When embarking on the construction of a commercial property in Melbourne, one of the most critical decisions revolves around the selection of building materials. This choice not only dictates the project’s cost efficiency and durability but also its aesthetic appeal and environmental impact. Among the myriad of materials available, concrete stands out for its robustness and versatility, often being compared to alternatives like steel, wood, glass, and brick. Each material brings its unique set of benefits and challenges to the architectural table, influencing the final design, functionality, and sustainability of the building. This blog post offers a thorough analysis of concrete versus other prevalent construction materials, aiming to provide Melbourne’s property developers, architects, and investors with the insights needed to make informed decisions tailored to the demands of modern commercial construction.


Material Overview


Concrete, a composite material made up of fine and coarse aggregate that is unified with a liquid cement, which solidifies as time passes, is a cornerstone in the world of construction, especially in Melbourne. Its properties, uses, and reasons for popularity among commercial properties in Melbourne can be outlined as follows:

Properties of Concrete

  • Durability: Concrete’s composition gives it a remarkable ability to withstand wear and tear over many decades. It demonstrates resilience against weathering, erosion, and natural calamities, including earthquakes and floods, making it a reliable material for long-term construction projects. This resilience is particularly beneficial in Melbourne, where buildings must endure a variety of weather conditions, from hot summers to chilly winters.
  • Versatility: Before it sets, concrete is in a liquid state, which allows it to be poured into moulds of any shape or size. This adaptability allows architects and designers to conceive structures that might be challenging or unattainable with alternative materials. Once hardened, it can also be polished, etched, or stained, offering a wide range of aesthetic finishes.
  • Thermal Mass: Concrete’s ability to absorb and store heat energy helps stabilise indoor temperatures, lowering the demand for winter heating and summer cooling. This property is especially valuable in Melbourne’s climate, enhancing sustainable construction methods through decreased energy use and a reduction in the carbon footprint of commercial buildings.
  • Sound Insulation: The density of concrete provides excellent sound insulation, making it an ideal choice for commercial buildings in busy urban areas or near transportation hubs. It aids in diminishing noise transfer between rooms and from external sources, creating quieter, more comfortable indoor environments.


Uses of Concrete

  • Foundations and Structural Support: The strength and stability of concrete make it the go-to choice for the foundations of buildings, as well as the main structural supports like beams, columns, and slabs. Its load-bearing capacity is essential for commercial properties, which often require robust structures to support multiple floors and heavy equipment.
  • Pavements and Driveways: Concrete pavements and driveways are capable of withstanding heavy traffic and loads, making them durable solutions for commercial properties. They necessitate low maintenance and can be crafted in diverse textures and colours to boost visual attractiveness.
  • Architectural Features: Advances in concrete technology have expanded its use beyond structural elements to include interior and exterior design features. Concrete can be used to create intricate facades, decorative panels, and even furniture, providing a modern and industrial aesthetic that is highly valued in contemporary architecture.
  • Infrastructure: Beyond individual buildings, concrete’s reliability and durability make it a fundamental material in larger infrastructure projects, such as bridges, retaining walls, tunnels, and sewage systems. Its ability to resist environmental stressors ensures the longevity and safety of these critical structures.


Popularity in Melbourne

  • Climate Resilience: Melbourne’s diverse climate demands materials that can cope with thermal variability without deteriorating. Concrete’s durability and thermal mass make it an ideal choice, ensuring buildings remain comfortable and structurally sound year-round.
  • Urban Development Needs: As Melbourne expands, the demand for sustainable, durable, and versatile building materials grows. Concrete’s low maintenance requirements and longevity make it a cost-effective choice for the city’s commercial development, supporting urban growth sustainably.
  • Aesthetic Flexibility: Melbourne’s unique blend of historic and modern architecture calls for materials that can adapt to various styles. Concrete’s ability to be moulded, textured, and coloured supports this architectural diversity, allowing for creative and innovative building designs.
  • Sustainability Initiatives: The push for environmental sustainability in construction has led to the adoption of greener practises, including the use of concrete with recycled materials or those produced with lower carbon emissions. Concrete’s contribution to energy-efficient buildings aligns with Melbourne’s goals for sustainable urban development, making it a preferred material for environmentally conscious projects.

Concrete’s combination of functional and aesthetic qualities, along with its adaptability to Melbourne’s specific needs, solidifies its role as a foundational material in the city’s commercial construction landscape.




Construction Building Working Site

Steel is a fundamental material in the construction industry, prized for its strength, flexibility, and durability. Its key features, benefits, and common uses in commercial construction underscore its critical role in modern architecture and building projects. Here’s an in-depth look at steel within the context of commercial construction:

Key Features of Steel

  • High Strength-to-Weight Ratio: Steel features an outstanding strength-to-weight ratio, rendering it both stronger and lighter compared to numerous other building materials. This feature allows for the design of large span structures and tall buildings with less material, reducing the overall load on the foundation.
  • Durability: Steel is highly durable, resistant to decay, and unaffected by pests such as termites, which can be a significant issue for materials like wood. Its resistance to moisture and non-corrosive treatments also contribute to its longevity, making it suitable for various environmental conditions.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability: Steel can be fabricated into almost any shape, which is essential for modern architectural designs. It is also adaptable to changes, allowing for modifications and expansions to existing structures with minimal disruption.
  • Recyclability: Steel ranks as one of the most extensively recycled materials globally. Its properties do not degrade upon recycling, making it a sustainable option for construction projects. Recycling steel also diminishes the environmental footprint related to its manufacture and disposal.


