Derham Groves

The Australian Brick Letterbox

The suite of six letterboxes in front of Holmesglen Institute of TAFE

Lachlan Michael

Muhummad Abid

En Yee Teh

Audrey Zerafa

David Young

Nur Zainal Abidin

Rubina Barooah



An innovative program at the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning has seen students design unique letterboxes which were then built by bricklaying apprentices at Holmesglen TAFE. Zoe Nikakis reports.

As part of the Popular Architecture and Design subject, students created a brick wall or letterbox and wrote clear design briefs for the apprentices to follow.

Lecturer Dr Derham Groves said the subject was about teaching the students how to put theory into practice.

“We have all these students with so many ideas, who just need a vehicle for them,” he says.

Dr Groves chose letterboxes as the focus of the project because he has always been interested in their symbolic qualities.

“I focused on letterboxes and the Australian D.I.Y. movement in my PhD thesis,” he says.

“In past decades in Australia, if you were to go crazy in terms of the built environment, if you were to do something bizarre, you could do it with your letterbox and people would be forgiving.

“You could have one area of unfettered creativity, unfettered madness, where people wouldn’t hold it against you.”

Seven students’ designs were chosen for construction: Lachlan Michael, Muhummad Abid, En Yee The, Audrey Zerafa, David Young, Rubina Barooah and Nur Zainal Abidin all created highly original designs which ranged from a multicoloured Pacman letterbox to one featuring a brickwork prawn.

Pacman letterbox designer Nur Zainal Abidin says the project was very interesting, because she got to design something besides buildings and could be wacky in that design.

“Although the brief said we had to use bricks, it didn’t stop me being creative. I took it as a challenge to create interesting shapes, and I came up with a Pacman shape,” she says.

She says she enjoyed the challenge very much. “I really like the design I’ve produced, and it felt really amazing to have it chosen to be built. The guys in Holmesglen did a very good job in putting it together. I was thrilled.”

She says also that letterboxes can actually be part of the house design.

“It could be something hilarious and unthinkably unique that people would be amused by. Letterboxes can inform the character of the house owners, some might choose to be bold and go the extra mile in designing it, but some might not.”

She says her idea for the Pacman letterbox came to her during a lecture.

“Derham gave a lecture about brick pattern designs using image pixilation, and I thought it was actually a great method, but I didn’t just want to pixilate a picture and design the letterbox shaped like a skinny brick wall, I wanted it to have a shape, so then I thought of other pixilated things, which made me think of video graphics, which then led to those old-school video games that I used to play.

“I love the Pacman game, so I decided to use the Pacman in its ghost shape.”

The University and Holmesglen have now collaborated on four student projects in the past decade.

Dr Groves says it was truly a win-win situation.

“The students and the apprentices take so much pride in completing these projects, because it really forces them to think.

“On the day the letterboxes were launched, the pride on the students’ faces was great to see.

“For many architecture students, the letterboxes are the first things they’ve designed which have been built.  They’re never going to forget it.”