Hamish Muir

Architect

Hamish has a long heritage in architecture. Mason & Wales, where Hamish is a Director, is the oldest architectural firm in New Zealand, having been founded in 1863 by William Mason, the first architect to live and work in New Zealand and the first Mayor of Dunedin. Hamish’s grandfather was an architect, and his father is still practicing as an architect. Hamish grew up visiting construction sites, going to client meetings, and family travel often had an architecturally-focussed itinerary.

The thing that keeps Hamish going as an architect is the satisfaction that comes with seeing a project he’s been involved with during design and documentation becoming a reality.

The thing that keeps Hamish going as an architect is the satisfaction that comes with seeing a project he’s been involved with during design and documentation becoming a reality. “It’s an interesting type of satisfaction though,” says Hamish. “In committing something of yourself to the world you open yourself up to not only the critique of others, but also yourself. Invariably you tend to think about what you would do differently next time, and overlook the successful elements of the design.”

It’s important to appreciate the multitude of inherent challenges in any project, and getting a build result is an achievement in itself, so a high-quality end result is a truly significant achievement for all involved.

Hamish was the lead architect for the Camp Glenorchy Eco Lodge, and came to the project with knowledge of the region and its buildings. Hamish grew up holidaying around Central Otago, and in recent years had been involved with a number of projects around Queenstown and Glenorchy. Mason & Wales also has a connection with the area, with William Mason having retired to Paradise  House just up the road from Glenorchy Township.

Hamish at one of the Camp Glenorchy design team meetings

“Camp Glenorchy was an incredible opportunity to work on an environmentally sustainable project at world-class level,” recounts Hamish. He had earlier worked on an NZGBC 5 Green Star-rated commercial building so approached the Living Building Challenge with caution. He was immediately impressed by Debbi and Paul’s approach to Camp Glenorchy, with their experience and understanding of the process that would be necessary, and a big-picture view to balance engineered performance with design values including human comfort and experience.

Hamish recalls the team for Camp Glenorchy being integral to its success. “Paul and Debbi knew the importance of getting the right team and mix of skills together, so we could not only share the load, but also support each other and play to our strengths.”

A broad team was key to addressing what Hamish remembers as one of the main challenges of the Camp Glenorchy project - balancing sustainability aspirations with other goals around aesthetic and experience.

That broad team was key to addressing what Hamish remembers as one of the main challenges of the Camp Glenorchy project - balancing the sustainability aspirations with other goals around aesthetic and experience. Hamish recalls an example from an early stage in the project. “We had designed a number of separate cabins, when it was suggested a dormitory building would be more energy-efficient due to its reduced surface area. But the type of experience sought for guests required standalone buildings that were relevant to the local architectural vernacular and scale. By maintaining a big-picture view, and refusing to compromise on typically conflicting goals – architectural style, guest experience and energy-use as a part of environmentally sustainable design - the whole team was pushed to work together to come up with integrated and finely balanced solutions.”

One of the unique aspects of the project for the Mason & Wales team was the rare opportunity to be able to stay in the buildings they had designed once they were complete. The whole office visited Camp Glenorchy for a weekend once it was open, where they stayed overnight and cooked together in the communal kitchen. “It was amazing to see the guest experience vision come to life, and also the contribution of all the different team members - even down to details like signage, way-finding, and detailed interior finishes. I’ve also stayed with family and friends, and it’s hilarious to watch the kids delight at things like composting toilets.”

Mason & Wales team cooking in the communal kitchen at Camp Glenorchy

Hamish credits the sustainability outcomes at Camp Glenorchy to the team that was established for it. “What they achieved at Camp Glenorchy comes down to setting the project up for collaboration, and the integrated design process that was followed was key to that.” “The team were also hugely supported by the client,'' says Hamish. “Rather than just telling us to go and find solutions, both Debbi and Paul were deeply involved in the research and design development throughout.”

Hamish sees that to a certain extent, sustainability and architecture go hand-in-hand. “Most of it is just common sense, it’s just about understanding the fundamental principles and then doing the right thing. Things like avoiding VOCs and using sustainably-sourced timber are a no-brainer,” says Hamish. The more aspirational standards of sustainability are project-specific though. Every project is unique, Hamish adds, “It’s important to understand their unique preferences with regard to sustainability and meet them there. There’s no prescribed ‘one size fits all’.”

"What we [architects] need to do as professionals is communicate [sustainability] better, and tell the story."

Because they’re doing it every day, Hamish thinks architects often forget they’re already doing environmentally sustainable design to a high level. “What we need to do as professionals is communicate it better, and tell the story. Work out what’s practical for a particular project, raise awareness and communicate it - then strive to achieve the objectives and continue to keep raising the bar.”

One area he’d like to see the industry get better at is collaboration and knowledge sharing. “There are people out there claiming to be the greenest of them all, but that can be quite divisive. Sustainability is a team thing. As an industry, I think we need to be more open-source in our approach. Rather than competing and keeping our cards close to our chest, we should share what we do.” This isn’t just for the common good though; Hamish sees benefit for individual consultants too. “The more you give away, the more you get back.”

Hamish’s final pieces of insight from his experience on Camp Glenorchy? “Projects like this are hard work, and relentless, and there will be tension at times. But people need to remember - if it’s not a challenge, it’s not going to be great.” Also, it is important to remember that the process is a journey, and not to take yourself too seriously,  “We had a great bunch of diverse characters working together on Camp Glenorchy, and an excellent management team who made sure there were opportunities to take a breath, have a laugh, and keep things in perspective.”

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