Preservation initiatives seem to be the last line of defense against the uncontrollable influence of private developers on the appearances of cities and the frenzied obsession with building flashy, one-of-a-kind buildings. Architectural practice finds itself between the national conservation/preservation initiatives mushrooming across the globe and the ever-present search for the next Bilbao effect, an era that seems to have passed as quickly as it had come. A new approach to regionalism is entering the architectural mainstream — one that straddles the line between raising awareness of national architectural and historic heritages and nostalgic and trendy obsession with the past.
In the case of Tasmania’s Pumphouse Point, determining the heritage value of two Art Deco buildings is a complex task, especially in light of the fact that, in Australia, conservation and adaptive reuse efforts are aimed at buildings at most a little over 200 years old. However these issues apply to the preserved exterior of the buildings, Cumulus Studio made most of the situation and created beautiful spaces that capitalize not only on the gorgeous natural surroundings of the reserve, but also manage to convey a sense of both old and new.
The five-story pumphouse was originally built in 1940 as part of Australia’s Hydroelectricity Scheme. The building — situated in the lake, 900 feet from the shore — was meant to pump water from Lake St. Clair into the nearby St. Clair Lagoon to be stored and fed to the nearby Tarraleah Power Station as required. It was decommissioned in the 1990s and hasn’t been used since, except for routine maintenance. The second building, the Shorehouse, sits on the edge of the lake and is connected to the Pumphouse via an 820-foot concrete flume.
It was not until 2004 — when Simon Currant, a Tasmanian tourism developer, successfully secured the lease — that the two buildings were considered for commercial use. Thanks to the renovation, they now offer 18 accommodation units — 12 in the Pumphouse and the remaining six in the Shorehouse — to travelers looking to spend time in one of the world’s most pristine natural environments.
While most of the accommodation capacity is addressed through the renovation of the Pumphouse, common areas such as prep kitchen and main communal lounge/dining room were nestled in the Shorehouse. The 12 studio-sized suites are organized along the length of the hallway that extends from the flume and continues the sightline all the way through the Pumphouse.
Due to heritage restrictions, the exterior of the buildings was left largely intact save for the enlargement of the windows and added insulation. Instead, Cumulus focused on manipulating the internal spaces. “Technically, our main difficulties were meeting very high expectations for acoustic performance (for guest rooms) as the site is a wilderness area and any sound generated is accentuated,” explains the studio’s director and cofounder, Peter Walker.
Through subtle interventions, the team referenced the original function of the building and introduced exposed bent copper plumbing and timber formwork of the off-form concrete into the interior spaces. The use of affordable garden taps and bathroom fittings reference the building’s industrial past and enabled the architects to spend more of their extremely tight budget on other significant spatial interventions.
Renovation practices are often accompanied by a number of difficulties that arise with the introduction of new systems to meet current fire safety standards, new heating, ventilating, and air conditioning, as well as the revitalization of key spaces. In the case of the Pumphouse Point, its remote location — it is approximately two-and-a-half-hours drive from the closest city — required a large amount of additional site servicing and infrastructure. Despite the harsh weather conditions, the project was completed in only six and a half months as “most of the work was inside existing buildings, so snow and inclement weather did not delay progress much.”
Whenever possible, the architects relied on simple construction techniques based on standardization and prefabrication through joinery and fittings. The tight budget prompted the architects to prioritize through careful material selection exemplified in the use of inexpensive, raw off-sawn timber in the public areas while the suite joinery featured finely finished timber veneers.
Commenting on the tourist and cultural appeal of the project, Walker added: “I think society as a whole is looking for a deeper and more genuine connection with culture and place … Tourism projects particularly can take advantage of these ideas as they appeal to people looking for unique and authentic experiences derived from the place and different to the experience of home.”