The chance to design a contemporary addition to a heritage homestead on this scale is a rare one in Australia’s smallest state, namely because there’s limited heritage architecture to restore. But even for the architects behind the iconic Pumphouse Point Hotel restoration, the Symmons Plains Estate in the tiny town of Perth 20 kilometres south of Launceston (population just under 3,000!) was a unique proposition.
‘We understood the significance of the building within a broader Tasmanian context and wanted to see it restored,’ says Director of Cumulus Studio and principal architect, Todd Henderson. ‘We spent a lot of time thinking about options for open, contemporary living within a building that is essentially the antithesis of that.’
Georgian homes are typically divided into distinct rooms and recessive spaces, making it difficult to transform them to suit modern, open-plan living. In order to avoid ending up with a mock-heritage ambience, Todd and his team worked closely with Heritage Tasmania and a private heritage consultant on the plans for renewing the vast homestead. Specialist stonemasons were commissioned from England to assist with the exterior work, bringing with them traditional techniques for working with lime mortar.
‘Some of the concrete slabs we removed had used everything from bed spring to bits of old fence as reinforcement, which made it really difficult to chip away,’ recalls Todd of the beginnings of the restoration phase. Taking care to disturb as little of the existing brickwork as possible, structural interventions were kept to a minimum, with the architects opting to update and extend where possible rather than re-build. Clumsy, mid-century add-ons were removed in favour of the underlying heritage spaces they concealed, revitalising forgotten outbuildings previously utilised for storage and farm vehicles as new living zones.
The resulting structure is an exciting hybrid residence which accentuates the contrast between traditional architecture and contemporary design. A series of open glazed boxes connect the rear wing of the original home to the outbuildings, and house contemporary living spaces in the conduit space. While also providing connection to the outdoors, this glass tunnel unites the previously disparate cluster of brick buildings in a single residence. The bespoke steel detailing throughout is particularly notable (that floating staircase!) for its consistency with the functional, utilitarian material palette typical of pre-Federation brick farm buildings.
By opting to update and reactivate existing structures on the site, Cumulus Studio’s designs allow new contemporary insertions to sit cohesively beside the heritage buildings that inspired them. It’s the kind of sympathetic architecture that breathes new life into historical buildings for generations to come!
Discover more projects from Cumulus Studio here.