UTAS students ‘Learning by Making’ with Tassie timber

Over the past three decades, students at the University of Tasmania’s School of Architecture and Design have been ‘Learning by Making’—a core element of the School’s philosophy and success, according to Professor Greg Nolan.

Professor Nolan, Director Centre for Sustainable Architecture with Wood, said ‘Learning by Making’ provided a structured exercise whereby students learn about the process of design, materials and construction.

“The project involves all facets of a construction project from taking a brief, client consultation, site visit and investigation, detail design, fabrication to installation and erection and final handover to the client,” Prof Nolan said.

“Throughout this course students interact with the client and manage the project through to completion. This process gives insights to translating a design into a building for people to use.”

Previous projects have included the design and construction of playground structures, weatherproof bus stops and other amenities for public space.

“The community has certainly benefited from these projects and it’s fulfilling for students to see their projects and visions come to life and have purpose,” Prof Nolan said.

The client for this year’s project was the University of Tasmania, Northern Transformation Project.

The students were commissioned to design and build a permanent structure that will become part of the University’s Inveresk campus, providing a safe resting and meeting place for those who use the site.

The development of the final design was a collaborative effort of the 25 students involved, commencing with the preliminary design of five options by five separate groups, which were narrowed down to two finalists by collective decision and then to a final design to proceed to construction. The students were then tasked with the generation of computer modelling for the preparation of fabrication drawings suitable for digitised input into computer-controlled routers and similar for component fabrication, ready for construction.

To assist with visualisation of their project the students built a 1:5 scale model of the structure.

The students said the flexibility in use and ease of construction in timber is a significant advantage over the use of other materials and that industry partnerships with the School allowed the students to learn the different characteristics of Tasmanian timbers and how to best use them to advantage.

This year, CLT panelling was provided by CLTP, while Timberlink supplied the hardwood and Ta Ann the plywood. Prof Nolan said that over the life of the project all Tasmanian suppliers have donated generously to the program.

When completed, the shelter will have a 7m by 4.6m roof providing shade and weather cover and a series of panel walls to create separate spaces for different users and protection from wind. Variable height seating will feature along the central spine wall, providing both an architectural feature and comfort for users.

Professor Nolan said the use of angled elements within wall panelling posed fabrication and detailing challenges for the students.

“‘Learning by Making’ really allows the students to completely own the project, including meeting and understanding the needs of the client, negotiating and agreeing within the group on the final product and then literally building their design, which is a valuable and authentic learning process,” he said.

What have the students learned throughout the ‘Learning by Making’ project? 

Tom Schuemaker   

A: I found the whole process invaluable but a big lesson for me was learning how construction actually works. I work part time at an architecture firm in Launceston and this project has added significantly to my learning of how real-life works. The scale of the project meant that we needed to really focus on detail too. I also learnt a lot about working with timber – and the beautiful characteristics it brings. This sort of project will enable to community to understand better the benefits of choosing wood for construction.

Elizabeth Halley

A: Throughout the project I gained a better understanding of the work that goes into making a building – the design process, working as part of a team, through to needing to be aware of every detail of a build.  The architect needs to be able to understand and communicate with the builder and to do this you need to understand how the builder works.

I think the final design allows the timber used to shine through. I definitely have a much better understanding of the benefits of timber now, and I’m so proud of what we’ve all achieved.

Ella Boas 

A: I really loved the idea of using local material to build something to benefit a local client. This means more to a community, when we use what’s available. The building side has been invaluable to allow everyone to own the whole project, too. I’ve certainly learned how important communication is between the architect, the client and the builder to achieve the best outcome. I loved working with timber and using different products in the design and I hope to one day study sustainability and use of timber will be at the core of that.

Matthew Collins

A: I am a huge supporter of the concept of ‘Learning by Making’. The collaborations and negotiations that took place were real – with the client and within the team. I enjoyed the problem solving aspects and basically just using timber in the design. I really loved working with timber as a sustainable, renewable source of material and admire the warm and inviting finish and atmosphere it provides for the finished design. The shelter will hopefully be a place where people want to hang out for its beauty, functionality and design.

Kit Yin Chung

A: Getting to know the whole process has been a great learning outcome for me. There have been many challenges the team faced, and different solutions sought. The use of different timbers in different parts of the building have added interest, beauty and better functionality to the design and the finished product. I have appreciated learning the in-depth experience of construction. I am from Singapore where the building culture is so very different to what I am now studying here at UTAS.