Ian McDougall

“I like to lead our clients to embark on the journey—to take the risk. I show them that it’s doable and worth doing.”

“I like working on public projects—buildings and places that have a social agenda. If you have a mission to create things of value, you feel much better spending your life doing something for the wider community.

My career has spanned a wide variety of architectural activities: designing, writing, publishing, speaking, teaching, advocacy and the like. And I’m very proud of the buildings we have produced—high quality, functional and edgy, with something to say, all at once. At the same time, through teaching and writing, ARM has been a huge contributor to why Melbourne has such a strong design culture.

When ARM started out, we were always interested in projects like social housing and community health. It was great to be able to turn the dreariest clinical program into something the community absolutely loved and embraced. It introduced a whole cultural dimension into a community.

Institutional and government facilities like libraries and museums and performance venues play a very important cultural role in a community. They exist within the narrative of a city. Cities think about themselves in a particular way and their self-consciousness is made by people who invent visions of what that city is. I think buildings do the same thing. Culturally, a design has resonance when it strikes a chord with the existing urban narrative, a sentimental vein within the community’s feelings about things.

Architecture at is very best is art, there’s no need to question that. It is not a service industry, but nor is it sculpture—it’s unique as an art form. So it can’t be self-absorbed or egocentric. It has to engage. It is born out of the skill of the designer but, unlike other art, it’s modified by the fact that it’s a thing to be used, it has a financial life and it’s put together by people who aren’t the artists.

I like working with our team to push the design edges. I also like to lead our clients to embark on the journey—to take the risk. I show them that it’s doable and worth doing. The best part of my job is when I get to sit down with our project team and really work out the design. Seeing a project start to take shape is terrific. When I go onto site during construction I still think, ‘Oh wow, this is actually working’.”