Cairns Post My View with Emma Thirkell

Support for Tropical Architecture and Design Course at JCU: Undergraduates and Masters programme. Support for TAFE to re-instate the Certificate course for the Drafting profession. See the document deposit area for more information,

Cairns Post My View with Emma Thirkell

Postby greenbuild » Tue Jan 07, 2014 11:48 am

Cairns Post My View with Emma Thirkell
Printed Cairns Post 11 December 2013

The inclusion of a new College of Design, Science and Technology in the proposed restructure of James Cook University announced recently is very encouraging. It is to be hoped that the proposal to develop an Urban Design Faculty within the College will lead to the establishment of courses in tropical architecture and design at the Cairns Campus and extend to tropical building material research and testing services to augment the services of the Cyclone Testing Station in Townsville.

The Tropical Green Building Network has been calling for the establishment of tropical design studies and tropical building products research and development for a number of years. Research supported by the State Government in 2012 identified that leading businesses in the Cairns region who were delivering some of world’s best practice tropical construction, believed that education, and research in tropical construction, were paramount to their ongoing success.

Currently our professional architects and designers are trained elsewhere and learning outcomes are not always adapted for the tropics. Much of the design work on local building is being carried out from down south.

Without local education and training, it can be hard to find and keep staff, especially graduates, making local design businesses less competitive. Continuing professional development is required to maintain registration. Local professionals are all tired of being invited to training sessions in Brisbane when our local University Campus could be delivering some of this. New building products and materials are slow on the uptake and technical data is often produced in Europe, America, China or from southern parts of Australia with insufficient information on installation and performance in a tropical environment.

The situation is unsatisfactory. Much of the building design witnessed over recent decades results hot box ‘poverty traps’, reliant on growingly expensive out-dated air-conditioning systems to be comfortable. Big condensation problems are emerging while local designers’ efforts to deliver energy smart tropical designs are constantly thwarted by Construction Codes based on the climatic conditions in southern Australia.

It makes good sense to develop urban design studies at the Cairns Campus. Australian Bureau of Statistics and other data clearly indicate there are more architects, designers, house builders and other trades in the Cairns region. The Cairns Campus now services the largest regional population in northern Australia. Cairns is the only city in Australia of its size that does not have a stand-alone base university.

Student numbers per head of population are way below national averages in regional universities and numbers of international students are particularly low. Once students decide to move away from Cairns, only a minority go to the Townsville campus. Most go further afield. Recent research indicates that of 53 executive positions at JCU, only six are located in Cairns.

Recently the Edge Hill State school Year 6 classes had a ‘Sustainable House Model Building Grand Designs’ competition. I was very pleased to be one of the judges. There were over eighty entries with eight outstanding winners - all budding architects, designers, engineers and inventors. I hope that when they leave school they can continue their education in Cairns with all of the benefits that this city with connections to Asia can give them.

Emma Thirkell is Coordinator of the Tropical Green Building Network and a director of Thirkell Consulting Engineers.
New proposed structure for JCU (in a diagram)
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