Cam Perkins was a Keynote Speaker at the recent EWB Humanitarian Engineering Conference. Cam is heading the City Centre Project Design Unit at the Auckland Design Office and is working to put humans at the centre of operations and investment by implementing the City Centre Master plan. Read on for some wisdom from the man on a mission to transform Auckland!
Cam is heading the City Centre Project Design Unit and is working to put humans at the centre of operations and investment. He is a recovering Australian, unorthodox designer, committee member at Engineering NZ's Sustainability Society, certified GreenStar Accredited Professional, Bike Auckland member and an accomplished skipper.
What is your background?
My background is in landscape architecture, mainly in design but a lot of what I do is similar to a civil engineering point of view in terms of managing natural resources.
Why did you want to go into that field of study?
I grew up with a family who were very involved in the natural environment; so I was involved in all sorts of things with gardens and plants. I first aimed to go for civil engineering - but failed miserably at it so I changed to landscape architecture which still allowed me to think in a similar systematic way. I’ve had some very lucky breaks to be able to work with very good mentors and a bit of luck of meeting people that could help me in my career.
I’m sure you worked hard too, or is it mostly down to luck?
For sure you have to work hard at it, but it’s important to be open to new opportunities, I think that signals to people that you’re willing to do things a bit differently
What caused the shift in thought to do more humanitarian work?
There was a point in both my professional career and personal life where there was massive upheaval. It really triggered me to look at what I had been doing in my life from a working point of view and also a personal point of view. It made me really sit back and step back on what I had been focusing on and start to reassess what I had been doing on the planet and how I could use my skills and powers to do things better. It literally took me a few months of internal reflection to understand that what I was doing was part of a system that I fundamentally disagreed with and didn’t feel comfortable with.
What’s been the most challenging part of your career?
Probably wishing that I understood earlier what I could be doing for good, it just wasn’t really shown to me - so that affects me a lot. The biggest challenge I face at the moment is really trying to understand human behavior and how to help people change to do the things we need to do.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Knowing that the work that I do is going to improve the lives of so many people. When you start looking at work that can be scaled up, it shows a different way of doing things. It demonstrates to people that we can live in a better way, live more sustainably, live with lower impact and its actually not that hard. It’s just about being able to build a new system that can help people induct change, that’s what’s most rewarding - knowing that my work has meaning now and in the future.
I guess that’s really important for a designer to feel like your work has purpose?
Yea, its that purpose, and knowing that your work has value even for someone you’re never going to meet. And I think we all look for that purpose as human beings, that knowledge of doing better.
What do you hope will change in the industry that you work in?
I would really like people to be focused more on how they communicate the value of doing things in a different way. I don’t think we communicate well enough yet and I don’t think we’re quite understanding the value of the work that we do. By that, I mean that we’re still working within a capitalist society which is trying to extract wealth from natural resources or from exploiting people. Until we really challenge that in both industry and all aspects it will be difficult to move forward. I would like for people to be thinking about how they make that difference and how to make people more aware that the system we’re living and working in is not sustainable.
Do you have any advice for young engineers?
My good friend Neil McInroy from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies always says ‘collaborate like mad’, work together, make your focus collaboration and working together as a human species because the power as a human species is being able to work together really well to solve problems and to ensure our existence on the planet. Focus on your behavior and understanding the behavior of others so that when you're communicating your ideas to others they can't say no.