Peter's historic House goes back to its roots

12 Aug 2022

The scaffolding is finally about to go up, and it’s exciting to enter the next iteration of what University House will mean to ANU

Professor Peter Kanowski couldn't be more pleased that repairs and renovations of University House are afoot. 

Master of University House since 2014, Peter says the damage caused by rain and hail in 2020 was devastating. 

"Part of that devastation was also because the tender for the first phase of major refurbishment was due that day," he says. 

"But now the scaffolding is finally about to go up, and it's exciting to enter the next iteration of what University House will mean to ANU." 

As well as repairs, refurbishment will centre around repurposing space for HDR students, in line with the new PhD Strategy's vision that University House will play a stronger role as a centre for PhD students.

In his role as deputy Dean, HDR Supervision, Peter has a focus on the wellbeing of students and the importance of enhancing the creativity and energy of academic life. 

"We are planning to create welcoming areas where HDR students feel comfortable, that are also flexible, informal, and suitable for groups to sit and work," he says. 

"University House was always intended to be a hub for HDR students and was one of the first graduate residences on campus." 

When it was opened in 1954, University House was also meant as a showcase for Australian art, and currently houses hundreds of pieces in its vaults. 

A personal favourite artwork that Peter acquired for University House is called "Stress", a design in the shape of the adrenalin molecules made from the pipes and gauges from the John Curtin school when it was renovated and inspired by stories from women academics. It's one of many pieces in storage now but will be re-hung in Boffins restaurant next year. 

"University House was always a place where people from different disciplines could interact," he says.  

"And so, a piece of art, which was created in the School of Art & Design and inspired by stories of early research activity at ANU, and made physically from one of its buildings, struck me as a really perfect illustration of that." ​​​​​​​

Peter has a genuine love for the buildings he's custodian of, but as a Professor of Forestry at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, it's the grounds that hold his heart.

"In my mind there's a connection between the heritage status of University House, which covers its gardens and grounds, as well as the buildings, and the treed nature of our city," he says.  ​​​​​​​

"I love the serenity of the green spaces, particularly the Quadrangle. You can feel yourself exhale here, it has the right character for de-stressing and unwinding.  

"Which is also a nice metaphor for the broader qualities of leafy Canberra as a place to live." 

For Peter, who grew up in the bush in Queensland, Canberra's green spaces were part of the attraction for him in choosing it as a place to study. 

"I was always interested in the environment, and forestry was the best way to give effect to that in the 1970s - and I think it still is," he says.  

"However, it was also my goal in life as a teenager to leave Queensland! The prospect of coming to the national capital to study forestry at ANU with students from around the country and the region, was really appealing. For me, becoming a forester also legitimised my move to Canberra, which ended up being a great decision for me." 

Peter says that at ANU, he had the sort of student experience that "we as an institution and as academics try to make sure our students have".  

"I loved to walk past the pond, overhear intellectual conversations, go to the café, rub shoulders with researchers you read about in the paper," he says.  

"We want to continue to attract students, and a lot of the value of University House and ANU comes from that ambience.  

"Graduate students are part of the fabric of the building and are also part of what gives University House its special character. Reciprocally, those students feel part of a larger community of academic and cultural activity." 

The timetable for reopening of University House will be clear once repairs start next month and will be communicated to the ANU community as soon as possible. In the meantime, University House café is open at the School of Law, and café and events at 3 Rimmer Street. 


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