Mastering the slow art of architecture

Alumnus James Wallace shares what he loves about a meaningful career designing projects that positively benefit local communities and makes the case for helping mentor the next generation of architects.

black and white photo of a man with glasses and a black and white blurry background
Alumnus James Wallace was seven years old when he decided to be an architect. That decision set him on a path towards graduating with a Bachelor of Architecture from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington and into a successful career leading projects at Studio Pacific Architecture.

After graduating in 2002, James gained some experience in Aotearoa New Zealand before travelling around the world learning about different cultures and how they developed their own unique built environments.

“I have always loved the symbiotic processes of imagination and creation. I love the transition from the dream world to the concrete world. They are so very different and navigating between the two is a very delicate and enjoyable process,” he says.

“I also knew early that I was interested in the mechanisms of organisations, the knowledge of how systems worked.”

As a senior principal at Studio Pacific Architecture in Wellington, James is responsible for leading a variety of projects, including major housing developments.

“Seeing new communities constructed that you have influenced and contributed to and seeing people’s spirits lifted as they live and play in their new homes is beyond satisfying.”

James has encountered many challenges working in the industry and one of the biggest he says, is inefficiency.

“We need to strip away ineffective regulation, we need to leverage new technologies and create better tools and processes. As a country we need to be self-critical with respect to our expectations of the built environment so that our culture can accommodate different ways of building and living,” he says.

With 20 years in the industry, James has some advice for those looking to enter the profession.

Architecture is a slow art and needs patience and humility. Bring your passion, for this will need to sustain you through the difficult times. Be critical of your world and your place within it, the wisdom that comes from this will inform how you contribute to the future,” he says.

“And try to enjoy your time with the people with whom you work with, work for, and create architecture for, as this may well end up more important in the end than the work we leave behind.”

In addition to a busy professional life, James has also been part of the University’s Alumni as Mentors programme for two years.

“I joined because I truly love helping people. I believe it’s important to assist with strengthening the ‘town and gown’ relationship. I wish I had this opportunity available when I was at university and I wanted to part of a wonderful programme that helps grow the next generation of architects,” he says.

My mentee is great, really engaged and proactive. Our sessions also offer a pause in my week which I look forward to.”


Would you consider mentoring a student in their pivotal final year of study too? Join James Wallace and other alumni in our Alumni as Mentors programme—find out more.