Discover tips from the experts behind the Launceston Sub Station from episode 5, season 6 of Grand Designs Australia.
Mark and Karen Bartkevicius are passionate about local history and old buildings. So passionate they spent two years pursuing the sale of an old electric substation, perched high overlooking the city of Launceston in Tasmania.
Now they’re poised to restore and convert the local icon, starting with its uniquely recognisable façade featuring antique brickwork and four slate insulators. It is so distinctive and so prominent it’s been known and loved by generations of locals.
However the remains of this 1920’s “gothic” gem have sat roofless on one of Launceston’s most exposed peaks for decades, soaking up the wildest of Tasmanian climes. And while Mark and Karen are confident that with a little basic re-enforcement their modest plans for a two bed home will simply slot in around the existing walls, it’s not until they start scratching the surface that they realise the scale of work they’ve taken on.
The old substation, remarkably, has not been heritage listed. But this just makes Mark and Karen even more determined to respect its heritage – from the salvaging of original antique bricks, to using old-school lime render. Despite their delicate approach, with so much decay to contend with and so much of the old structure yet to be unraveled, there’s a real concern the old substation might not survive its much needed make-over.
Attempts to install new structural steel decimates the old brickwork, raising a difficult dilemma about how much can be saved, and which bits. Mark’s anxiety is palpable. There’s a balance to be struck too, between proposed modern additions and heritage elements. The old insulators are iconic, but they impede the otherwise spectacular views...to keep them or let them go? It’s a daily dilemma for Mark and Karen as they negotiate their way through a minefield of decisions.
Drawing on their initial optimism and a uniquely intuitive approach, Mark and Karen’s aim is to carry on, determined to rescue a beautiful old building and create their home. But when fate deals them a curveball that’s as profound as it is unexpected, everything changes.
It’s still about saving an old building, but its relevance in their lives becomes even more significant. If they can pull this off, the enduring presence of an iconic piece of the skyline will not just be the most significant thing they’ve ever done, it’ll also be their legacy to the people of Launceston.