Benefits of Using Steel in Commercial Construction

  • Speed of Construction: Steel components are usually prefabricated, meaning they are produced off-site and then assembled on-site. This significantly speeds up the construction process, allowing for faster project completion times compared to traditional construction methods.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Although the initial cost of steel can be higher than some other materials, its durability and minimal maintenance needs render it an economically advantageous option throughout a building’s lifespan. The efficiency of steel construction also reduces labour costs and allows for quicker return on investment.
  • Architectural Freedom: The versatility of steel supports innovative architectural design. Its strength enables the construction of large open spaces without the need for intermediate columns, offering architects more freedom in the layout and design of interior spaces.
  • Enhanced Safety: Steel’s high strength and fire resistance contribute to the safety of buildings. Steel frameworks can be engineered to resist natural calamities, including earthquakes and hurricanes, enhancing the building’s overall safety and resilience.


Common Uses of Steel in Commercial Construction

  • Structural Frameworks: Steel is commonly used for the structural framework of high-rise buildings, office towers, and other commercial structures due to its strength and flexibility. It forms the skeleton that supports the building’s weight and provides resistance against various forces.
  • Roofing and Flooring Systems: Steel roofing and flooring systems are prevalent in commercial construction. These systems are lightweight, durable, and can span large distances, making them suitable for buildings with large open spaces.
  • Exterior Cladding: Steel is often used in the exterior cladding of commercial buildings. It can be designed to resist weathering and corrosion, providing a long-lasting and aesthetically pleasing facade.
  • Infrastructure: Beyond the building itself, steel is used in constructing bridges, parking garages, and other critical infrastructure elements of commercial developments. Its durability and strength are essential for structures that must endure heavy use and environmental stresses.



Wood is a timeless and versatile construction material that has been used for thousands of years, and it continues to be valued in modern commercial construction for its unique characteristics, advantages, and suitability for various types of commercial properties. Here’s a closer look at wood within the commercial construction context:

Characteristics of Wood

  • Natural and Renewable: Wood is a natural material that can be sustainably sourced from managed forests, making it one of the few truly renewable construction materials available. Its use in construction encourages the growth of new forests, which contribute to the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: Wood adds warmth, richness, and a natural aesthetic to any structure. Its variety of textures, colours, and grains means it can be used in countless design applications, making each building unique.
  • Strength and Durability: When properly treated and maintained, wood can offer significant strength and durability. Certain types of wood, such as hardwoods and engineered wood products, have high strength-to-weight ratios comparable to steel and concrete.
  • Insulation Properties: Wood naturally has good insulating properties, both thermal and acoustic. This can contribute to energy efficiency in buildings, diminishing the necessity for extra insulating materials and cutting down on energy expenses.


Advantages of Using Wood in Commercial Construction

  • Environmental Benefits: Wood is a carbon-neutral material (when harvested sustainably). It stores carbon dioxide absorbed by the tree during its growth, reducing the overall carbon footprint of a building project.
  • Speed of Construction: Like steel, wood components can be prefabricated off-site, allowing for rapid assembly on-site. This reduces construction times and can lead to earlier project completion compared to other materials.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability: Wood offers ease of handling and can be effortlessly cut and moulded on-site with straightforward tools, offering flexibility during the construction process. It also allows for easy modifications or extensions in the future.
  • Health and Well-being: Wood interiors have been shown to have positive effects on the occupants’ mental and physical health. The natural appearance and feel of wood can reduce stress and improve air quality, contributing to a healthier indoor environment.


Suitability for Commercial Properties

  • Low to Mid-Rise Buildings: Wood is particularly suitable for low to mid-rise commercial buildings, such as office complexes, retail stores, and boutique hotels, where its structural capabilities are fully utilised without the need for extensive engineering.
  • Interior Design: Wood is extensively used in interior design, from structural elements like beams and columns to finishes like flooring, panelling, and furniture. Its natural beauty and warmth make it a popular choice for creating inviting commercial spaces.
  • Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Developments: For projects with a focus on sustainability, wood is an excellent choice due to its renewable nature and carbon-sequestering abilities. It is ideal for eco-friendly buildings aiming for green certification or minimal environmental impact.
  • Hybrid Construction: Wood is progressively being integrated with other materials, including steel and concrete, in hybrid construction methods. This approach leverages the strengths of each material, offering innovative solutions for larger or more complex commercial projects.



