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New Zealand Institute of Architects









Why architecture? Tom Dobinson

Tom Dobinson recently completed his tertiary-level architectural studies at Victoria University. In this short interview he explains his journey into architecture and what he plans to do with his degree in the future.

When did you ‘discover’ architecture and when did you first think that it might be something you’d like to do? 

My parents definitely had a bit to do with it. My father was a builder and built our family home, so as I was growing up there were always bits of the house being worked on. Mum did design and illustration work for museums and displays so was always encouraging of creative endeavors. I think I always thought architecture might be what I’d pursue and things just seemed to work out that way. 

When you were younger, were you into making or drawing things? In other words, did you have a natural inclination towards the subject? 

Yes, I spent a lot of time making things when I was younger. We had a big workshop and plenty of supplies to create things with.

When you were at secondary school, what subjects did you enjoy the most? Were they subjects that proved relevant to your later studies? 

I took a few art subjects that I enjoyed, probably because I had some enthusiastic teachers. These definitely helped with the visual communication aspect but not directly. I struggled with my writing through uni so maybe in hindsight should have pursued some subjects at school that helped more with that. I think architecture draws on a bit of everything so it doesn’t matter too much what you take at school so long as you enjoy it. 

Where did you go to secondary school? And did you receive guidance there about how and where to study architecture at university?

I went to Hagley Community College in Christchurch. There was a careers adviser there who all of the school leavers talked. They provided information about the options we had.

There are three schools of architecture in New Zealand – how did you decide which one to go to? Did you go to open days, or meet anyone from the university before you enrolled? Or did you already know where you wanted to go? 

Boring answer, but I’d say it was a decision made mostly by proximity. Wellington was closer. I never went to any open days or anything. I had heard good things about the city and Victoria so just didn’t really consider Auckland. 

At Wellington, was architecture school how you imagined it would be? 

I don’t think I had any preconceptions of what architecture school was going to be like. The studio environment was engaging and a nice change from school. Having the architecture school in the center of town was great, although one downside was we were pretty removed from campus life.  

Generally speaking, how would you describe the learning environment? What was it like day-to-day, how was your time broken up? 

This one is hard from me because I’m pretty bad at managing my time and deciding which projects I should be working on. Even when I tried to work consistently on projects there’d always be a huge push, working late nights and making last minute changes before hand-ins – but isn’t that the same for anyone normal at architecture school? 

It does seem to be a common theme ‒ with the benefit of hindsight, are there any things you wish someone had mentioned before you started studying architecture?

Don’t try designing real buildings. And don’t use crayons. 

Have your fellow architecture students gone on to practice following uni? Or did some veer off into other fields?

Surprisingly, for me at least, everyone I can think of from my uni cohort has jobs in architecture firms now. Except me.

What do you intend to do, get a job at a practice, go overseas, undertake more study? 

After taking a year off, trying to finish building a motorbike and doing a bit of travel, amongst other projects, it’s getting near the time to start looking for a job where I can continue to hone the skills I learnt at university.