SA’s often highly volatile building and construction sector, Corobrik has evolved keeping pace with changes in design trends, investing and reinvesting in technologies and processes to ensure the market relevance of its products and the sustainability of the business.

A truck loaded with bricks ready for delivery (around the 1970’s)

The beginning of the Corobrik’s story traces back to 1898 when Robert Storm identified clay deposits in the Clairwood Flats of Durban, this leading to the establishment of the Storm Brothers Brick Works. Dissatisfaction with the quality and quantity of clay raw materials at Clairwood prompted the search for a new site and following the finding of promising deposits at Briardene, a new plant was set up in 1902. So commenced the industrialisation of the brick industry in Durban; that process taking a quantum step forward with the commissioning of the first electrically driven brick-making machines at the Briardene operations in1915.

Building on the early successes achieved and seeking benefits from greater economies of scale, the Storm Brothers Brick Works and the Greenwood Park Co. Limited, located in relatively close proximity to each other, chose to amalgamate and in 1916 the Coronation Brick and Tile Co. Limited was formed. From that amalgamation, Coronation Brick and Tile Co. Limited grew through diversifying its manufacturing capability beyond plaster and face bricks to include roof tiles, quarry tiles, air-bricks and hollow ceiling blocks. The wonderful terracotta roof-tile aesthetic, best appreciated when looking down from Durban’s Berea, stands as testimony to the Coronation Brick and Tile Co. Ltd success in manufacturing clay roof tiles of enduring quality over the 70 year period to 1975 when concrete roof tile manufacture and the cost benefits therefrom came to prominence.

The Briardene complex around the 1960’s

Investment through acquisition and ‘greenfield’ factories followed with Coronation Brick Co. Ltd acquiring a brick factory in Pietermaritzburg on auction in 1933 and the construction of a new plaster brick factory at Effingham producing 110 million bricks per annum, reportedly the highest output brickworks in the world during its time of operation.

Greater industrialisation in the building industry, coupled with the drive to lower costs in the provision of affordable housing led to Coronation Brick and Tile Co. Ltd establishing Corocrete (Pty) Ltd. in 1968. With the initial product focus being towards pre-cast concrete products, building blocks, lightweight filler blocks and decorative panels. The long term success of these concrete product operations has been underpinned by concrete paver and earth retaining system products.

1969 was the year that the Tongaat Group Limited acquired a controlling interest in the Coronation Group and Coronation Industrial was formed (later to be named Tongaat Corogroup Ltd.) heralding the start of a period of considerable expansion through investment in new clay brick manufacturing technologies to drive greater competitiveness in the business.

Corobrik factory in Avoca

Empangeni factory with a capacity of 42 million bricks per annum, Avoca 1 with a capacity of 75 million bricks per year, producing a range of masonry formats to compete with the emerging concrete block industry, the highly automated Avoca 2 factory with production capacities of 42 million per year high quality face bricks a year and a new 45 million brick capacity factory at Glencoe to replace the Dundee Brick Works, were the significant investments made during this period.

It was also during this period that the Coronation Group made brick factory acquisitions in Bloemfontein, Odendaalsrus, Klerksdorp, Grahamstown, Paarl, Phesantekraal and Stellenbosch, providing the business with a national footprint and prompting the re-branding of ‘Coronation Brick and Tile’ to ‘Corobrik’ in 1977.

Effingham factory

Broadening its reach into the face brick market Tongaat Corogroup invested in the fully automated ‘greenfield’ Rietvlei Factory fired on natural gas with a capacity of 85 million FBX quality face bricks per annum. Complimenting this investment the Tongaat Group Ltd. acquired control of Primrose Industrial Holdings (1978), who were operating brick factories at Edenvale, Crown Mines, Lawley and Driefontein. Thereafter in the 1980s Corobrik was to acquire the Port Elizabeth Company, the Vryheid Brick Company and Springs 11 factory, and in 1999 made the acquisition of the gas fired Midrand Factory. In 2001 Corobrik (Pty) Ltd was acquired from the Tongaat Hulett Group Ltd. In 2008 Corobrik was reorganised to facilitate the allocation of 26% of the share capital to the Corobrik Staff Trust for the benefit of all employees.

