5 minutes with ARM director Ian McDougall

“Less is not more”

Tell us about the best part of your home.

We’ve got a 1923 Californian Bungalow and we’ve added to it over the years. The striking thing is that it’s very brightly coloured—bright yellows, purples, deep blues. The back room was in pretty bad shape when we moved in so we pulled that down and built a new semicircular section on the back with quite tall glass doors, which is really beautiful.

The semicircle faces to the north and when the sun comes in there’s a very uplifting sense of the joy of life. My wife is gradually covering it in crazy tile patterns and things, which is sort of the thing I love about it.

What’s one of your proudest architectural achievements?

Marion Cultural Centre because it put cultural facilities in the suburbs where people don’t usually get architectural works. It’s rare in the land of the giant shopping centre to find an attempt at architecture that is significant, interesting, proudly civic. For me, Marion captured a lot of ideas about buildings that had been swimming around in my head for a long time, trying to find a language and a structure. It was the first one that clicked.

Do you have an architectural pet hate?

Reductionist design. Design without ideas. Design that reduces elements to their minimum instead of enriching them, complicating them. Less is not more.

Has technology improved the way you work?

In the early 80s everyone was drawing on tracing paper with ink, so you could tell an architect by the black lines all over the ends of their fingers where they’d wipe their pens. These days, with computers, you can test out lots of ideas really quickly with 3D modelling. But the downside is that what used to be a reasonable time to think is now being squeezed by the industry. Clients expect you to come back to them tomorrow, rather than the architect being able to say, “Ok, it’s going to take me a week to sketch that while I think”.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Take risks. Push the work, because there will always be opportunities. And, as I tell students, “Find your position, find your voice, find your story to tell”.

What else?

I like to work on public projects. Private housing can be a vanity exercise for the person who owns the house. If your mission is to create valuable things, you feel much better about spending your life doing something for a community.