Glass Building

Glass has become a hallmark of modern commercial architecture, offering a blend of aesthetic appeal, functionality, and environmental benefits. Its use in commercial buildings is extensive, ranging from exterior facades to interior partitions. Here’s an exploration of the use, benefits, and limitations of glass in modern commercial buildings:

Use in Modern Commercial Buildings

  • Exterior Facades: Glass is extensively utilised in the facades of commercial structures, such as office skyscrapers, retail spaces, and hotels. It provides a sleek, modern appearance and maximises natural light, which can enhance the aesthetic value of the property and create inviting spaces.
  • Interior Partitions: In interior design, glass is used to create partitions that divide spaces without blocking light or views. This maintains an open, airy feel inside commercial buildings, promoting a sense of spaciousness and facilitating natural light penetration to inner areas.
  • Skylights and Roofing: Glass skylights and roofing systems are utilised to bring in additional natural light to commercial buildings, thereby decreasing reliance on artificial lighting and creating visually striking architectural features.
  • Energy-Efficient Windows: Technological advancements have led to the development of energy-efficient glass windows that reduce heat loss during winter and minimise heat gain during summer. This can significantly lower energy costs and improve the comfort of building occupants.


Benefits of Using Glass in Commercial Construction

  • Natural Light: Glass optimises natural light utilisation, potentially decreasing reliance on artificial lighting and subsequently reducing energy expenses, and improve the well-being of occupants. Daylight has been linked to increased productivity and comfort in workplace environments.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: Glass adds a modern and sophisticated look to commercial buildings. It allows for panoramic views and a seamless integration between indoor and outdoor spaces, enhancing the architectural design.
  • Energy Efficiency: With the advent of coated, insulated, or laminated glass, buildings can achieve better energy efficiency. These technologies help in controlling heat transfer and UV radiation, contributing to more sustainable building practises.
  • Flexibility in Design: Glass can be moulded into various shapes and sizes, and it comes in a wide range of colours and finishes. This flexibility allows architects and designers to explore creative concepts and innovative designs.


Limitations of Using Glass

  • Heat Gain and Loss: Conventional glass facades may result in substantial heat accumulation during summer and heat dissipation during winter, contributing to elevated energy expenditures. While advanced glazing technologies exist, they can be expensive and may not completely eliminate these issues.
  • Privacy: Glass buildings can pose challenges to privacy, especially in densely populated urban areas. Solutions such as tinted or frosted glass can mitigate this but may also reduce transparency and light transmission.
  • Acoustic Performance: Glass is not as effective as some other materials in sound insulation. In noisy environments, additional measures may be necessary to achieve adequate soundproofing for the comfort of building occupants.
  • Cost: High-performance glass and framing systems can be costly. The initial investment for energy-efficient or specialised glass solutions may be higher than for traditional building materials.
  • Durability and Safety: Although glass is typically resilient, it may be more prone to damage from impacts or extreme weather conditions compared to other construction materials. Safety glass and other treatments can enhance its strength but at additional cost.



Brick is a material that carries a rich history, blending traditional appeal with enduring strength. Its use in commercial construction is marked by a blend of aesthetic versatility, durability, and practical benefits. Here’s a closer look at brick’s appeal, durability, and its usage in the realm of commercial construction:

Traditional Appeal

  • Timeless Aesthetics: Brick has been used for centuries, providing a timeless and enduring aesthetic that harmonises well with various architectural styles. From rustic to contemporary designs, brick can add warmth, character, and a sense of solidity to commercial buildings.
  • Colour and Texture Variety: Bricks come in a variety of colours, from traditional reds to whites, browns, and even blues, allowing for creative design flexibility. The texture of bricks can also vary, offering smooth or rugged surfaces that can add depth and interest to the façade of a building.
  • Heritage and Character: In areas with historical significance, brickwork can help new constructions blend with the existing architectural landscape, preserving the heritage and character of the locale. It’s particularly valued in renovations and extensions of historic buildings, where matching the original aesthetic is crucial.



  • Longevity: Brick is known for its exceptional longevity, with many brick buildings lasting centuries with minimal maintenance. Its resistance to wear and tear over time makes it a cost-effective choice for commercial construction.
  • Weather Resistance: Brick demonstrates exceptional resilience against harsh weather elements, such as strong winds, rainfall, and extreme temperatures. Its ability to withstand environmental stressors ensures the structural integrity and longevity of commercial buildings.
  • Fire Resistance: One of the most significant advantages of brick is its natural fire resistance. Bricks can withstand high temperatures, contributing to the overall safety of the building and offering added protection to its occupants.
  • Low Maintenance: Because of their robustness and ability to resist staining, brick surfaces demand minimal maintenance. Unlike other materials that may need periodic painting or treatment, brickwork maintains its appearance over time, needing only occasional cleaning.


Usage in Commercial Construction

  • Structural and Aesthetic Facades: Brick is commonly used in the construction of structural walls and as a cladding material for commercial buildings. Its aesthetic charm and structural strength render it a favoured option for both exterior and interior uses.
  • Landscaping and Paving: Beyond the building itself, bricks are used in commercial property landscaping, including walkways, patios, and retaining walls. Their durability makes them suitable for high-traffic areas, contributing to the cohesive design of the property.
  • Energy Efficiency: Brick’s thermal mass can contribute to energy efficiency in commercial buildings. It absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night, aiding in controlling indoor temperatures and diminishing the dependence on heating and cooling systems.
  • Acoustic Insulation: The density of brickwork provides good sound insulation, reducing noise transmission from outside to inside and between rooms within a commercial building. This is particularly beneficial in busy urban areas or for buildings that require quiet environments.


