Timber provides the inspiration, heart and soul for award-winning educational design

Expressing the traditional craftsmanship associated with bespoke furniture design, with a modern architectural twist, this new educational structure employs timber in unusual and unexpected ways.
Project Name
Australian School of Fine Furniture
Case Study Type
Photographer Details
Patrick Rodriguez


When the School of Architecture and Design at the University of Tasmania incorporated the Australian School of Fine Furniture (ASFF), an institution synonymous with the production of bespoke fine furniture, it required a new timber workshop for furniture research and construction.

The award-winning solution from Six Degrees and Sustainable Built Environments has transformed ASFF from hierarchically arranged, capsular rooms to a building with a sense of transparency between studios, workshops, offices and breakout spaces.

Timber is at the heart, surface, soul and even the very air of this structure. Walls are designed to open for enhanced ventilation, dispersing the fine timber dust that makes the furniture making process felt across all spaces. Form follows function as the structure morphs to meet the changing needs and activities of its users.

The architectural team built upon the knowledge they had previously gained about the sustainable design of large areas from the creation of the adjoining School of Architecture and Design building, housed in a former 1950s railway workshop, for which Six Degrees/SBE won Sustainable and Heritage architecture awards in 2007.

The resulting, largely timber structure offers a raw materiality, simplicity of form and structure, and flexible spaces that embody the notion of learning by making.





The building is a showcase for the appropriate use of timber. Not much more than four walls and a roof held up by an expressed timber portal frame that is both simple and robust, the design was driven by ESD principles, resulting in an example of sustainable design at its very best.

Six Degrees and Sustainable Built Environments specified an extensive use of sustainably harvested timber in all building structures, plywood flooring, and plywood linings.

The frame is also jointed with black steel plates reminiscent of mediaeval structures and allows for a flexible floor layout that can adapt to the School's changing functions and future needs.


Externally, steel perforated and plain metal have been employed to highlight entry and signage points. These elements reference the burls that form on Australian eucalypts and are part of the form of natural timber, lending the building a distinctive look and feel.

"By day, the architects see the external treatment as reminiscent of the rocky striations of Launceston's famous Cataract Gorge, with the black holes of gum tree burls and beehives, and by night it takes on a Herzog de Meuron-esqe Lantern demeanour," according to Stephen Loo, Professor and Head of Architecture at the University of Tasmania.

Macrocarpa decking has been used in sunny spots to encourage the use of external spaces by students and staff alike.


The new Australian School of Fine Furniture is a simple educational building that uses a robust and internally expressed structural timber frame.

As well as targeting low operating energy consumption, good day lighting and increased indoor comfort the Sustainable Built Environments team were keen to control the environmental impact of the building fabric.

"The structure therefore has low embodied energy, the cladding is of a high thermal performance and durability for increased longevity and the specified finishes have low emissions, leading to a healthier indoor air quality," explains Sean McArdle of Sustainable Built Environments.

The main double-height workshop on the north side that houses the furniture workshop features timber extensively with the exposed wood of cross-beams reflected in the work benches that fill the space and the plywood clad offices/ classrooms that look over the voluminous space.

Timber finishes such as hardwood plywood, Hoop Pine ply and formply have been used extensively in the interiors to add warmth and give a long term, durable and low emission finish. The result is serene internal spaces that are designed to be long lasting and well lit by sunlight.

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