Meet Our People – Neil Masterton, Design Director

What inspires you most?

I’d like to think that architecture is a cultural activity which resonates for particular places and for particular times. I’m inspired by architecture’s ability to tell stories about us, our place in the world and the times in which we live. Somehow, I keep on going back to the idea that architecture should ‘hold a mirror to society,’ and that it can still hint at better ways to do things culturally, environmentally and socially.

What’s one of your proudest architectural achievements?

Perhaps my proudest architectural achievements and my most humbling are to have worked on some of Australia’s most public and significant cultural institutions and public places… buildings and places which contribute to our cities and the ideas of urban Australian society. Examples include Hamer Hall and the Yarra Edge Precinct, Docklands Masterplan, Melbourne Recital Centre and Melbourne Theatre Company. More recently I have had the privilege of working on the Adelaide Festival Plaza.

There is an underlying belief at ARM that we are all students of the city, and that significant architectural outcomes always start with urban design.

A bucket list project?

I’m quite fascinated by urban design and the history of cities. I somehow find it endlessly interesting that there are a series of typologies which make up our cities: streets, boulevards, lanes, city blocks, squares, arcades, parks, gardens etc. but that they vary so much depending upon place and time. So yes, I’d really like to do more urban design. Urban design seems like a ‘missing link’ between thinking about human culture and architectural outcome.

What does it mean to think like a designer?

Is this the Bend it like Beckham question? Three things:

  1. Perhaps it’s worth holding as a truism that architects are always students, and that…
  2. Architecture is a vocation! It is also true to say that anything may be possible, but not everything is desirable, permissible or good.
  3. The designer is part storyteller, part detective and part marathon runner. A compelling concept is needed, investigation and research is required and fortitude is a prerequisite!

What is your leitmotif?

A recurrent theme in contemporary architecture is ‘the reparative.’ Perhaps it’s our zeitgeist, our defining spirit or the mood of the times within which we live. This notion of ‘the reparative’ comes in many different forms. Forms which are environmental, social, economic, heritage and of course in relationships to First Nations peoples and their profoundly complex, ongoing cultural relationships to Place and Country.

A notion of ‘the reparative’ also manifests itself in the work that we do at ARM, in the work for public and government bodies, public places and private clients which require existing buildings and places to be significantly modified to suit new and emerging social conditions.

Each and every design opportunity comes with its own story. This story may need retelling for a contemporary audience and context but the old one must not be destroyed. This is true for both buildings and sites. It is a recurring thematic and leitmotif of our own era.