Cost Analysis

Construction Analysis

Initial Costs

Comparing the initial costs of construction materials is crucial for developers and builders when planning commercial projects. The upfront expenses of materials like concrete, steel, wood, glass, and brick can significantly impact the overall budget of a construction project. Here’s a comparison of these materials focusing on their initial costs:

TypeCost FactorsInitial Costs
ConcreteThe price of concrete includes the costs of raw materials (cement, aggregates, and water), transportation, and labour for mixing and pouring. The complexity of the formwork needed can also affect costs.Typically regarded as economically beneficial for extensive projects because of its robustness and minimal upkeep needs. Prices can vary based on the type of concrete and the addition of reinforcements or specialised additives.
SteelSteel prices are influenced by global market fluctuations, the grade of steel, and fabrication costs. The complexity of the design and the need for precision in fabrication can increase costs.Steel typically has a higher initial cost compared to concrete, reflecting the price of raw materials and the labour-intensive process of fabrication and erection.
WoodThe cost of wood depends on the type (hardwood vs. softwood), availability, and sustainability certifications. Engineered wood products, which offer greater strength and stability, can be more expensive.Wood can be a cost-effective option, especially for smaller or medium-sized projects. However, prices have been subject to volatility due to factors like tariffs and supply chain disruptions.
GlassThe initial cost of glass is influenced by the type (tempered, laminated, insulated), size, and any special coatings or treatments for energy efficiency.High-performance glass required for commercial buildings, especially for energy efficiency and aesthetics, can be expensive. Custom sizes and treatments add to the cost.
BrickCosts vary based on the type of brick (clay vs. concrete), colour, texture, and the manufacturing process. Handmade bricks are typically more expensive than machine-made.Brick can have a higher initial cost due to the labour-intensive installation process and the material itself. However, its durability and low maintenance may offset these initial expenses over time.


Overall Comparison

  • Affordability: Concrete is often the most cost-effective option for the structural aspects of commercial construction, offering a good balance between initial costs and long-term value.
  • Premium Materials: Steel and glass, while offering distinct advantages such as design flexibility and modern aesthetics, come with higher initial costs.
  • Economic Options: Wood presents a more economical choice for certain types of commercial projects but may be less suitable for high-rise buildings or areas prone to fire risk.
  • Cost-Effective in the Long Run: Brick, despite its higher upfront cost, is valued for its aesthetic appeal and minimal maintenance, potentially leading to savings over the lifespan of a building.


Long-term Costs

Understanding the long-term costs associated with maintenance, repair, and lifecycle of construction materials is essential for making informed decisions in commercial construction. Such expenses can greatly affect the total economic viability of a project throughout its duration. Here’s an overview of the long-term costs for materials like concrete, steel, wood, glass, and brick:

TypeMaintenance CostsRepair CostsLifecycle Costs
ConcreteConcrete is known for its low maintenance requirements. However, it may require sealing or painting to prevent water infiltration and to maintain its appearance.Repairs may be necessary for cracks or spalling. The costs depend on the extent of damage and accessibility of the repair site.Thanks to their durability and long lifespan, concrete structures are capable of enduring for many years with little to no upkeep, resulting in reduced total cost of ownership when compared to materials of lesser durability.
SteelSteel structures may require periodic painting or coating to prevent rust and corrosion, especially in humid or coastal environments.Repairs can be costly if structural elements are damaged or corroded. Inspection and maintenance are crucial to identify issues early.While steel has a long lifespan, the need for protective treatments against corrosion can add to the total lifecycle cost. However, its recyclability can offset some of these costs by providing residual value at the end of its use.
WoodWood requires regular treatment to protect against moisture, insects, and decay. These treatments, along with staining or painting, contribute to its maintenance costs.Wood is susceptible to rot, insect damage, and warping, which can necessitate repairs or replacement of affected sections.The lifecycle costs of wood can be higher due to maintenance and potential for more frequent replacement. However, sustainably sourced wood has a lower environmental impact, which may be a consideration in overall lifecycle assessments.
GlassGlass requires regular cleaning to maintain its aesthetic and functional qualities. Special coatings may reduce cleaning needs but can be expensive to apply.Glass replacement due to breakage or for upgrading to more energy-efficient panes can be costly.High-performance glass can reduce energy costs, potentially offsetting higher maintenance and repair expenses. The lifespan of glass elements will also depend on the quality of the framing system and installation.
BrickBrick is low-maintenance, needing occasional cleaning to remove dirt or graffiti. Mortar joints may need repointing every 20-30 years to maintain structural integrity.Brick is durable, but repairs might be necessary for cracked or damaged bricks. Matching the original brick can be a challenge in older buildings.Brick buildings have a long lifespan with minimal maintenance, leading to lower lifecycle costs. The initial higher investment in brick can be recuperated over time through savings on repairs and maintenance.


