20 Minutes With Roger Billington – PENZL/Billington

Roger Billington 20 Minutes With feature image.

There are not many designers in the world, let alone in New Zealand, that have the same depth of understanding and experience as Roger Billington has gained from living and working in China.

Born and educated in England, he moved to New Zealand in the late 1980’s, and has lived in Australia for a couple of years but perhaps more significantly, he has spent the last twenty years  ‘Designing in China’, the last ten of which were resident in Shenzhen and Qingdao. During this time he has developed the market leading Billington Design brand with offices in Beijing, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Qingdao and Dalian. These offices are now managed under license and they continue to work on numerous projects with Chinese clients who, literally, have fortunes to invest in their projects.

Billington has now returned to New Zealand only flying to China when there’s an established client who requires to see him, or if there’s a new client whose project will benefit from a face to face introduction and initial creative input from him. Originally intending to open a branch of Billington Design in Auckland the logistics of doing so seemed quite tricky after ten years away. Through an interesting series of coincidences, the alternative opportunity, and by far the most sustainable, was to integrate with the team at Pacific Environments (PENZL) in Auckland to help develop, grow and bring an edge to their interiors business. Here he can focus on his core ‘design for business’ philosophy and utilise the existing administration, resources and systems of this well established and respected architecture and design practice.

Hefei Eco Hotel.

In addition to his advisory role in ‘Rural Renewal Policy’ at Tsinghua University in Beijing, he has also, recently, been appointed as Professor of Interior Design in the postgraduate school (De Tao) of Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts. This will add an opportunity to continue his research into developing technologies, trends, materials and processes especially in hotel, hospitality and commercial interiors, and to be able to apply this knowledge to projects in New Zealand and back in China. This should help equip PENZL to approach projects from a market leading position where human factors, economics and performance are becoming increasingly demanded by clients and their customers.

Coming back to New Zealand he brings an intimate understanding of how to represent Chinese elements: history, society and culture and how to position them in a hierarchy where they have an international perspective alongside more diverse design influences.

“In the future, I think the trick in New Zealand hotel design will be the ability to combine cultures in a discreet but meaningful and respectful way, for example, if you have a Chinese client who requires Chinese elements to be reflected, it’s how you balance that with the realities of an international hotel looking to attract a diverse range of guests, both domestic and overseas.”

While the growing number of Chinese visitors will, if applied appropriately, appreciate some Chinese design elements and philosophies to be present in their hotel, they also travel here expecting to get a taste of New Zealand so, again, the balance is important to ensure guest satisfaction, referral and repeat bookings.

Designing and working in the hotel scene is unmistakably different in China than it is in New Zealand.

“It’s different (in China) because most of the hotels I have developed are for first time owners or individuals. This requires a high level of person to person skill as advice at a business level is required too, for instance, reminding clients that the hotel should be designed for the guest experience, not just their personal taste.”

Hefei Eco Hotel.

The responsibility to the client becomes more intense as many of the decisions made are as a result of Billington’s direct influence and experience. So far there have not been any catastrophes and many of the later hotel projects have been repeat business for appreciative clients showing confidence in his company.

All Billington’s design projects begin with in-depth research, starting with the development of a constraints model, a contextual placement and the client’s brief, the design team can then work around these packages of information to ensure consistency and relevance. Decisions can be made objectively against this knowledge and so the process can be accelerated by excluding often irrelevant influences or ‘opportunities’ whilst still enabling comprehensive value-added additions to the project.

In New Zealand there is a level of red-tape and administration which slows down projects, and whilst this can be a good thing to maintain standards, it can also act as a brake which can negatively impact on the speed and number of developments.

“One of the things I’m bringing from my experience in China is my commitment to speeding up, as much as possible, the design decision and implementation processes. In my conversations with developers here, particularly Chinese, I can sense an appreciation for this position and I hope that with reviews at government level and recent commitments to speeding up the building processes, PENZL/Billington will be well positioned to achieve these economies of time and cost without compromise to quality”.

“It’s an exciting time to be back in New Zealand, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to bring a new perspective and add value to hotel design here.”

To learn more about Roger Billington’s work with Pacific Environments or to talk about your upcoming project, be it new build or refurbishment, NZ please contact: Sara Romano, Interiors Department, PENZL/Billington 64 09 308 0070.