Australia’s ten best houses of 2016: amazing design and architectural ingenuitySeven Australian architects who should be on your radar in 2017Tasmanian house from 1820s is updated for 21st-century living
Tasmania appears to have such disproportionate design clout that each year since 2013 a Tasmanian-trained designer has been at the top of the lists in the Australia’s peak residential awards.
Is there something in the water? Something unique about the education?
Is there a creative culture so stimulating and concentrated, that we might be witnessing the emergence of a Tasmanian maker’s mark with a craftsmanship brand value similar to a country like Denmark?
Each year in November the Australian Institute of Architects’ National Awards filters hundreds of new and renovated houses from around the country.
And here is how it has panned out for the University of Tasmania’s (UTAS) alumni of late:
In 2013, Tasmanian-born, Sydney-based Drew Heath won the 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”.
Heath, who works with the tools on many of his buildings, remains ever the maverick inventor.
In 2014, Melbourne-born, Tassie-educated Jeremy McLeod and his Breathe Architecture team won a sack of awards and ultimately the National multiple residential gong for the sustainable and socially responsible, rail-side apartments, The Commons, in Brunswick.
The jury called it “a flagship triple-bottom-line residential development”. It stands as only the first of a revolutionary, affordable, multi-res model being rolled out. The third is in development.
In 2015, and with the first project from the Hobart-Melbourne Archier practice, country-Victoria raised, UTAS and RMIT trained Chris Gilbert won the National award for new residences under 200 square metres for the marvellous Yackandandah pavilion that redeployed much recycled material and played with many experimental ideas.
The Victorian jury described Sawmill House as “a wonderful synergy between rusticity and resolution, raw materials and bespoke detailing”.
In 2016, Melbourne-based Austin Maynard Architecture – the partnership of two UTAS graduates, 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”… suggesting “how one might (re)-occupy this small historic building type to accommodate the expansive program of contemporary family life”.
Maynard has a history of being playful and inclusive of children’s needs in always interesting houses. The year before, the practice’s multiply configured Tower House in Alphington had similarly won a National residential title.
So, what do these graduates of one of Australia’s smaller architecture faculties, with a student body of 250 at the Launceston campus, reckon is happening there?
All immediately cite inspiring, “catalytic teachers”. And Maynard feels such individuated expressiveness was also nurtured 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.” They still do.
“And” he adds, on an island that gives us Huon and King Billy pines, “timber dominates the discourse”.
“In Tassie we all had the instinct to be very good custodians of timber.”
McLeod is much admired as a mentor by the broader island coterie, who include Cumulus Studio’s Melbourne-based women architects, Claire Austin, Alysia Bennett and Bernadette Wilson – and in an important publishing role, Katelin Butler, editor of the influential Houses magazine.
He says when in the 1990s UTAS “went back to basics and began emphasising sustainable design in everything, it gave us a really good competency in sustainability”.
“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.”
Gilbert was educated first in Launceston, which he calls “elemental, human-oriented design teaching that made us think about the fundamentals”. Studying later at Melbourne’s RMIT, he found that experience “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?” he says.
Heath, appearing this year as a judge on the Channel 7 renovation show, House Rules, spent his first three years in Hobart before the campus decamped to Launceston.
He believes that because the (Hobart) architecture school was part of the arts faculty “to which it naturally belongs”, and because he had to walk past and work with sculptors and painters – and studied life drawing as an elective, it taught an alternative variation of the slowest of all the art forms.
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.”
Perhaps, in a nutshell, that summarises the approach of our emerging architecture influencers: Creative, experimental, and free.