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Professor Kirsten Orr takes the helm at the UTAS School of Architecture and Design

Wednesday May 11, 2016

It was her parents’ good taste in housing that set Kirsten Orr on the path to a career in architecture and design.

It was her parents’ good taste in housing that set Kirsten Orr on the path to a career in architecture and design.

And it is a path that has now led to the University of Tasmania, where Professor Orr has taken up the position of Head of the School of Architecture and Design.

Her parents, both academics, purchased the family home – a piece of the Sydney School of architecture, designed by Kevin Winterbottom – in the 1970s.

“It was just a fabulous house; everything was perfectly designed,” Professor Orr said.

“It had huge, big sliding walls that would slide away into invisible pockets. And, it sounds ridiculous to comment on, but the paving in the backyard was perfectly laid, so you never had puddles on the ground.

“I think that house had a huge impact on me. There was a time when I made a choice: it was either law or architecture, and I’ve always been glad I chose architecture.”

Professor Orr studied architecture at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and went into practice in a medium-sized, commercial firm as soon as she graduated.

“I got registered straight away and started doing my own projects, including renovating my own houses. This was at a time when you could still buy small, cheap properties in Sydney,” Professor Orr said.

“This work was invaluable because it sent me down the path of being incredibly interested in detailing and construction.”

It was around this time that Professor Orr started tutoring at UTS, as well as raising her new young family and studying for her PhD at the University of New South Wales.

“I ended up loving the tutoring; it was the thing that got me out of bed in the morning.

“Educating architects and designers is not just about training architects or furniture designers or interior designers – it’s about a way of thinking and conceptualising the world around you. We are equipping our students with a mental agility and a creativity which they can translate to other things.”

Professor Orr began at the University of Tasmania on March 1, bringing that passion for education to her new home.

“I came here to Tasmania because I knew I would be a good fit and, to put it simply, because this is one of the preeminent architecture and design schools in the country.

“The workshop facilities are unequalled and even the building itself – this raw, industrial space – we’ve got a space here that you couldn’t put a price on.”

Professor Orr said the University of Tasmania had a very strong reputation, particularly for its making and live projects with community clients. It’s a reputation she intends to build upon.

“We want to grow as a school. We run a prestige program here at Inveresk and I want everyone to know that – I want that to be recognised here in Tasmania and interstate and overseas.

“Those students who have experienced the program know how good it is. University of Tasmania alumni are unusually passionate about the education they received here – they have a strong sense of having participated in something really special and they are proud of it.”

Professor Orr will keep the School on the leading edge, with her expertise centred on fabrication technologies, prototyping and innovation in materials.

“Great design education is important because we are surrounded by design,” she said.

“Our whole life takes place in the spaces we exist in, the objects we touch, the chairs we sit on – our life is enriched if those things are well designed.

“Architects and furniture designers and interior designers literally improve the quality of life.”