Dundee's champion of eco-friendly architecture and design

Architect Kirsty Maguire discusses her ethos and shares the long history of architecture, innovation and design in her family

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GSF: Kirsty Maguire interview

Credit: Cultural Enterprise Office

Architecture, innovation and design may be key buzzwords for Scotland in 2016, but they also describe perfectly the work of Kirsty Maguire Architect Ltd. This award-winning Dundee-based firm (led by Maguire) was established in 2011, and over the last four years has built up a reputation for blending innovative design with environmental responsibility.

With a client base that includes private individuals and large-scale organisations like the United Nations Development Programme, Maguire’s international and Scotland-based projects, always have one key objective in mind: eco-friendly design. ‘For me, it’s an integral part of good design,’ Maguire explains. ‘It’s something I’ve been working in throughout my career.’ No matter if it’s a historic building or a new construction, she is determined to stick to her principles. When asked if it’s difficult to ensure her work is environmentally-friendly, she has a straightforward answer: ‘It’s not difficult to do, it just requires a bit of thought.’

For Maguire, that often involves collaborating directly with clients, artists and the design team involved in a project. ‘It needs to be integrated right from the start, and it’s really the best practice to be working with low energy and low carbon. I think that good design is not good design unless all these different elements are brought into it. For me, if something looks beautiful but it doesn’t perform well, I would not consider that to be good design. These things go hand in hand.’

Maguire’s pioneering approach to design runs in the blood. ‘I’ve always been interested in architecture and design, and there’s a long history of architecture in my family.’ That history is five generations long and dates back to John Burnet, Maguire’s great-great-great uncle (born 1814). Starting his working life as a carpenter, he went on to make something of an architectural splash. The same path was followed by his son John James Burnet, and other family members. But the most notable ancestor of Maguire’s to work in the field is her great grandmother, Edith Burnet. Studying architecture in secret due to her family’s lack of approval, she eventually went on to be elected the first female member of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland in 1916. Burnet’s legacy in the industry is strong, and she’s credited with establishing the first practice run by a woman in Europe.

Today, Maguire is heralded as a trailblazer herself with her championing of eco-friendly architecture and design. Projects include an energy-efficient housing catalogue in Armenia and a zero-carbon autonomous eco-house in Perthshire, which is designed to have low-energy consumption in use, but also to be completely off-grid and powered entirely by renewables. Her company is currently developing proposals for a remote holiday home 1° south of the Arctic Circle, in the far north of Sweden, where sustainable and ecological design is part of standard building practice.

As much as the firm embraces overseas projects, it also has a strong connection to Scotland and its design scene. ‘Dundee is an exciting place to be at the moment in terms of design, with the V&A coming,’ she says. ‘It has a huge amount going on architecturally. I’m here for a lot of reasons. It’s really dynamic and there’s a lot happening at all levels.’

Find out more at visitscotland.com/IAD2016.

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