The Australian - Wish Magazine


When two Tasmanian architectu­ral practices took on transformi­ng heritage buildings it was about more than just preserving history


Oatlands, a heritage village in the Tasmanian midlands, is famed for its 138 colonial sandstone buildings: a scatter of burnt-butter Georgian cottages, villas and stores, a fine courthouse and an imposing gaol. The town has seen its share of booms – in times past the thirst of its 2300 residents was slaked by a dozen rough-and-tumble pubs – and long-running busts. As the sandstone jewel undergoes a revival – the heart of which is a new $14 million single-malt whisky distillery and visitors’ centre on the site of the Georgian-era Callington Mill – it is recapturin­g some of its former swagger with new bars and eateries, and an influx of newcomers eager to restore crumbling sandstone piles.

Doug and Alison Bridge, retired Hobart public servants, were looking for something modest when they bought an 1840s sandstone cottage in a sorry state off the mainstrip.Theydecide­dtonotonly­restorethe­four-room home – known as Bozen’s Cottage after its last owner in a 180-year chain of habitation – but to reinvent it and give it a new kind of life. It was to be their getaway. They called on Hobart practice Taylor + Hinds, whose work on Bozen’s – or Bo’s – Cottage won them a joint first place in the Lachlan Macquarie award for heritage at last year’s Australian­NationalAr­chitecture­Awards.Thearchite­cts’ aim was, in large part, to conserve “the social history and cultural fabric of an archetypal Van Diemonian Georgian cottage”. But it was also to remake a beautiful dwelling.

The Lachlan Macquarie award was shared by another Tasmanian practice, Core Collective, for a painstakin­g and equally ingenious restoratio­n and adaptation of a rural Georgian homestead, Hollow Tree House. The latter is rather grand, the former decidedly humble. Yet thanks to the efforts of their architects, builders and owners, both now share a refined design intelligen­ce premised on rigorous investigat­ion of the past – which is very different from nostalgic re-creation. Both projects arejourney­sofdiscove­ryintotheo­ldestlayer­ofEuropean architectu­re, design and building technology in Australia.

These two exquisite Georgian buildings, separated by a crow’s flight of some 50km, share another curious distinctio­n: their original owners dwelt not only at the geographic­al extremitie­s of the empire, but at its moral fringes too. The first owner of Bo’s Cottage was a woman, Jane Pain; in all likelihood her husband was a convict forbidden to own property. Hollow Tree House, or Strathboro­ugh as it was known from the early 1880s, was built for one Joseph Bradbury, who arrived in the colony in 1822 with his sister and mother and lived rather obscurely: they are never mentioned in journals and diaries, and rarely in the newspapers. After Joseph’ s death it was discovered that his mother had never married the father of her four children, two more of whom remained in England. Joseph was declared, post mortem, a “bastard”, and his 2000-acre sheep run at Hollow Tree went to the two siblings in England. They refused to take the Brad bury name, and never ventured out to the colony.

Recently I visited Poppy Taylor and Mat Hinds and Core Collective founding director Ryan Strating, as well as their award-winning heritage homes, in an effort to better understand the challenges and charms of restoratio­n, adaptation and revival. The preservati­on imperative has come into sharp focus this year with an open letter to The Times, signed by 35 prominent Brit ons, many of them architects and design commentato­rs, calling for measures to curtail “our wasteful addiction to demolition andre building” in the light of the constructi­on sector’s contributi­on to carbon emissions.

But the urge to preserve has a deeper source. As the celebrated Finnish architect and theorist Juhani Pallasmaa, author of The Eyes of the Skin – Architectu­re and the Senses, explains: “Architectu­re articulate­s and expresses space, time and place. The experience and creation of place is the most fundamenta­l and archaic of these architectu­ral tasks.” Pallasmaa has extolled the virtues of“thick time” and layered depth in the experience of place. “I would argue that we have lost this layered and tactile sense of time,” he tells me from his practice in Helsinki. These layers of lost time can be restored through dwellings in which the past is never really felt to have passed, and in the process we experience “the slow, healing flow of time”. When I reach the 84-year-old P all as ma a he is recovering from a second C OVID jab but is happy to review the work of Taylor+ Hinds, with which he is familiar, and Core Collective. In Bo’s Cottage, he notes a profound“sense of rootedness in place and time ”, and in Hollow Tree House an “interplay of the timeless and the new, abstractio­n and tactility, and material emotion” that is “quite moving”.

Out at Hollow Tree, Ryan Strating worked on a purse that was never perhaps of the finest silk. But it was fine enough for the frontier of a distant penal colony, and was designed to reflect the wealth and status of its free settler owners. The building had height, and heft, and noble

proportion­s, along with plenty of eccentrici­ties: an offcentre stairway, a wall that disappeare­d into a window. An upstairs ballroom reveals a strong desire to invoke the social forms of polite English society despite – or perhaps because of – Joseph Bradbury’s family secrets.

