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    Cumulus Studio transforms hydroelectric power plant into wilderness retreat

    Nathan Johnson

    Tasmanian architecture firm Cumulus Studio have transformed an abandoned hydroelectric power plant on the shores of Tasmania’s Lake St Clair into a wilderness hotel retreat.

    Originally built as a pumping station in 1940 by Tasmania’s Hydro-Electric Commission (now Hydro Tasmania), the two buildings at Pumphouse Point, separated by a 244 metre-long jetty, were retired from their original purpose in 1995 and heritage listed in 2002 on account of their cultural value to Tasmania’s hydro legacy.

    Cumulus Studio were called on board a few years ago to repurpose the decaying pair of art-deco buildings after nature-tourism entrepreneur Simon Currant was granted the right to redevelop the site.

    With the exception of increasing the thermal performance of the buildings through insulation (Bradford Anticon Insulation Blankets) and use of high performance glazing, minimal work was done by Cumulus to the building envelopes and their flaking art-deco facades have been left to continue on their graceful ageing process.

    The building envelopes of the two-storey Shorehouse and the three-storey Pumphouse out in the lake were originally constructed in off-form concrete and have largely been left untouched.

    Inside the buildings, it is another story, with Cumulus going to great lengths to insert the hotel’s 18 new guest suites, communal lounge areas and a shared dining area into the existing off-form concrete buildings without damaging their exterior form and the surrounding landscape.

    “Our overall aim was to minimise any potential impact of the redevelopment on the World Heritage Area,” said the architects.

    “This approach was carried through the construction process with the builders working within an environmental management plan to carefully deal with potential contamination issues and restrict access to only the areas of the site that had previously been disturbed.”

    Cumulus notes that from inception they envisaged that the Pumphouse Point redevelopment should encapsulate rugged simplicity and unrefined comfort, building on the sense of arrival for guests to the site whilst alluding to its history through material selection and construction detailing. 

    Both the material selection and air conditioning systems move and change throughout the buildings, chosen as both a commitment from Cumulus to environmental stewardship and to define the purpose of each room.

    “Rather than the approach of a traditional hotel where all spaces are air conditioned to a homogenised level, we took the approach of dividing the spaces into one of three categories - non-conditioned (entry foyers), semi-conditioned (lounges and public areas) and conditioned (guest suite) spaces,” said the architects.

    “This meant that different heating strategies could be employed (eg. wood fires in public areas and panel heaters in the suites) and allowed transition zones between the outdoors and the suites.

    “Material and product selection is subtle in its response to environmental stewardship with natural materials favoured where possible - local Tasmanian timber used untreated and rough sawn in the public areas or as natural stained veneer in the suites and joinery in shared spaces.”

    The material palette of the communal areas is deliberately left raw as a nod to the site’s industrial past. Walls are lined with rough-sawn Tasmanian Oak from McKay Timber in Tasmania and wall washed by LED strip lighting at the ceiling-wall junction. Pipework and the Bradford Insulation Blankets are left exposed and carpets are a simple dark pile from Feltex Carpets. The acoustic ceiling boards are Knauf Australia's STRATOPANEL.

    The suites are more refined than communal areas but not overly furnished and decorated, featuring veneer panelling from Fairbrother Joinery, mosaic tiles and exposed copper plumbing. The architects say this reductive approach reassures the landscape as the focus of the visitor’s experience.

    KEY PROJECT INFO

    PEOPLE

    PROJECT ARCHITECT
    Chris Roberts

    DESIGN ARCHITECT
    Peter Walker
    Todd Henderson

    BUILDER
    Mead Con

    STRUCTURAL & CIVIL CONSULTANT
    Gandy & Roberts Consulting Engineers

    SUSTAINABILITY CONSULTANTS
    Red Sustainabily Consultants

    ELECTRICAL AND MECHANICAL CONSULTANT
    TBS Engineering

    PHOTOGRAPHERS
    Adam Gibson
    Sharyn Cairns

    PRODUCTS

    TASMANIAN OAK WALL BOARDS:  
    McKay Timber (Hobart) TasOak Rough Sawn

    CARPETS:
    Feltex

    ACOUSTIC CEILING BOARDS: 
    Knauf Australia STRATOPANEL

    BEDHEAD VENEER:
    Fairbrother Joinery 

    INSULATION:
    Bradford - Masonry Insulation Blanket (to external walls)

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