Overall Considerations

  • Material Selection: Choosing materials with lower long-term costs can significantly impact the overall affordability and sustainability of a commercial building.
  • Sustainability and Efficiency: Materials that contribute to energy efficiency, such as high-performance glass or insulated concrete forms, can offer long-term savings that offset higher upfront costs.
  • Local Climate and Conditions: The local environment plays a critical role in determining the maintenance and repair needs of different materials. For example, coastal areas may require more maintenance for steel structures due to salt corrosion.


Durability and Maintenance

Durability Comparison

Melbourne’s weather conditions are characterised by variability, with hot summers, cool winters, and rainfall spread throughout the year. This climate demands materials that can withstand a range of environmental stressors. Here’s how concrete, steel, wood, glass, and brick stand up to Melbourne’s weather conditions:


  • Resistance to Weather: Concrete is highly resistant to the weather conditions in Melbourne. Its ability to withstand temperature fluctuations, heavy rainfall, and exposure to sun makes it a durable choice for the region.
  • Thermal Mass: Concrete’s thermal mass helps in stabilising indoor temperatures, making buildings more comfortable during both hot and cold spells.
  • Moisture Considerations: While concrete is generally resistant to moisture, poor quality or lack of proper sealing can lead to water absorption, which might cause cracking during freeze-thaw cycles, albeit less common in Melbourne’s climate.


  • Corrosion Potential: Steel’s vulnerability to corrosion is a concern in areas with high humidity or coastal regions where salt can accelerate rusting. In Melbourne, applying protective layers and performing consistent upkeep are crucial steps to reduce the risk of corrosion.
  • Structural Integrity: Steel provides strong resistance to wind and seismic activity, making it suitable for Melbourne’s occasionally harsh weather conditions, provided it is adequately treated against corrosion.
  • Thermal Performance: Steel conducts heat, which can be a disadvantage during extreme temperatures unless properly insulated.


  • Vulnerability to Elements: Wood can be susceptible to moisture, leading to rot or decay, and to pests such as termites, which are present in Australia. Proper treatment and maintenance can enhance its durability in Melbourne’s climate.
  • Thermal Insulation: Wood has natural insulating properties, offering good thermal performance in both hot and cold weather, making it a comfortable choice for Melbourne’s variable climate.
  • Adaptability: With the right species and treatments, wood can be a durable option for Melbourne, especially for covered or interior applications where direct exposure to elements is minimised.


  • Sun Exposure: Glass can offer excellent natural lighting but may lead to heat gain in summer. The use of energy-efficient or reflective glass can help control indoor temperatures in Melbourne’s sunny weather.
  • Wind Resistance: Modern glass, especially when tempered or laminated, can withstand high wind conditions, making it suitable for Melbourne’s occasional strong wind events.
  • Thermal Performance: Double or triple-glazed glass units are effective in insulating against Melbourne’s temperature fluctuations, contributing to energy efficiency and comfort.


  • Weather Resistance: Brick is extremely durable in various weather conditions, offering excellent resistance to Melbourne’s rain and wind. Its capacity to soak up moisture and subsequently release it gradually can aid in maintaining indoor humidity levels.
  • Low Maintenance: Being resistant to pests and decay, brick requires minimal maintenance, making it a reliable choice for Melbourne’s climate over the long term.
  • Thermal Comfort: Brick’s thermal mass can contribute to maintaining comfortable indoor temperatures throughout the year, absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night.



Each material has its strengths and vulnerabilities in relation to Melbourne’s weather conditions:

  • Concrete and brick are highly durable with minimal maintenance requirements, making them excellent choices for the variable climate.
  • Steel, while strong and durable, requires protective measures against corrosion but can be highly effective when properly treated.
  • Wood offers natural beauty and insulation but demands careful selection and maintenance to ensure longevity in Melbourne’s climate.
  • Glass enhances natural light and views but requires careful consideration of thermal performance and sun protection to ensure comfort and energy efficiency.

Choosing the right material involves balancing these characteristics against the specific requirements of a building project, including location, design, and sustainability goals.


Maintenance Needs

The frequency and cost of maintenance for construction materials are critical considerations in the overall sustainability and lifecycle cost of commercial buildings. Here’s an overview of the maintenance needs for concrete, steel, wood, glass, and brick, focusing on their application in commercial properties:

TypeFrequency of MaintenanceCost of Maintenance
ConcreteConcrete requires relatively infrequent maintenance. Periodic inspections are recommended to check for cracks or signs of wear.Low. Maintenance primarily involves sealing or repairing cracks, which is generally cost-effective. However, if structural issues arise, repairs can be more significant.
SteelRegular maintenance is required to prevent corrosion, especially in exposed areas or in environments prone to moisture and salt.Moderate to high. Protective coatings, painting, and rust treatment need to be applied periodically, which can be labour-intensive and require specialised contractors.
WoodWood requires regular maintenance to protect against decay, pests, and moisture. The frequency depends on the type of wood, its treatment, and exposure to elements.Moderate. Maintenance includes staining, painting, or applying protective sealants. Costs can increase if pest treatment or replacement of damaged sections is necessary.
GlassGlass maintenance is primarily cleaning, which should be done regularly to maintain aesthetic appeal and maximise light transmission.Low to moderate. While cleaning costs are generally low, repairing or replacing damaged or specialised glass (e.g., tempered, coated) can be expensive.
BrickBrick requires low maintenance. Occasional cleaning may be necessary, and mortar joints should be inspected every 20-30 years for repointing.Low. Brick is durable and long-lasting, with primary maintenance costs associated with mortar joint repair. Cleaning costs are minimal.


