Meet the team > Dan McNelis, Managing Director

3 August 2022 >

Dan McNelis is the Managing Director of Oxygen Architecture.  He is a NZ and UK registered Architect who has called Aotearoa home for over 10 years. Originally from Scotland, Dan studied and practised Architecture in the UK before immigrating to New Zealand in 2011.

During his career Dan has built up a strong knowledge of health, community, commercial and residential architecture, always with a focus on creating healthy, sustainable environments of the future – what he refers to as ‘healthy human spaces’.

Q & A with Dan

Where do you see the future of Architecture and construction?

Timber construction, first second and third. It’s a no-brainer for me in terms of a sustainable path forward. Natural and healthy materials in all forms should be our priority every time. Healthy for people and planet. Off-site and prefabricated construction in timber is currently a big element of our work at Oxygen and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Oxygen’s vision is to create healthy human spaces to improve the wellbeing of all New Zealanders. What does this mean for you personally?

Healthy human spaces for me is a 360° consideration of our individual and collective wellbeing. The built environment is where we spend 90% of our time, so that environment should be actively contributing to our wellbeing and positive experiences as humans and communities. This should not be a privilege but a basic right for all.

What is your favourite project in your portfolio and why?

You’re not supposed to have favourites because projects are like your kids – they all have their own unique qualities! If I had to, I’d probably have to say my first project as a Project Architect – Culture Fusion Youth Centre in Bradford. The contract was won through a design competition judged by a group of teenagers that then became the client team – it was an unusual set up! They really had no limit to their aspirations, and we squeezed so much into that project it was unreal! It was also my first real taste of working with communities and people genuinely in need of positive change, and the experience had a lasting impact on me to this day. I’m very grateful for that experience. More recently I have loved the series of project collaborations with Ngai Tūhoe across Te Urewera, from a remote health centre and recycling station at the eco-village in Ruatāhuna, to Oxygen’s current Police Hub project, Te Uru Pounamu in Taneatua. This has been an evolving relationship with a very special group of people rather than a project but being able to contribute to a community is really so rewarding and humbling.

Culture Fusion Youth Centre in Bradford
Culture Fusion Youth Centre in Bradford
Te Uru Pounamu Police Station in Taneatua
Te Uru Pounamu Police Station in Taneatua

What qualities make a good Architect?

Curiosity, an open mind, and great communication are essential soft skills for an Architect. The technical skills depend on what kind of Architect you want to be, but attention to detail is vital.

What skill has served you best as an Architect?

Definitely my communication skills, particularly listening and understanding what the desired outcome is even when someone struggles to describe or articulate what they mean. Also just being a nice person, being kind and patient and not taking yourself too seriously.

What do you do during a typical day?

What I really like about my job is that a typical day can be hugely varied. As Architects, we get to explore things from the micro to the macro, and everywhere in between. On a typical day I could start in the morning with emails and admin, followed by a design review with the team on a project in progress, a lunch meeting with a new or existing client to keep relationships healthy, a site visit or contractor meeting in the afternoon, and close out with emails and admin again. The best thing is all the small conversations and design studies that I jump into in between these other activities; it’s great to keep abreast of where our various projects are at and to assist the team with problem solving.

What do you like most about being an Architect?

As an Architect we get to explore things from the micro to the macro, and everywhere in between. It’s great to see the positive impact our work can have on our clients and building users. It’s such a buzz to hear that you’re making someone’s life a little bit better through the work we do every day.

Quick Fire Questions

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?

Hanging out with my family – We could be bike riding, swimming at the beach or vegging out in front of the TV. It’s just great to be close to those you love the most.

Travel – not much of this done recently, but I love going to new places, getting lost wandering around, and finding the best vegan restaurants! I should really say exercising, yes definitely exercising…

Exploring London with daughter Ava, 2018.
Exploring London with daughter Ava, 2018.
Exploring London with daughter Ava, 2018.
Exploring London with daughter Ava, 2018.

Who is your favourite Architect, either in New Zealand or internationally?

I have been a big fan or Richard Rogers for a long time. He had a real dedication to public space and community, and his use of colour is amazing. A sad loss.

What’s your favourite social media platform?


What’s the best place to eat in Auckland?

Did I mention I was vegan? 😉 Mimosa café in Takapuna, East in the central city, and I’m hoping to visit Forest in the near future.

What’s your favourite building in New Zealand?

Auckland Art Gallery, it’s a world class building right here.

What’s your favourite building outside New Zealand?

Salts Mill in Yorkshire. A former textile mill built in the 1800s now used as a gallery, design store and café. I could (and have) spend hours wandering the vast rooms doing nothing but enjoying the space. A great adaptive reuse of a historic building.