Australian based Cumulus Studio is a multiple award-winning architecture and interior design practice. Its four branch offices in Hobart, Launceston, Melbourne and Adelaide work in tandem to cover the length and breadth of Australia and international projects. Andrew Geeves works as an Associate with Cumulus Studio’s Hobart branch.
‘Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre’ project is one of the finalists at the AIA National Architecture Awards 2021 in the ‘Public Architecture’ category awards. The winners will be announced on the 4th of November 2021. Andrew Greeves is one of the team members, who designed and executed the project. He interacts with Johnny D to share the nitty-gritty of the ‘Cradel Mountain Visitor Centre’ project.
When you look back at your childhood ambition, did you always wanted to be an architect? Briefly tell us about your journey so far.
As a child, I imagined I would be a carpenter and constructing buildings. Making things and having an end product always gave me great satisfaction. After reflecting on my love for woodwork and drawing through school, architecture seemed to be a perfect fit to encompass my interests of designing, drawing and create.
What are the various projects CUMULUS Studio is currently busy with, in various cities and countries?
We have recently completed these projects: Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, Tasmania; Stoney Rise Cellar Door, Tasmania; Darkwood Residence, Tasmania; Hotel Verge, Tasmania; Goulburn Street Housing, Tasmania.
We are currently working on a number of tourism, residential and commercial projects across Tasmania, in Victoria and South Australia.
When the client states the brief to an architect in the first meeting, what really goes in your mind?
Looking beyond the function of the brief to find opportunities that will make that project unique, we are ambitious and constantly looking opportunities to innovate, be playful and add value to our client’s projects.
What was the brief of the ‘Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre’ Project?
The design objectives identified were to establish a Visitor Centre and Gateway Precinct that provides visitors with a world class introduction to the World Heritage Area; to craft a sequence of built and unbuilt spaces that creates a heightened sense of arrival and departure into the World Heritage Area; to provide amenities and services that reflect the outstanding natural values and significance of this Wilderness Area, that are sufficient to adequately and appropriately accommodate future visitor projections; to provide and cater for new experiences that engage with a broader and expanding range of visitor groups; And, to improve the management of visitor impact and safety at the gateway to the World Heritage Area.
As the part of the Lead team, what do you demand from other team members during the planning stage?
First is to have an appreciation for and understanding of the design vision. Second, is to collaborate and work as a team on the design outcome. To achieve a great design outcome requires synthesis of the full team’s expertise, which can only happen if the design intent is clear and everyone works together.
What were the major challenges the team foresaw from the planning stage to the execution of the project on the real grounds?
From a design perspective, the challenge was how to design a building as a meaningful visitors’ experience in a footprint. It should also be sufficient to accommodate the existing 280,000 visitors per year. It was never intended to accommodate the expected increase to 500,000 visitors per year over the next 25 years. These also called for an in-depth understanding of visitors’ movements, across the site and through the building requiring us calculate average and peek tourism demands against an anticipated visitors’ flow rate and duration of stay in each space.
On a detailed level, the building has complex geometry and very little repetition. The major challenge would be how to work within the budget and achieve this complexity in an elegant way.
How did the team overcome them creatively?
For the site design, a dispersed model was employed spreading visitors’ numbers across the site and decreasing peak loads (such as coach arrival) on the Visitor Centre. The site was designed as part of an intuitive way-finding strategy that subtly funnels visitors from the car park, through the building to the visitors’ services desk and out to the shuttle bus waiting space, all the while interacting with interpretive elements and site information.
For the building detail, a limited number of materials were used. The construction materials and methods utilized were common, but there was a lot of consideration given to the detail of those materials as to how they all went together.
How would you describe the ‘Elegance of Design’ of the project from an architect’s perspective?
The elegance of the ‘Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre’ comes from the apparent simplicity. What the simplicity hides is all of the design work. Elements like the carefully executed details that make the steel columns and perforated metal façade appear fine and delicate. Or the warm cave like timber interior that frames an artwork, all the while concealing services, building systems and acoustic treatment. Turning complex ideas into a refined visual and spatial experience is the elegance.
Please mention 5 major ‘Sustainability’ features the Studio incorporated in the project.
Rain water harvesting with swales and absorption in landscape; Recycled water for non potable uses; Highly insulated and air sealed construction; The use of locally sourced and manufactured timber products and Robust and long lasting materials that require minimal maintenance are the various sustainability features in the project.
What is the total area and estimated cost of the project?
Total building area was 2,000 sq. m and the total cost was $13.4M.
How much credit do you attribute to the conscientious efforts of the civil / structural engineers to give shape to an architect’s vision?
The structural engineers played a vital role in the collaboration to make the vision a reality. The key in the process was the willingness to understand the design vision and the patience to test and refine options. To achieve the refined and elegant structural solution requires a structural engineer with rigour and dedication to the design.
Climatic catastrophes have seen major smart cities, including desert cities around the world being destroyed in the recent times. How can or will architecture overcome such destruction to safeguard the community at large?
The construction and operation of buildings has a significant environmental and climatic impact. Designing to use less resources and choosing materials with less embodied carbon, building energy efficient buildings that use less ongoing resources is just a start. Conducting research and being informed, and then passing that information on to inform clients are a way, we can shape future buildings and communities.
How has the pandemic changed the process of working in the field of architecture?
The process of working remotely from clients and colleagues made us adapt to virtual meetings and interactions. This transition was embraced by Cumulus Studio, resulting in an increased and ongoing virtual interaction between our staff spread across 5 cities. Although physically separated, we are seeing great interaction and collaboration between offices, which is a change that is likely to stay with us.
Describe the emotions when a project wins an international award.
There are so many great architects and buildings internationally, so to be recognized amongst such a field is an incredible honour! There is also a great sense of gratitude, that we have had the opportunity to work on such a building and see it realized to the full potential that we imagined.
How would you describe Andrew Geeves as an architect and a person?
As an architect, I would say part idealist, part pragmatist. I am always looking for how to make something the best it can be and also interested in the detail of building. As a person, I am a husband and a father who loves the outdoors and a good adventure.
Please state 5 awards won recently.
– 2021 Tasmanian Architecture Awards: The Alan C Walker Award for Public Architecture – Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre
– 2021 Tasmanian Architecture Awards: The Dirk Bolt Award for Urban Design – Cradle Mountain Gateway Precinct
– 2021 Tasmanian Architecture Awards: Commercial Architecture Award – Stoney Rise Cellar Door
– 2020 National Architecture Awards: National Commendation for Small Project Architecture – Protagonist
Image Courtesy: CUMULUS Studio
Photographer: Anjie Blair