Aesthetic Appeal and Design Flexibility

The selection of construction materials greatly impacts the architectural design, functionality, and aesthetic appeal of commercial properties. Each material—concrete, steel, wood, glass, and brick—brings unique characteristics that can shape the design possibilities and creative direction of a project. Here’s how each material impacts the architectural design of commercial buildings:


  • Flexibility in Form: Concrete’s ability to be poured into any shape allows architects to explore complex geometries and forms. This can lead to innovative and iconic structures that might be difficult to achieve with other materials.
  • Textural and Aesthetic Versatility: The surface of concrete can be finished in various ways (e.g., polished, textured, stamped) or uniformly coloured, providing a broad spectrum of aesthetic choices that can enhance various design motifs.
  • Structural Capabilities: Its strength and durability support the creation of large open spaces and dramatic overhangs without the need for extensive internal supports, contributing to more versatile interior layouts.


  • Slim Profiles and Long Spans: Steel’s high strength-to-weight ratio enables slender structural elements and large spans without intermediate columns, promoting open and flexible interior spaces.
  • Architectural Expression: Steel frames allow for a high degree of precision and can be exposed as a feature of the design, celebrating the building’s structure as an integral part of its aesthetic appeal.
  • Adaptability and Modification: The modular nature of steel construction facilitates future expansions or modifications, making it a suitable choice for commercial buildings that may need to adapt to changing uses.


  • Warmth and Natural Beauty: Wood adds warmth and a tactile quality to interiors, often used to create inviting spaces that promote well-being and productivity. The inherent diversity in wood grain and hue can augment the aesthetic depth of an area.
  • Sustainability and Eco-Friendly Design: Wood’s renewable qualities and carbon-sequestering capabilities align with sustainable design principles, making it a popular choice for projects with environmental goals.
  • Structural and Decorative Use: Beyond structural applications, wood can be used in decorative elements, façades, and finishes, offering versatility in design and contributing to a building’s identity.


  • Transparency and Light: Glass facades maximise natural light and foster a connection between indoor spaces and the outdoor environment. This can reduce lighting costs and enhance the well-being of occupants.
  • Visual Impact: Glass can create sleek and modern exteriors that are visually striking. The use of coloured, textured, or reflective glass adds another layer of design potential.
  • Energy Considerations: Advances in glass technology, such as double-glazing and low-emissivity coatings, allow for energy-efficient designs that balance the benefits of transparency with thermal performance.


  • Textural Depth and Character: Brickwork offers a sense of permanence and tradition, with the ability to add texture and depth to facades. The variety of brick sizes, colours, and laying patterns enables a wide range of design aesthetics.
  • Cultural and Contextual Relevance: In areas with a rich history of brick architecture, using brick can help new developments to harmonise with their surroundings, maintaining the cultural fabric of the area.
  • Durability with Low Maintenance: The durability and minimal upkeep of brick render it a sensible option for commercial structures, where long-term performance and ease of upkeep are important considerations.


Environmental Impact and Sustainability

Environmental Considerations

The ecological footprint of construction materials plays a crucial role in the adoption of green building methods. The carbon footprint and sustainability of materials like concrete, steel, wood, glass, and brick vary, influencing the ecological performance of commercial properties. Here’s an overview of the environmental considerations for each material:

TypeCarbon FootprintSustainability
ConcreteThe production of cement, a key component of concrete, is energy-intensive and a major source of CO2 emissions. Nonetheless, advancements like low-carbon cement and incorporating supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) such as fly ash or slag can diminish its environmental footprint.Concrete’s durability and thermal mass contribute to the energy efficiency of buildings over their lifecycle. Recycling concrete and using recycled aggregates can further enhance its sustainability.
SteelSteel production is also energy-intensive, contributing significantly to CO2 emissions. The use of electric arc furnaces, which can recycle scrap steel, and efforts to integrate renewable energy sources into production processes are ways to mitigate these emissions.Steel is highly recyclable without degradation of its properties, offering a closed-loop lifecycle that enhances its sustainability. The challenge lies in reducing emissions during the initial production phase.
WoodWood possesses a smaller carbon footprint compared to many other construction materials, as trees capture CO2 from the air as they grow. Sustainable forestry practises are crucial to ensure that wood use does not lead to deforestation and biodiversity loss.Wood is renewable and biodegradable, and when sourced from certified sustainably managed forests, it can be a highly sustainable choice. The energy required to process wood into construction materials is also relatively low.
GlassThe production of glass is energy-intensive, requiring high temperatures to melt silica sand and other raw materials. This results in significant CO2 emissions, though the use of recycled glass (cullet) can reduce the energy consumption and carbon footprint.While glass is recyclable, the recycling rates and the energy savings from using recycled glass vary. Progress in glass technology, like the development of energy-saving coatings and insulating properties, improve the sustainability of glass in construction by enhancing building energy performance.
BrickTraditional brick manufacturing involves firing clay at high temperatures, which consumes energy and emits CO2. However, the longevity and durability of brickwork can offset some of these impacts over time.Brick’s long lifespan and low maintenance requirements contribute to its sustainability. Efforts to lower emissions include using renewable energy in kilns and recycling bricks, although the latter is less common due to the durability and long life of brick structures.


