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Cumulus gives us a masterclass in Tasmania architecture

Directors of Cumulus Studio, Todd Henderson and Peter Walker, are always looking for the bigger picture in their work. Jan Henderson gives us a comprehensive insight into this Tasmanian-born studio.

Cumulus gives us a masterclass in Tasmania architecture

What’s in a name? Well, quite a bit if you are Cumulus Studio. The word cumulus in Latin means ‘heap’ and ‘accumulate’, which is exactly what Todd Henderson and Peter Walker, directors and principals of the studio, aim to achieve through their work in their practice.

By collaboration and connectivity, bouncing perspectives off each other, they look for the bigger picture, reach for the clouds and yes, accumulate all those ideas to make their projects distinctive and the studio as successful as it is.

Cumulus Studio
Devil’s Corner Cellar Door and Lookout at Apslawn, Tasmania.

“One of the very first discussions that Todd and I had together was to try and work out how we wanted to run an office. You can have your own thoughts in a bubble and be sort of isolated but as soon as you put those thoughts together with somebody else it’s not a one plus one equals two, it’s a one plus one equals four kind of exercise.

“You bounce ideas off each other and it just becomes bigger and hopefully better,” says Walker, reflecting on the thought processes behind the idea of Cumulus Studio.

Read the original article in Indesign magazine, issue #86, purchase here.

Left to right: Todd Henderson, Kylee Scott, Peter Walker, Keith Westbrook, courtesy of Cumulus Studio.

Today, Cumulus celebrates 10 years of practice and even the pandemic cannot contain its success and growth, with an increase of personnel, from 20 to 40, in the past year alone – a silver lining in a challenging time.

A decade ago, Cumulus Studio was established simultaneously in Tasmania’s Launceston and Hobart in 2011, with three directors, Walker, Henderson and Kylee Scott. Immediately there was a synergy and meeting of minds between the three and so the story began. Today, as the practice expands, Keith Westbrook has joined the fold as the fourth director.

Cumulus Studio
Stoney Rise Cellar Door at Gravelly Beach, Tasmania, photography by Anjie Blair. Read the full story here.

While Scott drives the practice forward and oversees its operations, Henderson and Walker are more focused on the studio’s design output. Both architects are creative of course, but Walker is more inclined towards the poetics of a project while Henderson, the pragmatist, is more practically oriented.

It’s a great mix, and through their disparate personalities they have found a wonderful partnership, different sides of the same coin. As mentioned, there has been an enormous growth to the practice this year. Joining the offices in Hobart, where Walker and Scott are based; Launceston, where Henderson resides; and Melbourne, run by Westbrook (established in 2015) – is an office in Adelaide, overseen by Jet O’Rourke.

Cumulus Studio
Stoney Rise Cellar Door at Gravelly Beach, Tasmania.

As a practice that originated and remains embedded in the Tasmanian architectural landscape, the studio wears its pedigree with pride and has transported its local expertise to various other projects in nearby states. There are many completed commissions within the tourism, public and urban realm as well as residential, retail, hospitality and heritage sectors. It’s the diversity of the projects that keeps things interesting and also broadens the reach of the practice throughout Australia.

There have been milestones within the 10 years of practice. Henderson cites “the very first employee of the studio” and “building the team” while Walker speaks of the establishment of the Melbourne studio and the recent delivery of Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre which has received three Tasmanian Architecture Awards as well as two Architizer A+ Awards.

Related: Cumulus delivers a refined and welcoming cellar door for these vintners

Stoney Rise Cellar Door at Gravelly Beach, Tasmania.

While the studio is growing, creating projects and satisfying client briefs, sustainability is a major focus and an integral part of every thought-process when undertaking a project. From the initial ideas of passive design principles, through to the use of materials and changing processes over the past decade, the ethos of sustainability is integrated within the thinking of all those at Cumulus. Traditional culture and collaborative relationships with First Nations people are also embraced and helps support creative outcomes while highlighting a deeper way of thinking.

If Cumulus Studio does have a style, it’s really not having one at all as there is no cookie cutter approach to design for clients. The process depends on many factors but ostensibly it is about understanding clients and their needs, developing a relationship and then translating desires and requirement to reality. Each site is different, as is each client and brief, and so every project is unique. Many clients who come to the studio, return time and time again, and that’s just how it should be.

Stoney Rise Cellar Door at Gravelly Beach, Tasmania.

“Architecture is almost like a marriage and I think creates a kind of intimate relationship with people. We feel so lucky, and Pete would say the same, that we become great friends with all the people we make our projects with and I think [that’s the] added benefit of being an architect,” says Henderson.

With a plethora of completed projects, Cumulus has definitely made a name for itself, winning awards and creating signature buildings. For example, Stillwater Seven, a boutique project completed in 2019, raised the bar on hospitality design while Stoney Rise Cellar Door (2020), a beautiful modern concept, perfectly encapsulates the Stoney Rise brand and received a Tasmanian Architecture Award for Commercial Architecture this year. And there is Devil’s Corner Cellar Door and Lookout, Hobart College Theatre upgrade, Goulburn Street Housing, Hotel Verge, Thousand Lakes Lodge, various projects for Parks & Wildlife Services and many single and multi-residential projects, to name just a few.

Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, Tasmania, photography by Anjie Blair.

The horizon is bright for Cumulus as it expands to bring its architecture and design to a broader audience. New projects on the drawing board include tourism commissions in Tasmania and South Australia with hospitality venues, tourist hubs, visitor centres and hotels, as well as social housing projects, schools, an airport upgrade and residential commissions. The sky is the limit.

It’s fair to say that Cumulus Studio, while reaching for the clouds, has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the pinnacle of the architecture and design profession in Australia today. However, the next 10 years will be an even more exciting journey. Watch this space.

This article first appeared in Indesign magazine, issue #86, purchase here.

Cumulus Studio

Cumulus Studio
Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, Tasmania.
Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, Tasmania.
Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, Tasmania.
Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, Tasmania.

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