People Profile: Andrew Mackay on his passion for the urban context

Andrew Mackay joined Chapman Taylor in 2007 and became Prokurist in 2018. He leads our Düsseldorf studio’s Concept Design team and has been responsible for some of the studio’s key projects in recent years, particularly in the mixed-use, masterplanning, workplace and retail sectors. As well as being responsible for most international projects, Andrew has led the design team on many of the studio’s German projects, including the Godesberger Allee office building in Bonn and the Plaza Grafinger Strasse mixed-use building in Munich.

He has successfully led teams on a range of competitions, such as the masterplan for Altstadtquartier Büchel in Aachen, which won Chapman Taylor the ‘Best Practice’ award at the 2018 National Urban Design Awards. In this profile, Andrew tells us about his background, why he left his native New Zealand for Europe and his enjoyment of designing buildings and districts in urban contexts.

Tell us about your background and your route into architecture as a career.

I’m originally from New Zealand, although my family moved to Melbourne in Australia when I was about eight years old, which is where I had most of my schooling and went to university. We lived in the middle of Melbourne’s sprawling eastern suburbs. The set of the fictional Ramsay Street from the TV soap Neighbours was not too far away, but there was little of the sense of community you saw on TV. Everyone lived in their single-family house behind picket fences and kept to themselves.

From a very early age, I wanted to be an architect, perhaps influenced by years of playing with Lego. At 15, I did two weeks of school work experience with one of Australia’s’ leading architects at the time, Peter Corrigan, which was a fascinating introduction to daily life at an architects’ practice, even if I did do mundane tasks like printing plans and buying sandwiches.

I enjoyed my time studying at Melbourne University, but, in hindsight, I realised that there was too much focus on designing individual buildings, often freestanding and monofunctional, with little context. I was fascinated by the places and buildings I learnt about in European architectural history lectures, and developed an interest in urban design. One of the reasons I moved to Europe was to be able to work on interesting urban design projects in cities with a strong sense of urbanity. After working for four years at a number of practices in Auckland in my native New Zealand, I moved to London in 1998, working as an architect and taking the opportunity to travel through Europe, when possible.

Altstadtquartier Büchel in Aachen, which won ‘Best Practice’ award at the 2018 UK National Urban Design Awards.

Why did you decide to stay in Europe permanently?

A lot of New Zealanders travel the world in their 20s as part of what we call “The Big OE (Overseas Experience)”, and many decide to put down roots in the places to which they travel. However, when I arrived, I did not realise I would still be in Europe 23 years later!

I worked for Hurley Robertson Associates for 18 months, including detailed design for the Montevetro apartment buildings in Battersea, on which we worked alongside the Richard Rogers Partnership. During this period, I met my now wife and we eventually moved to her native Germany. At the beginning, I didn’t speak the language, so it was a difficult transition for me, but it was well worth the effort in the end!

We moved to Aachen, best known for its UNESCO cathedral, Charlemagne, and its location on the border with both Belgium and the Netherlands (which suits my interest in places where cultures and countries intersect). I initially worked for an Aachen-based practice, where I gained my first experience with retail architecture, before working for a practice across the border in the Netherlands, doing very interesting international work.

Palais am Brandenburger Tor, Berlin

How did you come to join Chapman Taylor?

I thought it was important to work in the country in which I lived to feel more rooted there, and I also wanted to work for a larger practice with an international dimension. I had heard about Chapman Taylor through my wife, who had a friend who had previously worked here and who thought it might suit my ambitions. I contacted the Düsseldorf studio and was invited to interview, subsequently joining the company in 2007.

It was a good match, both for me and for Chapman Taylor – I had experience working internationally and was willing to travel a lot. In my first few months with the company, I travelled to the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Russia. It was a great opportunity to see countries which would not necessarily have been on my travel agenda.

Several of the early projects were concept designs for shopping centres across Europe, which was a good transition because I already had experience of shopping centre design. One of the notable retail designs, although more recent, was for BEO shopping centre in Belgrade, which was a great experience, particularly when we began collaborating with Chapman Taylor’s Madrid studio (which worked on the interiors).

This project gave me a strong sense of being part of a close-knit international organisation, which has since been reinforced by working alongside several more of our worldwide studios. I was surprised at how easy it is to collaborate with other studios in the group, even when we haven’t worked together before – it’s as if we already speak a common language, in terms of our shared design philosophy.

