University architecture tends to go in one of two directions: if it’s not a monastic sandstone fortress, it’s likely to be a melting pot of showy, futuristic features. For the design of the University of Tasmania’s School of Fine Furniture, Six Degrees Architects did not pitch to the middle of this field; they created a new game.
As far as tertiary buildings go, the School of Fine Furniture occupies relatively little space. Built to accommodate just 45 students in an environment that embodies the sustainable values of its teachings, Six Degrees describes it as “the first purpose-built educational facility of its type in Australia”. The lofty, rectilinear box is sharp on the outside, flexible on the inside, and built with both eyes set on future expansion.
“Following the philosophies established for the [Six Degrees-designed University of Tasmania] School of Architecture, the School of Fine Furniture building aims to embody the value of learning by making and using environmental sustainability as the key design generator,” the architects explain.
“The design makes use of a number of environmental strategies such as long-span timber structures to minimise the use of non-renewable resources; long-life materials such as plywood, recycled carpet tiles and fibreglass; translucent cladding to maximise daylighting; along with other measures to reduce water and energy consumption.
“The building design is simple and clear, with external emphasis on clearly delineated entries and a modest, clean composition of durable materials.”
The building shell might be borderline ascetic, but it is also visually enticing. The translucent fibreglass cladding is arranged in a stacked box shape, suspended above a simple light-grey stone foundation that would not look amiss within a Tadao Ando project, and spliced with black metal meshing. Decks and planters have been incorporated to encourage the occupation of the outdoor space, where the building announces its presence and purpose via a bold neon sign that spells out, ‘FURNITURE’.
Necessarily, the open interior of the School of Fine Furniture is of a more utilitarian nature. Plywood lines the walls, vast elevated windows drink in daylight, and chunky crossbeams punctuate a working floor that’s scattered with open-plan workstations.