Carolyn Savage

Architect - Green Star Professional 
& Sustainability Consultant 

Don’t tell me I can’t do it…. because that just means I can!

From a young age my life had some unique challenges.  Having grown up in social housing there used to be a bit of a stigma that you weren’t intelligent enough or smart enough to succeed. 

Being an asthmatic, spending a large portion of the early years in hospital because of not having the medication we have today, caused some frightening experiences for me and other kids who didn’t understand.  

I married and became a mother at a very young age and I realised that it wasn’t the right environment for either my son or myself, so I needed to make the break.  

For a couple of years, I had to learn to set the boundaries. That I didn’t need someone in our lives to make us safe or create a sense of value, we had that between us. 

In 1998, while at University, my life went upside down with the sudden death of my oldest son. In intense grief, I decided to pull the covers over my head and let the world go by.  Three weeks later my husband said it was time to move….so I did reluctantly and a little frightened, went back to University.  

In 2002, twenty-one years after my first son, I was extremely fortunate and blessed to have a second son, who we always said was our miracle.  We had tried fertility treatment and there had been miscarriages and days that stretched to 40-50 days and then the sign of not being pregnant and in 2014 when having a hysterectomy, it was found I had endometriosis which had never been diagnosed correctly, so made the birth of our son even more precious. 

One of the things my husband Irvine has seen in me was the ability to learn, to tackle challenges and at times while the confidence might have not been there, he would always say “let me worry about the confidence, you just go for it….”  

This put me in a secure place as I developed my career, from becoming a tracer (yes, no computers for reproducing drawings), which opened up one of my career opportunities in designing kitchens and bathrooms, and then being employed by a Civil Engineer when he found out I could draw.  So now for a fun story:

I had received a telegram (oh how I wish I had kept that) as we didn’t have an answering machine and yes to our younger readers, no cellphones.  My interview was initially discussing my ability to type, doing reports when a gentleman walked in and said “I believe you can draw, here are three pens (they were 0.18, 0.25 and 0.3 ink drawing pens), some graph paper and a ruler…. draw something, we will be back in five minutes….” Ok I went mentally to myself, what on earth am I going to draw…. a simple kitchen design with maybe elevations and 3D if time.  He came back in, went “you can draw, know how to use pens, but your writing is obviously architectural we will teach you engineering stencilling and you are hired.” 

My first day was a very quick introduction into using a DOS computer with four commands and to go and figure out the rest.  A year later we were to change the company system from DOS to WordPerfect (I know some old names and systems here) and during the training sessions the administration staff undertook, I asked our trainer how to do automatic numbering…it was there in the tools.  She didn’t know, so over lunch I read the manual and figured it out and taught everyone in the room when we all came back together.  

Back in the office the next day, I was asked by a Director to train all the staff from the CEO to the draftees…go figure, so I developed a training process and took them through it.  The results were the Directors of the company asked me to write a training manual for use by the New Zealand wide company and then the accountant came and asked me to do the same for the invoicing system as I knew how to use that.

The mentoring in those days was to set me up when working in less than professional companies when we shifted to Christchurch, that is definitely a story for another day and to step into a role as Project Coordinator (today's equivalent of Project Manager) for a major mall redevelopment (something close to $200M today). 

Back to Auckland as Irvine was headhunted to work on Sky City and I joined their services sub-contractor for a period. It was then that my plans eventuated towards the University of Auckland to undertake formal training towards becoming a Registered Architect (achieved this 2007).  I did my degrees in architectural studies and architecture, then went on to work with some architectural practices earning way less than before I went to University. Yes, less than some of the guys who had less experience, and we still fight for equal pay today. 

Late 2002, there had been a little advert in the local paper for a second chance education scholarship, Irvine said “well you were always going to do your masters, why don’t you apply, you are on maternity leave” so with five minutes left on the clock the application was handed in and in 2003 I was the winner and on the 7/03/2003 at the University of Auckland I started my Masters in Architecture in Sustainable Design, with a nine month old baby and doing contract work for an architect. 

Mid 2004, with a young toddler in hospital due to third degree burns to his hand, I completed the last of my thesis on a hired laptop by his bed.

30,000 words later plus a full design of a library, an arts and culture centre and the printed submission was in by the deadline my professor had set before she went on leave.  

At that point, I didn’t care if I passed or not…I was too exhausted.  When I dropped it off, the staff said I should have asked for compassionate extension, but it was done, and we headed out of town to go north for our wedding anniversary and guess what, both my husband and son got sick, what a trip. 
I am pleased to say I did achieve my Masters and when I look at my hard copy of my thesis, I knew I did it.  It was also said to me I was the first person to do a post graduate masters, coming from a state home and being adopted as well…another story for another day.  

As a result of that scholarship starting me on the journey for my Masters, I decided I wanted to give something back to those women who believed in second chance education of women…. BPW Franklin became my club, I became their President and then the Federation of Business and Professional Women New Zealand (BPW NZ) Inc. President, following in the footsteps of some amazing women and mentors.

Late 2019, as if being fully employed as a Senior Development Manager wasn’t enough and a member of BPW International’s Constitution Advisory Committee, BPW Asia-Pacific Sub-Regional Coordinator for Oceania, and wife and mother which both make my life easy because of their love and support my husband said, “Carolyn isn’t this something you should do? You are really strong on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” I was in the General Assembly, New York 2015 when they were adopted.  

So in 2020 I became one of the first cohorts of Massey University, Palmerston North, distance students to undertake the Masters in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Business and Sustainability, graduating in 2022 and I can tell you those couples of years had their own challenges, but no room for that today…but I can say I have been told I can have my paper published, next big thing for me.

So today, my career has been really diverse and the things that I am really passionate about are my family, my architecture, my volunteer work which involves two hats, being heavily involved in the amendments to BPW International Constitution and Regulations, as CAC Chair, and to ensure compliance with Swiss Civil Code and BPW Asia-Pacific Sub-Region Oceania, from which I step down in November 2024.
Following an accident in late 2022 I had major surgery on my spine March 2023 including an artificial disc and a few rods, rails and wires to support spinal fusion, so what did I decide to do?  

Establish a new company Savage Asia-Pacific  Consultants Ltd for  the purpose of education and design  of  tools, reports and presentations across the design and construction sectors to achieve Green Star developments, implementing the SDGs 
and achieving sustainable building  developments, so a new journey begins.

Carolyn Savage is a Consultant, Architect and NZ Green Star Accredited Professional you can connect with on Facebook, LinkedIn and X(Twitter) for more info.

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