Form, function and figments of the imagination


After four decades in business, architect Michael Wyatt is surrounded by his own creations. He talks about his work and leisure with Paul Taylor

Michael Wyatt lives in a world of his own design.

The award-winning Queenstown architect has created many of the landmark buildings in the resort in a career spanning more than 40 years.

The Remarkables’ angular new base building, Queenstown Resort College, the Post Office Precinct and the new Skyline building on the waterfront are all his.

He’s also penned scores of smaller commercial and residential projects.

It means every day he’s surrounded by buildings which were once just figments of his imagination.

“You do derive a personal satisfaction from it,” the 68-year-old says.

“Just being in town and thinking ‘yeah, I did that, it’s not half bad’.

“There are probably a few howlers in there but I’m proud of the majority, I can admit to that.”

Wyatt, who grew up in South Canterbury and Christchurch, says his artistic mother and grandmother gave him his creative side.

“I loved drawing as a boy but I was also fascinated by machines - how aeroplanes flew, how ships and cars worked.

“Architecture seemed like the perfect combination of my interests.”

Wyatt first studied fine art at Elam School of Fine Arts at Auckland University, then industrial design at Wellington Polytechnic.

“Early on a careers adviser gave me the impression I wasn’t academically equipped to go to university.

“I put the lie to that later.”

He graduated with a bachelor of architecture honours degree from Auckland University in 1975.

After a brief stint in Christchurch, he came to Queenstown to work for John Blair, who designed the original Remarks base building.

He went it alone in 1980, moving into his modest offices in Hallenstein Street in ’86. His practice became Michael Wyatt Architecture Ltd in 1996.

Wyatt’s approach to design is to let the circumstances drive the solution. Preconceptions are often a mistake, he says.

“I try to hear and absorb all the inputs from the client and the site itself. That includes its orientation to the sun, wind and view, the slope of the land, and entry point.

“Then, once I feel those big influences are understood, I allow myself the luxury of thinking about a possible solution.”

His other tenets are to not repeat work too often and to not be boring.

“The Skyline building has probably rattled a few people who wouldn’t expect me to come up with that.

“But trying to design something everyone will like, that’s a hiding to nothing.

“If you try and be too safe, you don’t do anything exciting. Too safe is boring.”

Influences are drawn from architectural trends but also travelling, magazines and TV.

“Everything really, just by osmosis, and then it plops out when you need it.”

He’s also focused on the balance between form and function, something that spills over into the another major passion of his life.

Wyatt has a garage of beautiful and quirky classic cars and motorbikes - an “antidote” to the job.

The roster is a 1968 Maserati Ghibli, three Alfa Romeo Giuliettas from the ’50s and ’60s, a Fiat Topolino, a Fiat Millecento, a Norton motorbike he’s owned since 1968 and restored twice, an off-road Scorpa and a seriously-quick Ducati 996.

“The cars of the ’50s and ’60s, they combine engineering sophistication with aesthetic design.

“But they’re less complicated than modern cars and that makes it possible for me to restore, repair and work on them.

“I do enjoy driving them a lot too, they handle pretty well.”

He also continues to sketch and paint in his leisure time, often oils or acrylics of motor cars.

Wyatt has three kids from his first marriage and inherited step triplets from his second. He’s been married to Rosalyn since 1994.

He’s also grandfather to three, with another on the way.

He survived a skin cancer scare during the build of The Remarkables base building.

“I’m fine now but the goal at the time was to see that building finished, so there was a satisfaction to that.”

He also took great satisfaction from the project itself. Without other buildings close by, like in town, he had the freedom of not providing “contextual reference”.

“That’s one of the reasons I relished the chance of doing the job. It’s an important building for the town and was a great opportunity to do something more angular and noticeable.”