Alice Reade designed this pop-up display stand as part of her thesis. Now, it has been adopted by Hutt City Council, which uses it for community engagement around its urban growth plan. Photo: Liam Philp

Architectural graduate Alice Reade admits she is a “follow my nose” type who hasn’t set out any masterplan for her career. She pairs her laissez-faire approach with an open-minded enthusiasm to sign up for a cause – a combination that has taken her in more interesting directions than your average 25-year-old.

You’re just as likely to find her in the middle of the town centre, engaging with the community about urban issues, as on an isolated island, setting up feeding stations for birds. She is at once thoughtful and practical, qualities she brings to both her passions: architecture and conservation.

Growing up in Māpua, at the heart of Te Tai-o-Aorere Tasman Bay, cemented her love of nature. “I was always out walking in the bush, or on the water in motorboats,” she says. When Alice started to draw the birdlife she encountered on these adventures, she found she had a talent for it. She looked for a way to fuse her creative skills with her interest in the environment. Architecture was it.

* Part one: Depth of focus
* Part two: Front of mind
* Part three: Advocating for climate justice
* Part four: Telling jokes about the weather
* Part five: Tamara Stratton is engineering humanitarian solutions

An exchange visit to Copenhagen in the first semester of her master’s thesis opened her eyes to the direction she wanted to take. “I lived in a six-storey apartment with a playground, gardens and a barbecue area in the middle,” she recalls. “I loved the way the Scandinavians used housing and public space.”

Back home, she has been able to share the ideas she gleaned overseas on a local level. Through her role with start-up Studio Tēpu, she encourages collaboration between communities and government bodies so those without a voice can be more involved in the design of future spaces. Her vehicle for change? A cart on wheels. Alice, who often joined her dad in his workshop as a child, designed and built this pop-up display stand as part of her thesis. Now, it has been adopted by Hutt City Council, which uses it for community engagement around its urban growth plan. “I built it from recycled timber, an old spinnaker sail and ropes and pulleys. It can be pulled around by an e-bike and is a way to take the conversation to the community,” she says.

The focus is on young people and the under-represented. On Park(ing) Day in March 2022, the stand was set up in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington’s Cuba Street. A computer game – in which visitors could “walk” around low-, medium- and high-density neighbourhoods, and collect “jewels” that would pop up and answer questions – drew in the crowds. “It’s a way both to upskill the community about design issues and get their opinion,” says Alice. “Councils don’t tend to generate a lot of trust or form good relationships when it comes to issues around housing and climate. It’s important to listen and get the community on board. Otherwise, we end up battling each other.”

“I’m not a big fan of building fences, as I believe living in separate houses is part of what is driving the loneliness epidemic,” says Alice Reade. Photo: Liam Philp

For her, well-considered urban planning doesn’t end at the city limits. Doing density well, incorporating elements of biodiversity, has an impact on the wider environment too. It’s all wrapped up into one. This city planner with a green soul was in her element on the Outward Bound and Spirit of Adventure courses she experienced on the Pinnacle Programme. Not only did she meet one of her closest mentors (Tom Loughlin, who hosts Kai Waho – a Māori cultural and culinary experience), she discovered a passion for sailing. Since then, she’s been racing keelboats on Wellington Harbour on a weekly basis. In addition to the Spirit of New Zealand, she’s also crewed on other tall ships. “I usually take my watercolours along and set up everyone on board with a small canvas,” Alice says. “It’s such an enjoyable activity that makes you sit and think about your surroundings and about being present in the moment.”

Immersion in the natural environment grows an appreciation for it, and volunteering on Whenua Hou Codfish Island and Pukenui Anchor Island for the Kākāpō Recovery programme has given her a glimpse of how this country once was and could be again. That’s why, when she goes home to Whakatū Nelson and sees subdivisions popping up everywhere, it breaks her heart a little. It could be done so much better. “I’m not a big fan of building fences, as I believe living in separate houses is part of what is driving the loneliness epidemic. The connections between people aren’t happening and, at the same time, building costs are jumping up exponentially. But the system was built for urban sprawl, so it’s hard to do anything else,” she says.

Not that she won’t be trying her utmost. She fizzes with ideas around self-build; resourcing and upskilling people by making the building standards guidance documents more accessible; and advocating for co-housing where a shared skillset and amenities could ensure houses become more affordable.

During the Covid lockdown, Alice explored her interest in earth building, making bricks for a pavilion to be erected at the entrance to a wetlands restoration project she has been involved with for many years. “I like the simplicity of using clay, and because it’s natural, it fits with my values,” she says.

Her goal within her emerging field is to be a positive driver for change. And no doubt she will be. One earthbrick at a time.

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