Plaza Grafinger Strasse mixed-use scheme in Munich

You work mostly on the early design stages?

Yes – it allows me to work on several projects at once, rather than being committed to just one project full-time for a couple of years, and that suits my desire for variety and my curiosity and passion for different kinds of architecture. I still like to be involved in projects the whole way through the design and construction process through to completion, but my focus is on creating and developing concepts.

I am not overly protective of the design concept as it progresses. It is important that the design intent is clearly communicated to those who have to deliver it, and if I feel that there is a divergence from the spirit of the concept then I will occasionally step in to interrogate the thinking behind the changes. However, all projects are collaborative efforts and changes are often inevitable as the process moves on - sometimes over a course of years - so design guardianship has its limits. In addition, our project architects are excellent and know how to deliver a concept design to a very high quality and I have great faith in their judgment.

Sometimes there is very little change between the concept and the completed buildings. For example, I was involved in the Plaza Grafinger Strasse mixed-use project in Munich from the very beginning and the completed complex is essentially the same as the original design. It is always very gratifying to see a concept become reality just as it was envisaged at the beginning.

Although I have always sketched as part of the design process, I have recently begun to rely on drawings for my concepts far more. I find that clients and others respond very positively to sketches, whereas once a design is modelled in SketchUp or Rhino or conveyed via massing studies, they are often misunderstood. There is something about the wobbly lines of a sketch which makes it a very effective means of gaining acceptance of the design intent from the client, stakeholders or the public. I keep my sketches simple – clean lines with a minimum of detail – which I find to be an effective tool.

I have always enjoyed making working models from foam or cardboard, but I have little time to do it myself. We teach our students how to cut foam, and they usually really enjoy getting away from the computer and working with their hands.

Urban regeneration design concept, Bremen

Your focus in recent years has been on mixed-use developments and urban design. Tell us about that.

As was the case when I was studying at university, mixed-use and urban design projects are far more interesting to me than single-use, standalone objects. Plaza Grafinger Strasse is a case in point – a mixed-use building which succeeds because it finds a good balance between giving expression to the individual functions and offering a coherent overall architectural identity – that for me is one of the key ingredients of any successful mixed-use development.

The Altstadtquartier Büchel urban regeneration project in Aachen was on a larger scale, covering four blocks in the historic centre of the city. The successful competition masterplan was very popular in Aachen, which was very satisfying for me as it is our home city. We were delighted to win the 2018 Urban Design Award for the project and the design did a lot to raise Chapman Taylor’s profile in Germany – it has opened doors for us and led to new work as a direct result.

More recently, I worked on the Quartier Fünfgassen urban design project for Wiesbaden, where we worked very closely with the developer to create something special for the city centre. The city’s initial expectation was an enclosed shopping centre, which we argued would have been a retrograde step in the era of online shopping and a return to open streets and urban integration. We instead designed a new, open and vibrant mixed-use quarter with a high-quality public realm activated by a diverse range of food and beverage offers, with other uses densely mixed at the upper levels (leisure, residential, office and hospitality).

BOB.Düsseldorf Airport City, will be one of the most energy-efficient office buildings in Germany.

Are you seeing a growth in demand to repurpose outdated retail buildings?

There has certainly been a marked increase in demand for proposals to reinvent shopping centres, redundant department stores (wholly or in part) and other retail-dominated environments. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated that trend, but it had already been under way for several years prior.

Retail is no longer the primary activator of the public realm, as it was for most of the twentieth century, but there is a debate to be had about what will replace it. Wherever you go in Germany, you will find basically the same Fußgängerzone - pedestrianised shopping street – the conception of which dates back to the 1960s. They no longer make sense. Retail itself will remain an important component of the offer, however, but hopefully there will be more independent and local shops, and even small-scale manufacturing. We are seeing it already, with the rise of Manufaktur – hand-made artisan goods, often made at the point of sale or consumption. It’s a counter-trend, and maybe the notion is a little romantic, but I think there is something in it. People are tired of sameness and seek unique places and products.

However, cities will have to be more inclusive – not just designed to be filled with shoppers, workers and tourists during the day and emptying out in the evenings. They also need to be more flexible and able to adapt with ease to changes in demand or cultural and technological shifts. We are seeing that process under way, with new city managers being appointed to oversee the transition.

Godesberger Allee office building in Bonn

You became a Prokurist in 2018 – what does that involve?

