Vale Dr Peter Macfarlane


Peter Macfarlane sadly passed away on Tuesday 7th July. Peter grew up in Taroona, Hobart and was schooled at Taroona High School. He spent his childhood rambling around the Taroona neighbourhood and surfing the local point break with his friends. Pete was always full of life and adventure and if he could invent a reason to take his mates on an escapade, he would.

Peter took this energy and passion for exploration forward into life; this began at 17 years of age with an apprenticeship in stone masonry, working under Master Sculptor Hans Farner (Denmark) and later Peter Lonegran, who embellished what he had learned from Farner.

Under Farner and Lonegran, Peter steadily developed a high level of skill, expanding his understanding of the characteristics of materials, tool-work, form and texture. During this period, Peter always took a great interest in design, landscape and architecture. Always one to read and research, Peter took a deep interest in the work of Carlo Scarpa, Tadao Ando and the monumentality of Oscar Niemeyer. Feeling he wanted to take his academic thinking further, he consequently enrolled in the UTAS School of Architecture at Hunter Street (School of Fine Arts) in Hobart, initially completing the Bachelor of Environmental Design in 1987 (graduating in 1988).

By this stage, Peter was raising a young family and went back to stone masonry, taking with him his formative design education. He subsequently completed his Bachelor of Architecture (Hons.) in 1993, graduating in 1994. Peter briefly practiced architecture and worked for a period as a project architect for the Hobart City Council, combining design input with masonry and material knowledge for capital works of varying scale.

Eventually Peter was drawn back to his love of stone masonry and commitment as a maker, and in 1997 moved his family to Brisbane, setting up his practice “Art At The End” (Funerary Architecture). In Peter’s words:

My mission was fairly clear in my mind by this point and can be summarised in the following statement:

“Memorials aren’t about profile, form, ornament, and simply marking of names, with viewing ultimately being from the edge. They are about responding to the client’s story, emotions, and behaviours through rich conversational engagements and the client and me working together creatively to bring forward a memorial which informs and engages the ‘visit’ experience through design tools to trigger memory and allow for other important forms of experiencing via an appreciation of the importance of embodiment. Memorials are places, not things.”

Over the next 23 years, Peter designed, crafted and fabricated memorials for the bereaved of extraordinary sentiment and perception. His work is unparalleled in Australia, and possibly internationally. Peter’s knowledge of materiality, proportion and fabrication, paired with sensitivity and a depth of design philosophy rarely applied in such an arena, was a deft assemblage that reaped breathtakingly beautiful outcomes. He was, as he states, endeavouring to encapsulate “intense and multi-layered human and societal needs for handling grief and loss through the creation of public works of art.”

In 2015-16 Peter undertook a Doctorate of Philosophy through RMIT, entitled, ‘Design in the Graveyard: A new Approach to Memorial Making.’ His dissertation supervisors were Richard Blythe and Marcelo Stamm. It is an inspiring work and stands as a compelling document in advocation for the critical role and transformative potential of design in such an acute context. Importantly as described within his dissertation, Peter’s beautifully empathetic approach to his client’s grief and their narrative is instructive to all. Peter never placed himself within the project, always standing back from the process and allowing the client’s memories and wishes to reveal themselves through connection and conversation.

Again, in Peter’s words, ‘I’m simply just directing, through my experience, the tools by which my clients can explore, in a theatre of no fear. This is the concept of collaboration. Conversations about care, conversations about love, conversations about understanding.’

A video of Dr Macfarlane discussing his approach to his work is can be found here.

Peter was a member of the Queensland Chapter of the Institute and served as an awards juror in the Queensland Architecture Awards in 2016. Peter also tutored at the UTAS School of Architecture and in Landscape Construction at The Queensland University of Technology’s School of Landscape Architecture. He returned to Tasmania at the beginning of 2020 to practice and teach.

Many of his works can be found at the Toowong and Mt Gravatt cemeteries in Brisbane.

Peter was the partner and fiancée of Mandy Cotman and loving father to sons Will and Flynn. His energy and enthusiasm will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved him. The architecture profession and stone masonry community have lost a dedicated practitioner, and a great innovator.