General Environmental Considerations

  • Lifecycle Analysis (LCA): Assessing the environmental impact of materials over their entire lifecycle—from extraction and production to use and end-of-life disposal or recycling—is essential for understanding their sustainability.
  • Energy Efficiency in Use: Materials that contribute to the energy efficiency of buildings, such as those with good thermal mass or insulation properties, can markedly lessen the ecological footprint of buildings throughout their usage phase.
  • Local Sourcing: Using locally sourced materials can reduce transportation-related emissions, contributing to a lower overall carbon footprint for construction projects.


Recyclability and Lifecycle

TypeRecyclabilityLifecycle Management
ConcreteConcrete can be crushed and recycled as aggregate for new concrete, road bases, or fill material. However, the recycling process can be energy-intensive, and the quality of recycled concrete may not always match that of virgin material.The durability of concrete means it has a long service life, reducing the need for frequent replacement. End-of-life options include recycling or repurposing, though some concrete waste may end up in landfills.
SteelSteel is highly recyclable without loss of quality, making it one of the most recycled materials worldwide. It can be melted down and re-forged into new steel products, including structural elements for construction, minimising the need for virgin ore extraction.The closed-loop recyclability of steel contributes positively to its lifecycle management, with steel structures often being deconstructed and recycled at the end of their useful life.
WoodWood’s recyclability depends on its condition and treatment. Untreated wood can be recycled into new products or used as biomass for energy generation. Treated or contaminated wood is more challenging to recycle and may require disposal in landfills.Wood is biodegradable and renewable, with a lower carbon footprint over its lifecycle. Sustainable forestry practises and certification schemes ensure the responsible management of wood resources.
GlassGlass is fully recyclable without loss of purity or quality. Using recycled glass (cullet) to manufacture new glass items can significantly lower the energy needed for glass production.The main challenge with glass recycling in construction is the separation and collection of glass waste. Nonetheless, its recyclability makes it a sustainable option if managed correctly at the end of its life.
BrickBricks can be reused or recycled after cleaning. Reclaimed bricks are valued for their aesthetic appeal in new constructions or restorations. Crushed bricks can be used as aggregate, though the market for recycled bricks is less developed than for other materials.The long lifespan of brick structures minimises their lifecycle environmental impact. At the end of their life, bricks can be salvaged for reuse, contributing to the circular economy.


Overall Lifecycle Considerations

  • Design for Disassembly (DfD): Encouraging the design of buildings that can be easily deconstructed at the end of their life facilitates the recycling and reuse of materials, enhancing overall lifecycle sustainability.
  • Material Passports: The introduction of material passports, which record the types and amounts of materials utilised in constructions, can enhance waste management practises and recycling at the end of a building’s life.
  • Sustainable Lifecycle Management: Incorporating lifecycle assessment (LCA) tools in the design phase can help in choosing materials with lower environmental impacts over their entire lifecycle, from production through to disposal or recycling.


Regulatory and Safety Considerations

Building Codes and Regulations in Melbourne

Building codes and regulations in Melbourne, as in many urban areas, significantly influence the choice of construction materials for commercial properties. These regulations are designed to ensure safety, durability, sustainability, and aesthetic harmony within the urban landscape. Here’s how these codes and regulations can affect the selection of materials like concrete, steel, wood, glass, and brick:

Safety and Fire Resistance

  • Regulations: Melbourne’s building codes specify strict fire safety standards, which directly influence the choice of materials. Materials must meet defined fire-resistance ratings to be used in commercial constructions.
  • Impact on Material Choice: Non-combustible materials like concrete and steel are often preferred for their inherent fire-resistant properties. Wood, while popular for its aesthetic and environmental benefits, must be treated or used in combination with other materials to meet fire safety standards. Glass used in facades must also adhere to fire safety regulations, often necessitating the use of fire-resistant glazing in commercial buildings.

Structural Integrity and Durability

  • Regulations: Standards for structural integrity aim to ensure that buildings can withstand local environmental conditions, including Melbourne’s variable climate, potential seismic activity, and wind loads.
  • Impact on Material Choice: The need for high structural integrity makes steel and concrete popular choices due to their strength and durability. Brick and wood can also be used but may require specific design considerations or treatments to meet structural requirements.

Energy Efficiency and Sustainability

  • Regulations: Energy efficiency regulations, such as those outlined in the National Construction Code (NCC) in Australia, mandate certain thermal performance standards for commercial buildings to reduce energy consumption and promote sustainability.
  • Impact on Material Choice: These rules promote the adoption of materials and construction methods that improve energy efficiency. For instance, high-performance glass and insulated concrete forms are favoured for their ability to contribute to the thermal efficiency of buildings. The choice of wood, known for its good thermal insulation properties, can also be influenced by these regulations.