The position of Prokurist allows me, under German law, to execute required legal transactions on behalf of the company.

Having previously been an Associate Director, it essentially means my position is an intermediate stage between our two Managing Directors and the wider team, which is a unique position to be in. I have a management and project acquisition role but I am very busy with day-to-day design work, including sketching, making models and developing concepts.

Concept sketches

Tell us about your current projects.

A particularly fascinating current project is the design for a new office development, BOB.Düsseldorf Airport City, in collaboration with Aachen-based office developers BOB efficiency design AG, which engaged Chapman Taylor to create a design for their bid after learning about our Altstadtquartier Büchel scheme and our three completed office buildings at Düsseldorf Airport City. The building will be developed, built and operated according to the BOB concept, creating one of the most energy-efficient office buildings in Germany.

Our ongoing research into sustainable design has been greatly benefited by our involvement on the project, in particular our investigations into low embodied energy and recyclable materials. When it comes to choosing one material over another, choices are not always as clear-cut as they might seem. For example, in researching recycled materials, we learned how recycled aluminium seems like a responsible and sustainable material to specify, but, in all aluminium, there is a recycled component, and the shortage of recycled aluminium in the world means that specifying it merely leads to new aluminium being needed somewhere else in the world. Similarly, recycled concrete requires more cement and water, so is not as sustainable as it might superficially seem. Details like that has made our time on the project very worthwhile and informative.

We are currently looking at a number of projects in Hungary, both retail and mixed-use. Each market is different – while shopping centres are in decline in many countries, in others they are still popular and there is still demand for new developments or asset enhancement work. We are also looking at public sector projects in Germany as well as residential developments, often as part of larger mixed-use schemes.

We are also working on a number of new urban renewal projects in central locations in Germany which seek to regenerate former retail blocks, disused department stores and similar outdated environments, opening them up to integrate them with their surroundings and providing a well-considered mix of uses and excellent public spaces. The contexts are often restrictive in terms of heights, materiality, etc., but I very much enjoy the challenge of working within those constraints to create a concept which responds to and complements the surrounding urban fabric while offering accessibility and flexibility.

It is particularly gratifying to design ways to bring historic urban districts back to life. The heritage component might just be a protected building which needs to be integrated within the scheme or it could be an entire district, including historic street patterns, roof heights, building forms and protected views – in all cases, the project needs to engage with what are often historic surroundings, and that usually involves extensive collaboration with heritage bodies, local authorities and other stakeholders.

That is a process which can be very challenging but also very rewarding, and to have opportunities to work on schemes such as these are the very reason I moved to Europe.

Andrew Mackay (Architect BArch (Hons) BPD)

Director, Düsseldorf

Andrew leads our Düsseldorf studio's Concept Design team and has been responsible for some of the studio’s key projects in recent years, particularly in the mixed-use, masterplanning and retail sectors.

He joined Chapman Taylor in 2007 and became Prokurist in 2018. Prior to working at Chapman Taylor, Andrew worked for practices in Australia (where he received his architectural degree), New Zealand, the UK, the Netherlands and Germany.

His wide-ranging design experience gained from working on different building types in different cultures and environments serves to strengthen the studio's vision and output.

Areas of expertise:

Design / Mixed-use / Masterplanning / Retail / Workplace

Andrew ist seit 2007 bei Chapman Taylor tätig, seit 2018 ist er Prokurist im Düsseldorfer Büro. Als Leiter des Entwurfsteams hat er in den vergangenen Jahren eine Vielzahl wegweisender Projekte realisiert und betreut aktuell eine große Bandbreite unterschiedlichster Bauvorhaben.

Vor seiner Tätigkeit bei Chapman Taylor arbeitete Andrew für Unternehmen in Australien - wo er seinen Abschluss in Architektur machte-, in Neuseeland, Großbritannien, den Niederlanden und Deutschland.

Seine weitreichenden Erfahrungen in allen Stufen der Gestaltung und Umsetzung verschiedener Gebäudetypen in verschiedenen Kulturen und Umgebungen stärken und bereichern das Düsseldorfer Büro.


Entwurf/ Mixed-Use/ Masterplanung/ Einzelhandel/ Büro

caret-down-skewed caret-down-thin caret-down caret-left-thick caret-left-white caret-left caret-right-thick caret-right-white caret-right caret-up chinese cross download english facebook grid instagram linked-in list mail map pinterest play-button reset search-nobg search-square share twitter views wechat youtube