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Blueprints for a successful future

For lecturer Tom James, building the future of the architecture industry is something he’s not giving up anytime soon.

For lecturer Tom James, a diverse resume and passion for interior architecture has bolstered his ability to prepare his students for their future architecture careers.

“I've been working as an architect for the last 21 years now. I've worked on award-winning projects in the UK and in Australia. I've worked in architecture firms, but I've also worked in multidisciplinary practices,” he said.

“I know a fair bit about other industries as well, which is helpful for my role in teaching.”

Tom’s background has seen him work across a wide spectrum of the architecture industry.

“I've worked as a design advisor for a major airline, Virgin Australia. I've also seen the client side, and I like to use this experience of diverse design roles to help my students to navigate the whole range of possibilities out there that they might not know about.”

Tom believes everyone should have the opportunity to get a qualification and finds immense satisfaction helping his students achieve success.

“I chose to teach at TAFE Queensland rather than a university because I really believe in everyone getting a fair crack at education and having multiple opportunities," he explained.

“School may not have worked out for you, maybe it did, maybe it didn't, but if it didn't, TAFE offers opportunities for students to get into their dream career.”

“Nothing's closed off to you. It doesn't matter how old you are, we have the opportunities and the means for you to get there. I love that.”

“I teach because I like helping people, and I particularly like giving people chances to engage in new careers or careers that they've dreamed of.”

Reflecting on his own background, Tom knows the benefit of accessible tertiary education.

“I'm a real big believer in social mobility. I benefited from that myself in my own life and that's a huge part of why I'm there.”

It’s for this reason that Tom loves his job.

“Ultimately, it's about the interactions with the students, and that's what keeps me smiling and it keeps me teaching.”

“The best thing about my job is seeing the students flourish. They come in and suddenly realise it's a different experience to school, but you see them grow and I love watching them on that journey, not just learning academically, but probably even more so developing as human beings.”

“I'm particularly talking about the younger students, it's really pleasing to see them taking leadership roles in groups and just becoming more confident human beings. I think ultimately that's probably the best thing we can do.”

Tom is a huge advocate for the Bachelor of the Built Environment (Interior Architecture)(ABB002), delivered in partnership with the University of Canberra, and its importance in the architecture industry.

“The difference between interior architecture and architecture is that interior architecture is from the outside walls in. Think about not just the interior of one level, but across multiple levels, but we are dealing typically with an existing building.”

“There's a huge challenge of course with the climate change emergency and one of the biggest things we can do is make better use of the buildings we've already got.”

“If we just knock a building down and build a new one, that is so unsustainable.”

“Interior architecture's largely about taking existing buildings and giving them new futures. A lot of the student projects that we do are quite innovative. Our students find it to be an exciting challenge. They might be looking at a warehouse that’s two-stories and we say, ignore the floor that's there – you have this volume internally, design something for that space.”

“Basically, interior architecture is all about design ideas, which end up being concepts, which then get developed and eventually constructed.”

“For me, it really is that ideation that's so important, and we really emphasise that in the degree that if you don't have a strong idea, it's very hard to take that on the journey of design. Ideas are everything.”

The course offers students access to world-class technology and facilities to practise what they’re learning.

“A key part of our design course is design studios. This is where our students learn the most. It's about simulating real projects.”

"To give students that kind of learning experience we approach owners of existing buildings and we say, 'Would you mind being a client?' That typically just involves them giving us a tour of the space.”

“Maybe it's a warehouse, maybe it's an event space, or something else. The students are shown around by a 'real client'. After that tour, they go away and design the space. We might have a halfway presentation back to the client, and then at the end of the semester, we like to go back to the venue itself.”

“We take the students off campus, and they present their ideas in a professional and formal setting. It's a way of engaging with industry, but it's also a great experience for the students in a safe, protected simulated environment,” he explained.

Tom is a firm believer that it’s crucial not only to keep up with industry, but to get ahead of it.

“Industry can take a while to catch up with the latest technology. We take the opportunity to get ahead and give our students a running start in their future careers.”

“A part of that is utilising technology from other courses – what I call ‘the sister courses’– such as design digital media, and students are exposed to virtual reality, augmented reality technology, motion capture, and this gives students a whole skill set that they can then take to industry with their e-portfolio when they're looking to apply.”

“I know from my own experience, a lot of the architectural studios that are out there don't yet have people in house who can do that, therein lies a great opportunity for our students,” Tom said.

It’s clear to see the ‘why’ behind Tom’s passion for teaching.

“I feel, personally, it's a real privilege to be doing what I'm doing, teaching students at TAFE Queensland. I'd love to have that privilege ongoing for the next five or 10 years. That would be fantastic.”

With Tom’s excitement for combining hands-on experience and university thinking with his students, there’s no doubt he’ll achieve his goal.