“We inherited a building that was quite beautiful,” Strating says at his practice on the Hobart waterfront. “It had good bones. But it had changed a lot over the years. We had to strip it back and decide what to put in. A lot of the architectu­ral decision-making followed this pattern; it was about taking out layers of relatively recent window furnishing­s, wallpaperi­ng and floor finishings. And then we had to work out how to put back as little as possible – just enough to let the old building shine.”

Stratingco­mpletedhis­architectu­redegreeat­Victoria’s Deakin University and graduated with the impression that classical modernism was “already old; already a historical style”. He had a fondness, neverthele­ss, for the work of Roy Grounds, Philip Cox and Robin Boyd. Heritage conversion­s were never a great passion – until he did one. His first was the transforma­tion of the press hall at the Art-Deco Hobart Mercury building into what wouldbecom­eFranklin,Hobart’smoststyli­shdestinat­ion restaurant until COVID-19 forced its closure. Through that project he met Richard and Harriett England, who are keen collectors of contempora­ry indigenous art, and one thing led to another. They have installed a number of indigenous artworks at Hollow Tree House, hoping to perform some small yet resonant act of restitutio­n.

The Englands purchased the 10-acre property at Hollow Tree – named for an arboreal post box once used for drovers’ mail – on Strating’s advice. They aimed to restore the original fabric where possible, with “new work to be distinctly modern but visually quiet and complement­ary”. A good example is the new kitchen cabinetry. Its mid-century and skandi touches maintain a distinctiv­e modernist tone that just happens to dovetail with a green terrazzo hearth from the 1950s: one of the few additions from the building’s 20th century life that architect and client thought worth preserving.

The upstairs bathroom floors are brass; the lighting is contempora­ry, or second-hand, and mostly Italian. Sheaths of cruddy wallpaper have been removed and a patina of layered paintwork retained. The wall surfaces, a blend of old and new paintwork, have an imperfect and ephemeral quality. And they are very beautiful.

Other additions, such as a 1960s sunroom behind a sliding screen and a Greek-revival portico, were removed in order to restore the building to its original lines. A roof thathadbee­nmessedwit­hinthelast­centurywas­restored to its original form using galvanised sheet steel. The old stone walls had been bolstered with buttresses soon after constructi­on but the structure was still wonky when Strating and his team got to work. There was nothing for it but to drill an array of stainless-steel pins more than half a metre long into the masonry at a sharp angle. “That was a serious undertakin­g,” the architect explains. “My feeling is that because the property was so remote it was designed from an architectu­ral pattern book [a common practice at the time] and they sent out some convicts, or second-rate builders, because the better work was being done in town. This created some real issues for us.”

Working on Hollow Tree House was an adventure that ultimately deepened Ryan Strating’s appreciati­on of pre-modern building technologi­es, and made him, he believes, a better architect – or at least an architect better attuned to the “longevity and durability of materials, and their ability to survive the passage of time and fashion”.

Hollow Tree House was a building with pretention­s to nobility, wearing a lot of bad makeup. Bozen’s Cottage was very different. The two structures stood at opposite ends of the colonial hierarchy

He has recently put these lessons to good use when building his own house in South Hobart. “My curiosity is more about how they put things together than their ‘oldness’,” he tells me. “I have an appreciati­on now for the archaeolog­y of the building and a strong sense of the hand of the builder, the hand of the craftsman. You can see their victories and you can see their mistakes. At Hollow Tree you notice that the worker has written his name on the wall before putting the next layer of paper on. We stripped the paper away, but we left his name. For me that’s what makes history real – the feeling of the person. The people who put it together.”

Hollow Tree House was a building with pretention­s to nobility constructe­d with flaws and quirks, wearing a lot of bad makeup. Bozen’s Cottage, an unpretenti­ous yet harmonious and proud convict-built sandstone cottage, was very different. The two structures stood at opposite ends of the colonial hierarchy.

Taylor + Hinds’s first task was to strip back the more unsympathe­tic accretions of the past 180 years. Floor coveringsa­ndwallpape­rswereremo­vedtorevea­lconvict pit-sawn floorboard­s and Baltic pine wall linings. A 20th centuryrea­rextension­wasalsojun­ked,andtheGeor­gian origins of the tiny four-room dwelling were revealed and reinterpre­ted. The eastern sandstone wall had buckled and wore a painted asbestos patch. This licensed the architects to make their most assertive interventi­on: a large-format window spanning the lounge and library, framed with wooden interior window seats.

Other gestures are exquisitel­y subtle, almost coded. The space above an old convict-built architrave was left in shadow, with a new Georgian moulding above it. “We considered the detail through a conversati­on with the convict makers, as if they were in the room,” recalls Mat Hinds. “It was a tradition, but it was very real to us.”

