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Project Orange

Visiting New Zealand this month is James Soane of UK -based architecture practice Project Orange. Soane, a former academic and design director with Terence Conran, comes to New Zealand as a Commonwealth Association of Architects’ (CAA) representative on the Panel that will perform an accreditation of the Bachelor of Architectural Studies and Masters of Architecture (Professional) degrees from Unitec Institute of Technology*.

Soane has previously sat on more than 15 such Boards in the UK and Ireland, in addition to reading “countless” reports from Overseas Boards.

“I first began teaching when I was in my final diploma year at the Bartlett and went on to teach first year, followed by diploma and masters, at Kingston University. At that point I applied to be considered as part of the pool for RIBA Validation Boards.

“Having been accepted I became very interested in the pedagogy of architecture and the notion of Praxis. I was involved with the ‘Desiring Practices’ conference in London, which was set up by Sarah Wigglesworth whom I taught with. I then began to run a degree studio at the Bartlett. More recently I was Chair of the RIBA Validation Committee and currently am Chair of the New Courses and Course Changes Group. In 2008 I was asked by the RIBA to give a paper on Validation at the Oxford Education Conference.”

Alongside teaching, James has been active in practice.

“Before setting up Project Orange I was a director with Terence Conran. He is known mainly for his restaurants but he also owns an architecture and design practice that works globally. I got to design a hotel in India (see right), a bar in Iceland, a restaurant in New York, and a tower block in Tokyo, to name but a few! So it was a fantastic time with a very varied range of projects. However there comes a time when you realise that you want the challenge of setting up your own company and being in charge of everything, from getting work to the detail of a piece of joinery…. this happened in 2001.

“We are currently a studio of 12 people working out of Clerkenwell in London and have a varied portfolio of work. We have just completed a very innovative dense housing development in Sheffield (seen below), featuring a mixture of flats and four storey townhouses in a suburban location. Meanwhile work has started on an ambitious 260 room hotel in Pune, India, which will be quite conceptual and based on the idea of the hotel-as-campus… In London we have a number of complex refurbishments of old houses which are time consuming but fascinating, as well as a prototype 14sm hotel room, on site.”

And what does he want from an architectural graduate who comes to work in his office?

“Perhaps unlike some offices we are looking for people who can design, show initiative and want to take on a challenge. I say that because so many graduates end up in large offices doing what they are told; we want people who take on board our ethos but keep pushing it. We also tend to give everyone their own project [so] they will be in charge of the administration, the design and even the billing. That way everyone understands the whole process of running a job, rather than specific parts. The problem for us is that people often leave to set up their own practice as they feel well equipped! Actually this is probably a good sign.”

In the meantime, James and the panel will be assessing Unitec against the criteria set out in the Australian Architecture Program Accreditation and Recognition Procedure. This document is also available on the AACA website.

*The NVP process, which is prescribed by the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA), occurs every five years and involves nine panellists going into the schools for three days, meeting with staff, the university administration and students, reviewing course work and facilities, and writing a report for the NZRAB and the NZIA, with recommendations to the school on matters that need to be addressed.

There is an annual visit with the School over the following four years by a smaller panel, usually for a day, that checks on the School’s progress in addressing those recommendations.

This is the first NVP visit to Unitec using the AACA accreditation process and it will be the first New Zealand school to have the new 3 + 2 programme assessed. The previous accreditation/validation was a Joint Visiting Board visit using the CAA accreditation procedure.


Both the University of Auckland and VUW schools have had NVP visits and are due to have their 3 + 2 programmes assessed next year and the year after respectively.

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