My name is Carinnya Feaunati and I'm an architectural graduate.

I've always had a huge interest in being creative. I’m quite a hands-on person and I love to draw as well and make things. Although it’s not in my family I thought architecture was a good opportunity to pursue a career in design and it really opened my eyes to the ways we could change and mould the environments we live in.

I think a lot of time when I talk to people who are interested in doing architecture we agree that the technical side is something they can teach you but your individual creativity and putting who you are on paper is where the magic happens. When I tutored first years during my final year at Vic that’s something I really looked out for in the students. We would say ‘Yes you can draw but what makes you different?’

So what makes me different? I’m very proud of my Pacific identity and as there are not many Pacific Islanders in the industry I’m somewhat a self-appointed ambassador. During University I saw huge value in what indigenous cultures could offer to the teaching of Architecture. I started looking for the connections between a country’s history and culture how it relates to the transformation of their built environment. That’s what I did my final research on. I started talking to my family back in Samoa about their idea of architecture and found all these amazing connections that come from the social constructs of how Samoans live their days.

My parents have been a huge support to me and my studies and they understood that I needed to be, in a sense, a little bit selfish. They were very traditional growing up and this would often mean following them everywhere they went. My four siblings and I were allowed to choose our own direction but we had to go to university, it was not an option not to go. It made sense for us because my parents came over from Samoa as young adults, finished their last years of high school and then went straight into work. With that came a lot of sacrifices on their behalf. People often say parents like living through their kids but I absolutely think that’s justified. Why wouldn’t you instill those values if you knew what the alternative was?

I graduated in 2014 and before joining Opus I was with Workspace architects for about 15 months. I had known about Opus for a while and I liked the idea of a multi-disciplinary company. Instead of communicating and chasing things up with other consultants, or being chased up for that matter, it’s pretty cool that I can walk over to their desk. At the time I also really needed something to nurture me as a graduate and I knew Opus had an emerging professionals group and endless networking events to help me meet new people my age and have conversations around being a young professional.

It’s inspiring to be able to do something that’s important for everyone. I think for me I really need to keep hold of that thought because some days you can feel so insignificant. I’m definitely a bigger picture person and I try to remember that I’m doing some good for society. I’m also involved in a few other outside projects and I’m still part of a project using my thesis methodology. My thesis proposed a research and design framework when approaching the redesign of communities after natural disasters and it was taken on by an architecture firm in Wellington. The research picked up really positive attention and my team were given the opportunity to show some of the work at the National Museum in Samoa for the UN SIDS conference in 2014 and was then exhibited at Pataka Gallery in Porirua.

Last year I was invited to UNESCO in Paris for the COP21 Sustainable Innovation Forum to present the work I had done. A lot of the discussion around climate change has been about pragmatic solutions on how we can prevent it but it was important for me to express that as Architects and Designers we need to look at solutions for what’s happening now and rebuilding with a look for the future.

I knew coming into the workforce would be a whole different challenge. University work involved a lot of pressure but workforce pressure, I’m learning, is very different - you have a client who is a real person with real money and real feelings and for me I think that’s been quite a challenging thing to adjust to. Not only are you accountable for your design decisions but every line you draw means something.

If I was to give some advice, it would be to remember there are so many opportunities that come out of doing an architecture or engineering degree other than being an Architect or an Engineer. Thinking back on the short pathway I’ve come so far into this career I think it’s important not to settle. Always find ways to improve on yourself whether it be your work ethic, skill base or in my case joining a gym and getting out running again. I have quite a strong personality and I have found as a young woman that it’s important to speak up. This doesn’t always mean having the loudest voice, it’s about contributing your ideas and thoughts.