Bringing design aspiration and intent to life

July 20, 2023: People, Perspectives
Peter Westbrook

Peter Westbrook


We sit down with Peter Westbrook, Group Technical Lead, to understand his view of the world. We discuss the major industry challenges - and opportunities - we're facing on both sides of the Tasman, and where we should collectively be placing focus on the year ahead to ensure the best results for our projects and communities.


Can you tell us about your role and what it means to you?

First and foremost, my role focuses on bringing design intent to life on time and on budget while mitigating risk. It bridges technical knowledge, processes, and documentation, with a continuous focus on support and efficiency. It also has a huge educational and training component. Given the diversity and breath of the role, it requires a team of people and effective leadership to deliver results – so it’s daunting, but also one of the reasons why the position is so rewarding.

Having the opportunity to strongly advocate for technical excellence, to push for rigour, and to help people deliver our best work, is fundamentally why I care so deeply about it. That Warren and Mahoney was willing to invest in this new role - and their belief in my potential and supporting my ideas – has meant a huge amount. It showed me that we were serious about elevating technical excellence and that we are collectively heading in the right direction.

Core to this idea of ‘technical excellence’, is the ability to work with a diverse range of people, integrate contrasting requirements, and coordinate. This may be in helping to understand how we can translate our sustainability goals into project delivery, or improving our documentation processes to create more time for design refinement.

Technical leadership should add layers of robustness and rigour to all areas of the work we complete. It should provide checks and balances, structure review processes, and offer support. It should contribute to the framework within which all our work occurs. It’s an exciting challenge to be part of.

Bringing design aspiration and intent to life

What are the major challenges within the design and construction industry in Australia and NZ we are facing at the moment?

There are a range of commonly discussed challenges, such as cost escalation, that are rightly prominent right now; however, several other key topics feed into this and influence projects more throughout the design phases.

In New Zealand, the variation in information required for Building Consent and the timing of when this information needs to be supplied is having an immense impact on projects. The same project may take several months longer to prepare for building consent in some parts of the country, when the need for shop drawings, producer statements, and design coordination is factored in. This lack of clarity is preventing a consistent approach, causing inefficiency, and directly impacting cost.

And in Australia, understanding the sales or costing strategy for a project or development is proving critical. The current industry pressures impact in different ways and at different times. For speculative developments, as much clarity as possible is needed at the point when apartments are being released for sale, or when commercial spaces are presented to the market. Whereas institutional or municipal projects need careful coordination and communication leading up to tender to manage the cost and project feasibility.

Across all markets, as we rapidly move towards lower carbon construction, understanding the opportunities and limitations of these systems must be a focus. For example, mass timber design and detailing is well understood in isolation, but its interface with performance requirements or other building elements is still in its infancy in Australia and New Zealand. I think it will be three-to-five years before a mass timber building can be designed and delivered without substantial time required, project by project, to resolve items around passive fire, fire load, services integration, and post fire performance.

That’s interesting. So where then, do the biggest opportunities lie?

Increasingly having data and more inputs to assess and review design is an incredibly exciting opportunity. For example, being able to understand the carbon in different building elements or systems early in the design process can mean immense reductions from the earliest moments of a project.

As much as developments in technology can be a challenge it is also an immense opportunity. Having the ability to automate simple processes, or to bring our knowledge directly into our documentation tools, creates huge efficiencies and reduces risk.

Bringing design aspiration and intent to life

Having been in the role for over a year now, what are you most proud of?

Without a doubt, seeing people grow and further their careers within Warren and Mahoney through our technical structure is the most rewarding aspect of the role. Having technical expertise as a pathway to leadership, both within W+M and the wider industry, is personally a core indicator of success. Here we have leads in each studio and for specific subjects (such as passive fire or facades) who are the finest technical minds, and I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to work with them every day.

The same is true outside of Warren and Mahoney, and I’m incredibly proud of how we are increasingly working alongside sub-contractors, suppliers and manufactures to solve problems and develop solutions that are industry-leading.

Collectively, we are showing that innovation doesn’t happen just at the front end. As a specific example, we have recently developed passive fire solutions with FireShield and Korok that are an Australasian first, and have removed complexity, simplified sequencing, and reduced cost on a large healthcare project.

Finding new and better ways to do things, and then sharing this insight to benefit our teams, our clients and the industry is incredibly rewarding.

As an industry how can we do better to provide a great service for our clients?

Communication. Above anything else, I think that continuously improving communication is the key. Conversations around scope and responsibilities, timeframes, or why a decision is proposed, constantly thinking about what we are communicating and how we want to present it will always result in great service.

We need to be able to openly share our knowledge to enable everyone to be as informed as possible, especially around complex, or contentious topics. This enables better discussion and allows more ideas to emerge, which results in more informed decision making and better project outcomes.