Don Wilson

b. 1924d. 2009

Don Wilson was a New Zealand Modernist architect based in Whanganui. He studied engineering at the University of Auckland in 1943 before joining the RNZAF and serving in the Pacific. After returning to Whanganui, he was awarded a rehabilitation bursary to study architecture. This paid for four years of study at the University of Auckland, School of Architecture, which he commenced in 1946, studying under engineer Michael Faraday and immigrant architects Dr Richard Toy and Vernon Brown.

He spent various holidays working in the Auckland office of the Department of Housing, and the Whanganui and Wellington offices of the Ministry of Works, where he trained under Frederick H Newman. Upon completing his studies he assumed a role at the Ministry of Works in Whanganui.

He was made assistant chief architect with the Wanganui Education Board during which time he helped to plan the new Wanganui Girls’ College. By 1954 Don had set up his own practice with his office initially run by family members.

He was also a Fulbright scholar, and received a travel grant to study in Chicago at the Illinois Institute of Technology under Bauhaus-trained Mies van der Rohe. He arrived for graduate study at the School of Architectural Design and Town Planning at IIT in September 1958, but did not find that it aligned with his own aspirations. Instead he opted to travel with a Tasmanian architect colleague extensively through 41 states, into Canada and through 10 Mexican provinces where the use of mosaics by local architects was of interest. He returned to Whanganui in March 1959.

From 1965 Wilson took on advisory roles with overseas aid and development agencies holding positions with the UN technical advisory service, the Asian Development Bank, the World Refugee Service and the World Council of Churches. He became multilingual and worked all round the world consulting on the development of major projects. He was a practicing architect until 1970.

See also:

Don Wilson & Basil Benseman, 'Museum Mosaic' (1968), Whanganui Regional Museum

Image: Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, Public Art Heritage Aotearoa New Zealand, 2021