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Back to the futuro: iconic buildings headed to University of Canberra

It looks like it would have been perfect for fondue and cognac in the snow but this example of the iconic Futuro House is being painstakingly converted more for megabytes and coffee as a funky workspace for students at the University of Canberra.

Canberra industrial designers Wade Bartlett and Jon Burchill have since last November been resurrecting the Finnish-designed building at a workshop in Fyshwick, most recently stripping back layers of paint to reveal it was originally coloured orange and restoring it to the same 1970s-era hue.

The UFO-looking fibreglass Futuro House was created in 1968 by Finish designer Matti Suuronen and in production during the 1960s and 1970s as a low-cost ski chalet or holiday home, complete with fireplace, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. This restored version will have a high-tech interior as a tutorial space and meeting spot for students at UC.

"I think their original claim to fame was that you could heat them from minus 20 degrees to plus 20 degrees in 20 minutes. So you could go into your ski cabin, light the fire and within 20 minutes it would be lovely and warm," Mr Bartlett, managing director of UrbanCraft, said.

There were thought to be about 50 examples of the Futuro House left in the world, including four in Australia, in Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.


The Canberra house was believed to have originally come from New Zealand and been placed in Kingston, Fyshwick, Sutton and Macquarie over the years until it was part of the Canberra observatory and planetarium complex at Dickson. It was spared from a fire in September, 2010, which otherwise destroyed the abandoned complex, leading then owners, the Dickson Tradies, to donate the building to the University of Canberra in 2011.

"When we got it, it was in a horrible state," Mr Bartlett said. "It was full of spiders and it had taken on water, so all the structural elements at the bottom were rotten. It didn't seem to have had any fire damage. But it must have had half a metre of water in there for quite a while."

Mr Burchill and Mr Bartlett have replaced the damaged elements and created a new remote-controlled door and stairs from scratch. They've also had to work to fix some past dodgy modifications to the building such as the legs being lopped off and the doorway being extended.

University of Canberra project manager Craig Pearsall said by June the new Futuro House would be positioned in an internal courtyard in Building 5 on the Bruce campus, used for tutorials and a meeting place complete with Wi-Fi. The Futuro House will be transported in pieces and reassembled on-site. The restoration budget was about $250,000.

"I think a lot of people will use it just to hang out because it's a little bit cool, a little bit funky," Mr Pearsall said. "People will be able to go in there and surf the net and have a coffee."

UC estate management director Dr Alison Fincher-Johnson originally suggested the Futuro go in Building 5 which will undergo a general upgrade as well.

"I think it will really be a focus for the building," she said.

Mr Burchill, who graduated from UC predecessor, the Canberra College of Advanced Education, in 1979, and owns the company JB Design Consultants, said it had been a fascinating project.

"When we first took it on, we really didn't know what was involved and it's been a voyage of discovery," he said.

And Mr Bartlett said the project had tested their skills in every way.

"We love it. It's probably the most fun I've had at work in more than a decade," he said.

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