Aesthetic and Heritage Considerations

  • Regulations: Local planning laws may include guidelines on the aesthetic appearance of commercial buildings, especially in historic areas or specific urban zones. These guidelines can dictate the use of materials that blend with the urban or natural landscape.
  • Impact on Material Choice: In areas with historical significance or specific architectural character, brick may be preferred for its traditional appearance and ability to harmonise with existing structures. Similarly, regulations might influence the finish and colour of materials used in facades to ensure they meet urban design objectives.

Environmental and Sustainability Codes

  • Regulations: Sustainability codes and green building certifications, such as Green Star in Australia, set benchmarks for environmentally responsible construction practises, including the use of sustainable, recyclable, and low-impact materials.
  • Impact on Material Choice: These considerations promote the use of materials like sustainably sourced wood, recycled steel, and concrete with recycled content or lower carbon footprint. The emphasis on sustainability can influence the selection of materials that contribute to a building’s overall environmental performance.


Safety Aspects

Ensuring safety is a top priority in the construction of commercial structures, with materials chosen not only for their aesthetic and functional qualities but also for their ability to protect occupants and assets in the event of fires, earthquakes, and other hazards. Here’s an overview of the safety aspects concerning fire resistance, seismic performance, and overall safety for commonly used construction materials: concrete, steel, wood, glass, and brick.

Fire Resistance

  • Concrete: Offers excellent fire resistance due to its non-combustible nature. Its ability to retain structural integrity at high temperatures makes it a preferred choice for fire safety.
  • Steel: While steel is non-combustible, its strength can be significantly reduced at high temperatures. Fireproofing measures, such as fire-resistant coatings or encasement in concrete, are necessary to enhance its fire resistance.
  • Wood: Wood is inherently combustible, but its fire resistance can be improved through treatments and the use of heavy timber construction techniques, which char on the outside, slowing down the burn rate and maintaining structural integrity longer than expected.
  • Glass: Standard glass can crack and break when exposed to intense heat, but fire-resistant glass options are available that can withstand exposure to high temperatures for a specified period, providing vital escape time.
  • Brick: Bricks are non-combustible and have good fire resistance, making them a safe option for preventing fire spread. However, the structural components behind the brick veneer need to be considered for overall fire safety.


Seismic Performance

  • Concrete: Reinforced concrete, especially when designed with modern seismic design principles, performs well in earthquakes. It can be engineered to be ductile and absorb seismic energy, though it may be prone to cracking.
  • Steel: Steel’s flexibility and ductility make it excellent for seismic applications. Steel structures can bend and sway without collapsing, absorbing and dissipating earthquake energy.
  • Wood: Wood’s lightweight and flexible nature allows it to perform well in seismic events, with properly designed wooden structures experiencing minimal damage. Its ability to flex and absorb shock waves provides a natural advantage in earthquake-prone areas.
  • Glass: Seismic performance for glass involves the use of flexible framing systems and safety glazing to prevent shattering. Special seismic designs are required to ensure that glass elements do not become hazards during an earthquake.
  • Brick: Unreinforced masonry (brick) is vulnerable in seismic events due to its rigidity and lack of tensile strength. However, reinforced brick masonry or the use of brick as a non-structural veneer over a more ductile frame can mitigate these issues.


Overall Safety

  • Concrete: Its robustness contributes to overall building safety, providing protection against impacts, blasts, and natural disasters. However, concrete structures require careful engineering to avoid potential failures.
  • Steel: Offers high strength and durability, contributing to the safety of buildings under various loads and stresses. The key is to protect steel from corrosion and fire to maintain its structural integrity.
  • Wood: While presenting challenges in terms of fire and pest resistance, modern wood products and construction techniques have significantly improved its safety and durability, rendering it adaptable for a diverse array of uses.
  • Glass: Advances in glass technology, including tempered and laminated glass, have enhanced its safety for use in buildings, preventing it from breaking into sharp pieces upon impact.
  • Brick: Provides a safe and durable option for commercial construction, with its resistance to fire and ability to withstand environmental stressors. Its performance in seismic events can be enhanced with appropriate reinforcement.


In navigating the complexities of material selection for commercial properties, it’s clear that each material—concrete, steel, wood, glass, and brick—offers a unique set of advantages and challenges. The decision hinges on balancing factors such as fire resistance, seismic performance, sustainability, and aesthetic appeal, all while adhering to Melbourne’s stringent building codes and regulations. Concrete and steel stand out for their structural integrity and flexibility, wood for its environmental credentials and warmth, glass for enhancing natural light and visual appeal, and brick for its durability and timeless beauty. Ultimately, the optimal choice of material should align with the project’s specific requirements, sustainability goals, and the intended use of the building, ensuring not only compliance with safety standards but also contributing to the creation of spaces that are both functional and inspiring. As the construction industry evolves, so too does the importance of innovative approaches to material use, underscoring the need for continuous improvement in sustainability, efficiency, and design excellence in Melbourne’s commercial architecture.