ACT News


Countdown on for Futuro House refurbishment for University of Canberra

Hall's Tardis, which we reported on as part of Gang Gang's celebration of Dr Who last week, is not the only spaceship currently in residence in the ACT.

It was beaten to the punch, by many years, by the remarkable Futuro House - a prefabricated structure designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen and initially deployed as a ''satellite unit'' cum spaceship audio visual room at the Canberra Space Dome.

The history of the structure prior to its installation at the CSD (once a part of the Tradies in Dickson) in 1997 remains unclear.

It was probably constructed in New Zealand, where the accommodation pods were being built under licence, prior to 1973, and may have been used for residential purposes at Sutton.

Canberra academic Robert Bell, who wrote his doctoral thesis on Scandinavian design and its influence on Australia in 2007 and is the senior curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the National Gallery, played a seminal role in arranging for the Futuro to be relocated to the University of Canberra following the closure of the CSD. He now serves as adviser to the Futuro Relocation and Restoration Project.

That project came into being a couple of years ago when the UOC's then university architect Annabelle Pegrum resolved to move heaven and earth (and the odd flying saucer) to bring the Futuro to the campus.


Ms Pegrum, an emigre from Sydney, is passionate about Canberra and its quirky, and occasionally downright odd, architectural heritage. She feels the Futuro's optimistically whimsical design motif, conceived at a time when Star Trek was a new show on television, the Apollo program was in full swing and Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 collaboration with Stanley Kubrick was just around the corner, captured the ''anything is possible'' spirit of Canberra architecture and design in the 1960s and 1970s.

''Yes, it is an absolutely gorgeous piece of whimsy,'' she said. ''But it is an example of architectural brilliance at the same time.''

Suuronen, who made his name at a time when Scandinavia had overtaken Italy for innovation and style, created the Futuro as an economical, demountable, stylish and practical relocatable structure that could be used as self-contained accommodation or as a holiday home suitable for a range of environments.

It remains, according to Mr Bell, ''the first fully realised, manufactured capsule dwelling to become available for sale''.

Suuronen was one of the first designers to apply new construction techniques and materials to the problem of housing.

His final product, an oblate spheroid nine metres across and with an internal height of 3.6 metres, retains its original aesthetic appeal and, more importantly, has proved to be very sturdy.

The walls are made of polyurethane foam sandwiched with a fibre-glass reinforced polyester. The windows (portholes?) are double glazed and made from perspex and the structure is mounted on an adjustable base that means it can be quickly and simply erected on an uneven site.

''When I was first told about it I knew this was a 'must-have' for the university,'' Ms Pegrum said.

''It is optimistic and cheerful and, while it is prefabricated, it is also very flexible and adaptable. One of the features of the original design was that the Futuros could be carried into difficult locations by helicopter. [This means] it is remarkably robust.''

The UOC did not appreciate just how solid the building was until they came to pull it apart for its reinstallation on the campus.

''We didn't know what to expect, I had visions of the structure collapsing or crumbling. Instead it came apart and went back together again very easily.''

After having spent the past two years in a relatively unkempt state at the university, the Futuro has now entered the next phase of its life.

It has been pulled apart again and brought to JB Design in Fyshwick where it is being totally refurbished.

It will be fitted with a curved desk following the internal circumference and house a wide range of 21st century computing and communications aids.

Ms Pegrum's one regret is that it will not be taken back to its original colour, a dramatic ochre-yellow that would make it stand out against any background.

It will, instead, be finished in a sleek silver livery very similar to the paint scheme it had at the space dome.

Regardless of the colour, the structure - which should be reinstalled at the UOC sometime in 2014 - will add a nicely surreal touch to its new home.

''Kids love it,'' Ms Pegrum said. ''And when it was here before it was given huge respect [by the students].''