Since 2001 the systematic upgrading of existing factories has been the order of the day this leading to considerable investment in robotics necessary for optimising yields of first grade products, investment in new extrusion technologies to advance de-materialisation, investment in new firing systems coupled with the greater use of natural gas as a firing fuel to reduce the carbon footprint of Corobrik products. Helping expand bricklaying and paving skills and provide employment opportunities for the unemployed, Corobrik introduced bricklaying programmes at its three Building Training Centres now located at Avoca in Durban, Lansdowne in Cape Town and Lawley in Gauteng.

Durban Railway Station in Old Fort Road

Today Corobrik operates 14 clay brick and two concrete product factories located in the major economic centres of South Africa cumulatively producing close to 1 billion brick equivalents per annum, bringing to the market a complete spectrum of bricks and pavers. Keeping itself close to the market, Corobrik’s head office at Avoca in Durban operates regional sales offices in Johannesburg, Durban and Stellenbosch, 25 Corobrik Centres in the major metropoles to serve and build relationships with the professions in both the private and public sectors, the trades, independent builders merchants and home consumers.

Adding impetus to Corobrik’s growth over the last 35 years, Corobrik has extended its export footprint into some 25 countries around the globe stretching from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore in the East, to Oman, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Israel in the Middle East, a host of African states, the Indian Ocean Islands and to the West, the USA. Importantly the development of the export market helped keep Corobrik abreast of international trends as they impact on the South African brick market and to benchmark production processes and product quality in line with best international practices.

Over the past 115 years Corobrik has played a significant part in advancing South Africa’s wonderful masonry tradition, its products adding value to South Africa’s architectural heritage through their structural integrity, enduring aesthetic qualities and sustainability attributes.

Corobrik factory in North Coast Road, Briardene in 1992


Nothing wasted, everything gained

Nothing wasted, everything gained

This ultra-modern, sustainable home makes extensive use of recycled materials. To ensure energy-efficiency it incorporates the best of passive design including clever orientation, double glazing, cross-ventilation, strategic shading and the thermal mass of clay brick.

Clay bricks are highly durable and have a life expectancy of hundreds of years. Bricks can also be reused, which minimises waste and distributes their carbon footprint over an extended life span.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Renovation of an existing building can result in significant reductions in both cost and environmental impact compared with levelling the site and rebuilding. Because of aesthetic appeal and longevity, brick masonry buildings often are chosen for reuse. In many cases, load-bearing brick buildings are reused in their entirety. In other cases, the brick walls retained while new facings and extensions are built around the core.
Because of the desirability often associated with genuine brick buildings, adaptive reuse of brick masonry is increasingly popular saving both resources and energy.

Use of salvaged materials avoids the environmental impacts associated with new products. Salvaged brick can be reused, although material performance tests of very old bricks should be done if they are to be used in load-bearing structures. Because of the small, modular nature of brick, scrap brick on construction sites is easily crushed and used for landfill. It is commonly used as sub-base material for pavements, on quarry roads or even as aggregate for concrete.

Due to the strength of clay brick pavers, there is a flourishing market for old pavers, which is used to restore damaged driveways and paths. Because brick is so hardy, packaging on palletised, newly-purchased bricks is minimal and easily recycled.

Reducing waste during manufacture
The brick industry in South Africa is committed to minimising waste and to managing any remaining waste responsibly. As a result, the volume of waste per tonne of production is very low compared with international counterparts, equating to 0.75% when it was last measured in 2014. Numerous initiatives completed by the clay brick industry over the past two years have further reduced these numbers.

Small red- and blue-glazed bricks are combined with recycled clay brick to create an interesting play of light, shadow and colour on this three-story exterior wall. A one-bedroom “studio” has been innovatively extended into a family home – with swimming pool.

Both unfired (also called green) and fired brick are recycled during the manufacturing process. The CBA’s recently completed LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) shows the following efficient use of brick waste during production:

Dematerialisation – where bricks are perforated with holes during manufacture – is another way to reduce waste. This decreases raw material and water use during forming as well as reducing energy use during firing. Contractors also prefer perforated products because the bricks are lighter and easier to handle and transport.
However dematerialisation presents challenges in handling the brittle green bricks before and during firing. Several South African brick makers have invested in technology that now allows them to offer perforated products to buyers.

