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Architecture: from Fiji to New Zealand

  • shableet

When Shableet’s older brother Sharneel returned from New Zealand in 2004 with an Interior Design degree from Unitec, the siblings decided to join forces and set up their own architectural firm, Habitat Designs. After 13 years in business, Sharneel encouraged Shableet to take some time out of the company and head to Unitec to further his architectural qualifications. 

“I’d already completed a Diploma of Architecture at Fiji National University, but felt studying at Unitec could take my knowledge – and the business – so much further. I also wanted to get my architectural registration, which isn’t possible in Fiji. So, I applied for the Bachelor of Architectural Studies at Unitec, packed up my life and moved to New Zealand.”

Arriving in New Zealand

Shableet arrived in Auckland in January 2013. He was able to cross credit his Diploma and work experience towards the Unitec degree, but returning to study after many years out of the education system was a challenge. Luckily, he found many kindred spirits at Unitec.

“I was surprised to find there were many others who, like me, were returning to study as older students. I made some fantastic friends and was able to share my work experience and knowledge of the architecture industry with them.”

The Bachelor of Architectural Studies was a big step up for Shableet, but he thrived on the challenge and was excited by the much broader range of information on offer. 

“The diploma I completed back in Fiji was really more about drafting, while the degree at Unitec took things to a whole different level. For starters, the quality and experience of the lecturers and academic staff was so high. The technology was also far more advanced, and the curriculum allowed me to be much more creative than I’d had the opportunity to be in our practice - looking at futuristic architecture and detailing really imaginative designs.”

The degree also saw Shableet learning about New Zealand’s different architectural style and various legislative requirements. 

A different approach to designing and building

“We learnt a lot about the New Zealand Building Code and the council regulations around designing and building in this country – something very different to back home. Another big difference between New Zealand and Fiji is the climate! I was used to designing for tropical temperatures, whereas New Zealand designs need to be far more mindful of the changing seasons and the dramatically different weather they bring. We also learnt a lot about sustainable architecture – something that’s far more advanced in this country.”

After successfully completing his Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Shableet went on to study a Master of Architecture (Professional) – an NZIA requirement for those wanting to become registered architects. The programme was another step up for Shableet and saw much more involvement from lecturers and tutors in analysing and challenging his work. 

“The Master’s was really interesting, but it certainly wasn’t easy! The language barrier was one of the main problems I faced, particularly when it came to writing my thesis. Luckily Unitec offers fantastic student support in this area, and I worked closely with the Learning Development Lecturer to ensure my thesis was written and presented to a very high standard.”

The Master’s degree also delved into how an architectural practice is run in New Zealand – an area that really resonated with Shableet.

The business of architecture

“We looked at the project management and business side of things, including budgeting and how to manage funds. Because I was already experienced in running my own company I was able to mentor and help my fellow students a lot in this area, but there was also so much I took away from it. There are always different, better ways of doing things, and we’re now implementing a lot of my Unitec learnings in our practice back in Fiji.”

Today, Shableet is at Auckland architectural firm, Kim Veltman Architecture, where he works closely with the principal architect – collaborating with other consultants and coordinating architectural drawings for council consents. His goal is to gain New Zealand experience and get a real understanding of how things are done here. Then, once his registration is complete, he hopes to launch the New Zealand office of Habitat Designs

“We’d love to start working on projects in New Zealand. In fact, Habitat is already registered here, so it’s only a matter of time before we get the business off the ground! At the end of the day it’s my love of design and architecture that really drives me to achieve my goals. However, my time at Unitec not only broadened my architectural knowledge and experience but inspired me to set my goals at a whole new level. It was a total game changer for me.”

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