Open to Talent

Building for the future - Timber project thinks outside the box

A prototype for the 120 new student apartments at the Inveresk campus in Launceston showcases the University's cutting-edge research, skills and training at work in the real world

Matthew Gee
Cutting edge: Island Workshop managing director
Matthew Gee and his team are assembling
a prototype for the 120 new student
apartments at the University's Inveresk campus.

By Jason Purdie

In a nondescript shed on an industrial estate outside Electrona, a small town in southern Tasmania, great things are coming together.

At first glance this is just a construction workshop; the air heavy with the distinctive smell of sawn timber, the shrill sound of a router serving to underline the idea.

What's not immediately apparent is the timber is being used in highly inventive ways, and the computer- ontrolled router, is being driven by a Masters graduate from the University of Tasmania's Centre for Sustainable Architecture with Wood (CSAW).

The shed is occupied by the company, Island Workshop, and managing director Matthew Gee is talking passionately about its latest project.

Here, Mr Gee and his team are assembling a prototype for the 120 new student apartments at the University's Inveresk campus in Launceston.

This $15.65 million project – funded via the Commonwealth-State National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) – will be a showcase of wood in construction, possibly the largest timber multi-dwelling building in Tasmania.

It also showcases how cutting-edge research, skills and training from CSAW, a part of the University's School of Architecture, is helping unlock that future.

"In bigger commercial projects builders have typically overlooked timber as a main structural strategy in favour of concrete and steel," said Mr Gee, a graduate of the University's School of Architecture and Design.

"Over time, timber tends to change with age and under different conditions.

Inveresk student apartments sketch
Innovative: The Inveresk student
apartments are being designed
by Morrison & Breytenbach architects.

"But that just means you have to build with timber differently, you need to take into account a different set of tolerances and the dynamics of an organic product. Timber is potentially more environmentally friendly, it is truly renewable, it captures carbon and because it's lighter, you can generally build faster and cheaper, using these new approaches."

It is on these principles that Island Workshop – a firm driven by strong values around research and development – is making a name for itself in advanced prefabricated timber construction.

In this shed, Masters graduates work next to trades-based master craftsmen, fusing the processes of design and construction.

The firm has recently completed construction of a prototype hut for use on the state's iconic new walk – the Three Capes Track.

The Inveresk student apartments are being designed by a Tasmanian consortium led by Morrison & Breytenbach architects.

CSAW director Associate Professor Gregory Nolan is among senior academics from the centre who sit on the principle design team, giving advice on timber prefabrication technologies.

The units would be constructed as timber-framed modules, prefabricated nearby and craned into position. The benefits flowing from this technology will include speed of construction and improved quality control.

"It is very fitting, given so much of the activity on the Inveresk campus is focused on innovation and creativity, that these values could be brought to the thinking around the design of this project," Associate Professor Nolan said.

"As part of the initial tender process, a major local builder conducted a cost analysis between this module-based proposal and the more standard construction approach. The results were comparable."

Call for interest in Burnie student apartments

Burnie student apartments construction
Construction begins on
the new Burnie student
apartments with (from
left to right):
Burnie City
Council Alderman Jim Altimira,
Mayor Steve Kons,
Professor Janelle Allison, and
Duncan Saul, Fairbrother.

By Jason Purdie

The University of Tasmania has called for expressions of interest from people who want to live in the new Burnie student apartments, which will be tenanted for the first time next year.

The 40 apartments worth $4.6 million – funded under the Commonwealth-State National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) – are currently under construction at West Park.

They will form part of the University's new $7 million educational precinct, incorporating works at the Makers' Workshop cultural and tourism hub, and refurbishment of the disused School of Domestic Arts.

University Pro Vice-Chancellor (Community Partnerships and Regional Development) Professor Janelle Allison said the call for interest was an exciting step in the life of the project.

"The first lot of NRAS apartments opened at the University's Newnham campus in Launceston this year," Professor Allison said.

"Before construction was complete they were at capacity, which we think demonstrates the demand for this style of accommodation.

"This project – along with other NRAS projects in Launceston and Hobart – are positioned to bring new life and activity to city centres, and literally bring higher education right to the heart of these communities."

More information for people interested in expressing interest can be found at

Under the NRAS arrangements, rent at the apartments will be set at 25 per cent less than market value, which will be determined by an independent accommodation is also subject to a means test. "What we have found is that these apartments give people access to a standard of accommodation that might otherwise have been out of reach," Professor Allison said.