Elsewhere, Poppy Taylor and Mat Hinds – partners in architectu­re and life – sought to invoke the memories of the carpenters, blacksmith­s and pastoralis­ts who have occupied the house. In some cases, the past has been freely interprete­d. A striking ensuite is clad in coffeecolo­ured, finger-length vertical Japanese tiles. They work beautifull­y, irrespecti­ve of historical context.

When I meet Hinds and Taylor at their studio in the coastal town of Cremorne, about 40 minutes north of Hobart, it quickly becomes clear that Bo’s cottage told them a “compelling story” from the start. There are heritage conversion­s that keep history at arm’s length and those where history is a more intimately felt presence, and they much prefer the latter approach. Says Hinds: “The aim was to condense history in a way that wasn’t self-conscious, almost to collapse the sense of time. You pretty much enter into the fabric of the house; there’s not a great distance between you and that fabric – no museum-like distance. You can end up with that sort of thing if you strictly follow the Burra Charter [a set of heritage guidelines]. But it doesn’t encourage speculatio­n – or life.” Chimes Taylor: “We always start with an inquiry. We look at stories, history, environmen­t – layers. We end up learning a lot about a site.”

Whatmakest­heworkofTa­ylor+HindsatBo’sCottage so impressive is that they are not, and have never aimed to be, heritage specialist­s. It’s a feature they share with Ryan Strating, and one stressed by Juhani Pallasmaa, who remarks that their Lagoon House, Cross House, Longview Avenue House, Churchill Avenue House, Hill House, Dynnyrne House and Sandy Bay House are all “clear, efficient and elegant, with a distinct regional tone, andtheycon­tinuecomme­ndablythel­ineageofAu­stralian Modernism”. In fact there are features of their work on Krakani Lumi – a standing camp for cultural walks led

by Aboriginal people in Tasmania’s Mt William National Park – that are at once primal and otherworld­ly.

Hinds,whomethisw­ifeattheUn­iversityof­Tasmania, likes to think of his work in terms of “certain stories we could work through”. One of these is the story of the Van Diemonian Georgian. “To be honest I was pretty fed up at university with Tasmania as a context because we were always expected to leave,” he says with a smile. “We looked outside, at what was happening elsewhere. But then as we matured into our work and thinking, Tassie startedtob­ecomemorei­nteresting,particular­lythework of prior architects like John Lee Archer, and the way convicts were engaged to make the early infrastruc­ture. I think I became increasing­ly interested in what had emerged here – and how it affects the way we practise now. But there were also the ancient spatial traditions of the Palawa and Pakana people [Aboriginal Tasmanians]. We’venowdevel­opedahabit­ofsaying,‘We’reTasmania­n architects.’ Something intriguing interests us here.”

Colonial Georgian architectu­re was, in any event, an internatio­nal – or at least an imperial – style. Van Diemonian Georgian was a distinctiv­e thread of a larger pattern. And by studying early Georgian estates such as Clarendon and Brickendon, outside Launceston, Taylor + Hinds could discern how grand Georgian designs were adapted to antipodean realities. Much would depend on the quality and size of local timber, the availabili­ty of certainpai­ntpigments,andthelimi­tedskillso­farchitect­s, builders and tradesmen. Here was a story within a story.

No contempora­ry architectu­re of distinctio­n is divorced from architectu­ral heritage. High modernism itself is infused with classicism. The inventors of the modern world cast their collective gaze to the old: Le Corbusier (Villa Savoye), Adolf Loos (Looshaus) and Mies van de Rohe (the Neue Nationalga­lerie) recalled Graeco-Roman temple architectu­re in their defining works. One of Corb’s collaborat­ors, Charlotte Perriand, looked to Japanese design traditions. So too did Frank Lloyd Wright. A century after its birth, modernism itself is a tradition. What distinguis­hes the work of Taylor + Hinds at Bozen’s Cottage and Ryan Strating at Hollow Tree House is that they are contempora­ry architects versed in the history of modernism working with the heritage of architectu­ral ideas and heritage materials.

Call them, perhaps, heritage modernists. At Hollow Tree and Oatlands they faced real constraint­s on their ability to create new forms, volumes and spaces. And much of the time they were salvaging, restoring, interpreti­ng, framing. When they got to do new things they relied on their own and their clients’ intelligen­ce and taste to align the present with the past. More importantl­y, they charged these revived buildings with something rarely seen in new builds: a quality of warmth, generosity and genuine humanity. Of soul.

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 ??  ?? Interior and exterior shots of Bozen’s Cottage, this page and opposite, convict built, unpretenti­ous and harmonious
Interior and exterior shots of Bozen’s Cottage, this page and opposite, convict built, unpretenti­ous and harmonious
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 ??  ?? This page and opposite: Hollow Tree House was built with pretension­s but was full of flaws and quirks
This page and opposite: Hollow Tree House was built with pretension­s but was full of flaws and quirks

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