Mitchell Coll has been Director of Coll Architecture in Christchurch since 2009, but says his roots in the industry go back much further.
“My old man is a designer, so I was brought up in the industry and started working full time in 2003. I’ve wanted to be an architect and to work for myself for as long as I can remember.”
Coll Architecture’s method is one of approachability, Mitchell says, with everyone in the practice committed to working closely with clients. “We are a small business and we want to always be available if clients call. The process is very much to work with them, rather than for them. It’s not like they just give us a brief and we go away to do the job and come back and say ‘ta-da here’s your house’. We very much believe in a collaborative process and building those relationships. Every successful project we’ve done has been with clients who trusted us and everyone else in the building process to have their best interests at heart.We usually end up becoming friends with our clients and maintaining those relationships long after the build is done.”
A big part of this relationship-building is done by allowing for a greater focus on the process, rather than just the outcome, Mitchell says. “Whether it’s in a build or in life in general, for me it’s really about the journey, not the end destination. We recognise that if someone comes to us and they’re in a position to build, that’s a very privileged position to be in. It’s a pretty cool thing that not a lot of people are able to do, so we think it’s really important to ensure that the process is enjoyable and fun. When you look at what defines our business, it’s probably less a building style than it is the process of how we get to that end result.”
There’s also a strong priority in the practice of implementing minimum standards around both the quality of the builds and the quality of the building performance, he says. “We design for passive thermal gain and ventilation, while trying to ensure that our builds are low energy consumption and embodied carbon. We have minimum insulation requirements for all of our designs and we thermally model every building and then tune it to suit the site. We used to promote those aspects of our work a lot more but it’s honestly just become what we do; it’s part of our DNA.”
Coll Architecture has carved out an award-winning niche in the Christchurch market when it comes to more complex developments and residential builds that sit comfortably within the city’s changeable landscape. “If you want to design well, you need to understand how to build what you’re designing. Everyone in the practice has some degree of experience in building, which helps us to be quite practical and cost-effective about what we design, while still delivering really high-end results.
“For me, it’s all about buildings that fit properly within historical and environmental contexts. I would much prefer a building that someone drives past every day without really noticing it to a glory project that sticks out like a sore thumb. You might not notice something that sits comfortably in the landscape right away, but as you get closer you start to realise how considered and smart it is... Most of our work is in Christchurch and we have a really strong architectural history here in modernism; likewise throughout New Zealand there are some strong aesthetic elements that have played out through our historical architecture. I think it’s important to always pay tribute to that architectural lineage.”
Growing up in Timaru, Mitchell says he pretty much only lived in houses that were half finished. “My Dad would build something and we’d live in it with just jibbed walls and no curtains or flooring or door handles. Then we’d move out and he’d finish it off and sell it as a new house. The cool thing about that, though, was that we got to draw all over the walls.” As a young child, Mitchell remembers spending a lot of time visiting his Dad on building sites. By age 11, he was already pitching in to help with the builds. “I’d built a number of houses by the time I finished high school which definitely helped with my construction knowledge when I was learning architecture.”
As a teenager, Mitchell developed a love for the outdoors and contemplated working as a mountain guide rather than pursuing a career in the building industry. “I did work as a snowboard instructor for a while but in doing that I met a lot of people there who had lost the love for what they were doing. Because they took a hobby and turned it into a job, it became a grind and ruined the thing they loved. I ended up doing a pretty quick 180, quit my snowboarding job and enrolled in architecture school within a week. I realised I wanted a job which would allow me to still go into the mountains and enjoy it for the rest of my life; I still do a reasonably serious trip into the mountains every couple of weeks.”
Coll Architecture has a number of ongoing projects in various stages of development, from a small but complex residential build in Punakaiki, to a bach in Akaroa, to a challenging residential design in Christchurch’s Port Hills. Mitchell is also excited to be working with a repeat client on a new home in Te Anau. “We built a bach for them in Curio Bay a few years ago and they were so stoked about it that they sold their house in Te Anau so they could go through the process again. The trust is fully there now and this next build should be so much fun.”
Mitchell is also collaborating with his partner on another home for themselves. “We managed to build our current house together about 4 years ago without killing each other,” he laughs, “and we even got a bit of recognition for it. With her work as a graphic designer and brand strategist, our skill sets can be really complimentary. The design and build for the new house has been in progress for two years already. We want to live there, eventually, but we’re also realistic about how much it’s going to cost and how long it’s going to take. It’s probably a lifelong project. But we’re not really after the end house. We just want to enjoy the journey of it.”
To learn more about Coll Architecture, visit http://collarchitecture.co.nz/. Mitchell is always available and eager to discuss new projects at firstname.lastname@example.org.