This type of investment in advanced manufacturing techniques supports the clay brick industry’s commitment to the ‘triple bottom line’ – it benefits brick makers, the environment and the communities in which these operations are situated.

Corobrik continues to lead the way in sustainable practices

Corobrik’s robotics allow for flexibility in production, lowering the demand on the energy grid during peak hours

Corobrik continues to lead the way in sustainable practices

While sustainability is becoming commonplace in the construction industry, it has always formed an important component of Corobrik’s business – from the environmentally high-performing clay bricks to every aspect of its business operations.

“Sustainability doesn’t just make sense from a business perspective, it is the social and environmental responsibility of every organisation to incorporate this as part of the company ethos, and this is something Corobrik has never taken lightly,” explained Daniele Torricelli, Director of Engineering at Corobrik. “From the creation of our bricks to the actual nature of the brick itself, sustainability is key. There has been significant investment made in reducing our carbon footprint and Corobrik will continue to adapt as newer technology becomes available.”

The past decade has seen Corobrik investing heavily in more sustainable equipment including advanced extrusion technology at its Phesantekraal factory. The technology reduces energy consumption while also increasing the brick’s fundamental integrity as a weather proof and structural building material, further benefiting the consumer.

Robotics make a significant contribution to reduction of Corobrik’s carbon footprint

New robotics introduced at Corobrik’s Rietvlei and Lawley factories also served to reduce energy consumption on a number of fronts. The robotics allow for flexibility in production, lowering the demand on the energy grid during peak hours. Further to this, the consistent gaps in the setting pattern achieved by the robotics results in easy access of heat during the drying and firing processes, optimising the amount of energy needed for brick production.

Corobrik’s conversion from a coal fired, to a natural gas fired kiln, at its Lawley Factory has resulted in reduced emissions, earning its Lawley factory carbon credits for the effort. As it stands, eight of Corobrik’s factories have attained ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems.

Committed to sustainability, Corobrik complies fully with the National Environment Management Act of 2014 (NEMA) and all quarries are concurrently rehabilitated in accordance with the individual Mine and Works Programme submitted as part of the application for a Mining Right. Further to this, each Corobrik quarry has its own independently accessed Environmental Impact Access or Environmental Management Plan. These are reviewed by the Department of Mineral Resources at various intervals, as amendments must be made regularly to comply with any changes to the law.

In addition to the stringent sustainability practices adopted by Corobrik, the products also rate highly with respect to their energy efficiency. The thermal property of thermal mass in clay face bricks is widely acknowledged for moderating indoor temperatures, off-setting the need for artificial heating and cooling which results in lower energy use. Human health also benefits because the inert qualities of fired clay means no dangerous levels of volatile organic compounds. The ability of fired clay to absorb and release humidity also results in the optimum humidity level for healthy living.

Torricelli said sustainable practices and innovations are improving on a daily basis: “Corobrik keeps abreast of all industry advancements and every effort will always be made to ensure our practices meet international sustainability-standards. This means a better product for our consumers and an improved global environment.”




Clay brick graces world’s fourth Radisson RED

Corobrik’s face brick, contributed to the 5  Star Green Star rating awarded to the Radisson RED hotel in Cape Town

Clay brick graces world’s fourth Radisson RED

The world’s fourth Radisson RED hotel is a vibrant addition to Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront with construction of the seven-storey building including one of Corobrik’s popular face brick range. The use of natural materials, such as Corobrik’s clay product, contributed towards the 5  Star Green Star rating awarded to the Radisson RED hotel building (Silo 6) – the first ever Green Star Custom Hotel rating for ‘new build’.

“The incorporation of Corobrik’s face brick into this artistically-designed hotel façade proves the incredible diversity of the product,” said Christie van Niekerk, Corobrik Manager for the Western Cape. “From schools and medical centres situated in rural settings to upmarket residential developments and hotels in prominent tourist sites such as this, face brick has proven its worth consistently. We are really honoured that Corobrik’s range forms part of this magnificent structure.”

