UTAS alumni show design ‘clout’
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