Michael Heenan is CEO and principal of Allen Jack+Cottier Architects.
He has designed projects throughout the Asia-Pacific region - as far north as Inner Mongolia and as far south as Antarctica.
All of Heenan’s projects fully integrate ecologically sustainable design (ESD) principles.
Architecture & Design spoke to Heenan about his work in Mongolia and Antartica, the up-take to ESD and his love of sailing.
Where would you like to guide AJ+C over the coming years?
We have already created a much fitter and more robust business model to ensure we can now focus entirely on the quality of the design and the servicing of our clients. The ongoing quality of the architecture coming out of the offices of Alan Jack+Cottier is going to be the entire focus and this will be strongly supported by the new and robust business platform.
Can you tell A&D about the projects you have designed in Antarctica and Inner Mongolia?
We have been designing projects from inner Mongolia to outer Antarctica and most places between. From a brand new city in a wide river valley in inner Mongolia to the new Davis Station in Antarctica which uses the very latest space age materials and techniques.
How hard was it designing projects for such different environments to Australia?
The most obvious challenges in both the above projects were the remoteness and distance. 2000km north of the Great Wall of China and 3000km south of Australia you can hardly get more remote. The challenges on the ground are similar and can always be resolved by listening and communicating. My long walk along the river bank with the party chairman in Hilar in remote Mongolia was a remarkable experience. I learnt so much when exchanging ideas with this powerful leader of such a vast and remote area. And so too in Antarctica where we invited the input of yacht designers and sail makers to assist in the selection of materials able to withstand grit filled 320km/hr winds.
The term 'ESD' has been around now for some time. How much has the architectural industry is designing to ESD principles now?
Every project at Allen jack+Cottier has a totally integrated approach to environmentally sustainable design. The environmental approach to every decision is integral with the entire process, and forms the basis of the building design.
Has the take-up to sustainable design been slower or faster than you expected?
Not only has the take up been enthusiastic and thoroughly integrated it has become the challenge of our times. In Australia the take-up has been comprehensive and remarkable. Many other countries still have a lot of catching up to do but others, including many parts of China, are very advanced and we are learning from each other.
What building are you most proud of designing and why?
I have designed a new four-storey primary school for young inner-city children where I focused on the excitement and discovery of learning at such a young age. I felt very rewarded when the first classes entered the building and jumped up and down and squealed with delight at their new learning environment.
If you weren't an architect, what would you be doing?
I had to make a very serious decision early in my career to be an architect or to pursue a professional sailing career. I am now the helmsman for the most beautiful 51 foot racing yacht owned by Olympic sailing gold medallist Dave Forbes. I still surf every day and could very easily head in that direction as an alternative, though it's not a very lucrative career. But I always find that even when away on an exciting international regatta that the urge to get back to architecture and design becomes all consuming!