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Learn in Tasmania stories

UTAS alumni show design ‘clout’

Edition 183_Designers

A leading house-design website has suggested the emergence of a Tasmanian craftsmanship brand value similar to that of Denmark.

Jenny Brown (Domain.com) points out that a Tasmanian-trained designer has been at the top of the lists in Australia’s peak residential architectural awards every year since 2013.

“Is there something in the water?" she asks. “Something unique about the education?”

Each November the Australian Institute of Architects judges hundreds of new and renovated houses from around the country for its national awards.

UTAS alumni have shown what Brown terms "disproportionate design clout" with the following achievements:

2013. Tasmanian-born, Sydney-based Drew Heath won a national award for his own northern beaches home, Tir na nOg – a mythic name for the otherworld. According to the jury, it is a house “with a wonderful predominance of ingenious innovation”.

2014. Melbourne-born, Tassie-educated Jeremy McLeod and colleagues won a sack of awards and ultimately the national multiple residential gong for a sustainable and socially responsible, rail-side apartment block. The jury called The Commons in Brunswick “a flagship triple-bottom-line residential development”. Mr McLeod and his Breathe Architecture team regard it as only the first of a revolutionary, affordable, multi-res model they intend to roll out.

2015. Country Victoria-raised UTAS alumni Chris Gilbert won the national award for new residences under 200 sq m for a Yackandandah pavilion that redeployed recycled material and played with many experimental ideas. The Victorian jury described it as “a wonderful synergy between rusticity and resolution, raw materials and bespoke detailing”.

2016. Andrew Maynard and Mark Austin won a national residential title with a witty modification to a terrace they called “Mills, The Toy Management House”. The jury said it was “a bold and whimsical project” that suggested “how one might (re)-occupy this small historic building type to accommodate the expansive program of contemporary family life”. The two UTAS graduates are Partners in Austin Maynard Architecture in Melbourne.

Domain.com wanted to know how one of Australia’s smaller architecture faculties, with a student body of 250 at UTAS’s Launceston campus, achieved such success.

Mr Maynard said individual expressiveness had been nurtured in Launceston by an emphasis on hands-on experience.

“It was an advantage to be part of a small-intake class where everybody knew each other well and where there was a very strong tradition of learning by making. The students built things.”

He added that “timber dominates the discourse” on an island that offers Huon and King Billy pines and other speciality timbers.

“In Tassie we all had the instinct to be very good custodians of timber,” Mr Maynard said.

Mr McLeod told Domain.com that UTAS went back to basics in the 1990s.

It began a strong emphasis on sustainable design. “It gave us a really good competency in sustainability,” he said.

“Studying in Tasmania you are so close to nature and you see how powerful and beautiful and susceptible it is.

“Being in a place so connected to nature makes you think about the world very differently than you do in an urban environment.”

Mr Gilbert described his UTAS experience as “elemental, human-oriented design teaching that made us think about the fundamentals”.

Studying later at Melbourne’s RMIT, he found the experience there to be “more about being intellectual than being a maker”.

“Maybe it was the island culture that made us pursue our own thing so doggedly and want to get out and make a stand,” Mr Gilbert said.

Mr Heath, who is appearing this year as a judge on the Channel 7 renovation show, House Rules, spent his first three years in Hobart before the campus moved to Launceston.

He enjoyed Hobart’s close link between architecture and the Arts Faculty and studied life drawing as an elective.

Later in Launceston: “We had fantastic workshops and were trained to use tools and timbers and work in a truly creative way. We were able to experiment freely.”

UTAS’s Professor of Architecture and Head of School, Architecture and Design, Kirsten Orr, and her colleagues should take a bow.

Image by Stefan Postles, courtesy of Domain.com

1 May 2017, Edition 183

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Facts about Tasmania


Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.


Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012–13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.


Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.


The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island’s land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.


About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.


Twice named ‘Best Temperate Island in the World’ by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.


In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.


The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of kunanyi / Mount Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania’s highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.


Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.


Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King’s holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.


Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.


The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.


The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania’s predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.


A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.


Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world’s biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.


The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.


Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.


Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.


The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.


Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.


The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the State’s gross product in 2010–11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

Brand Tasmania

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