28 September 2016

Profile: Chris Moller

Chris Moller, IPENZ, Grand design, New Zealand,

Chris Moller is the presenter of Grand Designs NZ. He talks about his career and how engineers and architects can better collaborate.

Why is it important that engineers don’t work in silos?

Joined up thinking is critical to enable us to do more with less. It requires integration between all of the various factors that go into good design.

How do you think architects and engineers can work better together?

The key is to learn each other’s language, to understand each other’s focus and responsibility, and to help each other reach better results to do more with less. This requires engineers to learn to think more creatively. Some good examples to look up are Frei Otto, Peter Rice, Nicola Tesla, Alex Moulton.

Why is it important to remember that the end user of a project is very likely not to be an engineer?

Simply, it’s important to understand end users have different needs. If you’re designing a vehicle, most users don't care how it works; they just want to get from A to B. It’s sad, but true. But I would still argue that the quality of your design is crucial, and your job is not only to solve the functional requirements, but to delight them while they use your device.

How do you think engineers and architects should communicate with end users, when discussing a project or consulting the public about a project?

It’s very important to listen carefully and try to put yourself in their shoes, to understand what matters most for them. Then think about how you can delight them, so you can blow their socks off!

Why is it important to have an understanding of your projects impact on the local community and environment?

Context is absolutely vital to the relevance of whatever it is you’re designing. While designing I consider both larger and smaller scales than the ones usually discussed by the client or thecommunity in order to see more deeply what its broader impact might be. It’s also a useful device to help argue the case for unusual design approaches.

What are the trends in urban design?

The obvious ones are to do with sustainability and global warming, but the critical thing is the details that deliver new ways of building buildings. This means exploring new kinds of designs, new kinds of typologies – which are more compact, hybrid in form, mixed use program – and generally mixing things up; integrating landscape, infrastructure, and architecture into new combinations.

Why is it important to have an understanding of the materials which will be used in an engineering project?

As they say the devil is in the detail. Different materials perform in very different ways, so it’s important to understand how they perform, what geometries they like and what kinds of space they enable. The famous architect Louis Kahn who collaborated with structural engineer August Kommendant used to talk to materials; he would ask "brick, what do you like", and the brick would say "I like an arch".

What has been your greatest achievement to date as an architect?

I'm probably too close to my work to answer that question, but my guess is to explore, prototype and test new forms of prefabricated sustainable architecture such as click-raft systems. This kind of thinking has also led to the approach to the Mt Pleasant Community Centre in Christchurch, and the work I am doing with Callaghan Innovation to create a new kind of urban game board to help accelerate innovation especially in high value manufacturing.

What lessons can be learnt, outside the classroom?

Nature is the great teacher. No one owns the laws of nature, so the challenge is to constantly seek to understand the nature of nature in all its manifestations.

How do you think engineers and architects should account for the requirements of indigenous people when working on a project?

Listen carefully and try to put yourself in their shoes. Embrace and celebrate what they have to offer, enjoy the differences in their view of the world. It could give you fascinating new insights and help to make your work richer and more relevant.