The world’s fourth Radisson RED hotel is a vibrant addition to Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront

The Radisson RED is the first hotel, countrywide, to receive an outstanding 5 Star Green Star Custom Hotel design rating for a new build, setting the benchmark for other hotel design and construction projects. Taking into consideration the use of natural building materials and energy-efficient design in its ratings, the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) evaluates nine impact categories before issuing a certification. These include management, indoor environment quality, energy, transport, water, materials, land-use and ecology, emissions and innovation. The rating system recognises green buildings, such as Radisson RED, and encourages the property industry to adopt sustainable development practices.

Manfred Braune, executive director: Certifications at the GBCSA, said that this is an exciting moment for green building in South Africa, signalling the move of green buildings into the hospitality sector. “This is not just about doing the right thing, although that is, of course, vital in the face of our local and global environmental challenges. It also makes good business sense to build green and, going forward, we look forward to further green transformation in the hospitality sector in South Africa. Hotels such as Hotel Verde and DoubleTree have achieved Green Star ratings for their existing operations, and now the Radisson RED is the first hotel to receive a Green Star rating for its design and construction – hospitality is definitely going green.”

The 252-room hotel is located in the recently completed Silo district – a modern, semi-industrial space on the V&A Waterfront set to become Cape Town’s newest art, culture and design district. The hotel consists of four event rooms, a ground-floor double volume restaurant, and a rooftop swimming pool and bar overlooking the stunning waterfront with views of the iconic Table Mountain. The playfully artful interior includes a combination of face bricks creating a rich façade, all of which corresponds with the newly-opened Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa within the grain silo building, adjacent to the hotel.

Completed in September 2017 after 18 months of construction, the Radisson RED hotel was built using around 160 000 Corobrik De Hoop Red Smooth Blended face bricks for the exterior

Completed in September 2017 after 18 months of construction, the Radisson RED hotel was built using around 160 000 Corobrik De Hoop Red Smooth Blended face bricks for the exterior. Selected for its extreme durability, heat resistance and sound insulation properties, the clay brick is ideally suited to the harsh micro-climate and harbour conditions experienced on the V&A Waterfront.

Architectural firms, DesignSpaceAfrica and Peerutin Architects, opted for ‘second grade’ De Hoop bricks because of the imperfections that would achieve the weathered look they desired. This particular Corobrik product is zoned for use in these unique circumstances with this project requiring second grade bricks with clean lines. Because of the hotel’s location within the Silo district, architects wanted to create a robust building with industrial character suited to its surrounds while providing a unique aesthetic presence which has an impact.

“The industrial character we wanted was achieved by the irregular brick coursing as opposed to the typical, clean face brick coursing,” explained Luyanda Mpahlwa lead architect on the project and director of DesignSpaceAfrica. “The imperfections of this brick were ideal for this, and mortar was laid flush with the brick to create a more coherent but textured façade finish. The industrially-produced, dark-stained and sleek aluminium window pop-outs provide an interesting contrast to the light grey-coloured random face brick coursing. This contrast makes the façade unique, with the pop-outs also provide sun shading during the peak hours of hot sun early morning and midday.”

However, the architects wanted a more toned-down hue than the red of the De Hoop so they selected Keim, an external wall finish that allowed them their colour of choice with the silver wash. Keim is a naturally-based organic and durable paint application which can be applied with a render and weather-protective layer to improve the quality of the mortar to the same standard as the face brick, all while preventing moisture penetration. The final effect is subtle light grey finish with a silver, metallic wash which gives the façade a special shimmer when sunlight plays on it.

Andrew McLachlan, Senior Vice-President, Business Development, Africa & Indian Ocean for The Rezidor Hotel Group said the design, incorporating Corobrik’s De Hoop Smooth Blended face bricks is both inspiring and functional.

“This is a really stunning hotel which is thanks to the efforts of all involved, and we look forward to offering our guests a new type of experience in a hotel which embraces freedom, flexibility and fun,” said McLachlan.