Architect’s challenge: what is structure?

Architect Katherine Skipper is the Principal at Warren and Mahoney’s Wellington studio. She’s responsible not only for projects, but also the strategy of the studio, business development, hirings, resourcing, culture – everything really.

We talked to her about home, design, her chicken coop, her failed astro career, and why Warren and Mahoney is the perfect sponsor for Capital Photographer of the Year’s “Structure” category.

What’s a “normal” day for you?
Normal? That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer, actually. As an architect and studio lead, my role covers a lot of ground. Normal can be anything from getting the pens out to work out initial project design options on butter paper, to running workshops with clients to define aspirational or functional requirements for a project, and some days – I even get to go on site and see the magic actually happen!

What’s the best thing about your job?
100% it’s the people I work with; both the clients who provide the inspiration and the opportunities, and the people in our team, and the wider project/construction teams who make it all happen. I get inspired every day, and I’m pretty thankful for that.

Why is Warren and Mahoney the perfect sponsor for the CPotY Structure category?
Because we inherently believe in the power of the physical environment to transform the way we all live and work. The structures we see every day, that we interact with, that we inhabit have a huge role in our wellness, our society and our culture. The built environment can uplift us just as much as it can repress us, and we can’t wait to see the way that structure is defined and recorded by the CPotY entrants.

I’m personally hoping to see challenge and provocation – what is structure? What does it say about us? Is beauty important? What even is beauty?

What is “home” for you?
Weirdly perhaps for an architect, home for me is not a structure. It’s a feeling. Sometimes our environment can amplify that feeling and create the space for “home” to exist, but for me, home is a sense of belonging and safety. It’s where my whānau is, and it’s where I am able to be unequivocally “me”. That can (and does) happen in lots of places.

What do you get up to outside of work?
After nearly 50 years on the planet I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I’m an active relaxer. Which means when I’m not at work I tend to have a list as long as my arm of projects to be getting on with. My current focus is relocating the chicken coop at home, which seems to currently involve a lot of planning and striding around the garden waving my arms about – who knows, one of these days that might actually turn into construction…..

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I often tell people that I’m actually a failed astronaut. I think the mixture of science and adventure appealed, and perhaps also the idea of doing something that not many other girls were aiming to do, as well. In the end, the lack of a NZ Space program, and my realisation that I love creativity and wanted to make a difference in my community won out and architecture was where I landed.

What’s your favourite place in the wider Wellington region?
I’m fortunate to live on the Kāpiti Coast now, and my favourite place is on the beach in the lee of Kāpiti Island. It can be bleak and grey and windy (perfect for blowing out the cobwebs) and it can be calm and still and stunningly beautiful as the sun slowly lowers towards the sea late in the evening in the summer. The sea always gives me what I need – solace, inspiration, a slap in the face. It reminds me I am small and insignificant in the face of nature, but also that I am, too, an intrinsic part of this weird crazy beautiful world we live in, and I belong.

Enter Capital Photographer of the Year here

Read about our other sponsors here


Sign up to our newsletter