First heritage conservation degree conferred

27 September 2017
Sum Yee Ling graduating from the University of Auckland with a Masters of Heritage Conservation with a specialisation in Built Heritage, the first qualification of its type in New Zealand.

Being raised in Hong Kong, the world’s fourth most densely populated area influenced the future career path of University of Auckland student Sum Yee Ling.

The 22-year-old postgraduate, who grew up in the Chinese territory, has seen first-hand how rapid population growth coupled with a shortage of urban land results in the destruction of heritage buildings. Understanding that building preservation often sits uncomfortably with the need for urban expansion and development, Sum Yee wanted to work with local communities to identify, protect and preserve buildings that were treasured.

This week she will be a step closer to her career goal when she’s capped at the University of Auckland Spring Graduation with a Masters of Heritage Conservation with a specialisation in Built Heritage, the first qualification of its type in New Zealand.

The multi-disciplinary degree, which was undertaken at the School of Architecture and Planning, bridges archaeology, architecture, history, museums studies, and planning. The course of study was the exact combination Sum Yee was looking for, encompassing compulsory architecture papers with individual electives.

Designed for both professionals and aspiring professionals, the degree programme reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the heritage industry and provides a pathway for postgraduates from a variety of disciplines to study heritage conservation. Sum Yee previously completed a Bachelor of Arts majoring in archaeology and geography at the University of Sydney.

She first arrived in New Zealand as a teenager to study at Rangitoto College for three years, next headed to the University of Sydney for another three, before returning to undertake postgraduate study at the University of Auckland. Sum Yee could see the city’s growth meant there were heritage issues happening here too. “New Zealand was an ideal environment for me to investigate ways of striking a balance between heritage conservation and redevelopment,” she says.

“In Hong Kong, my family live in a heritage building, constructed in the 1960s. Designed with the wind and sun in mind, it is a place we love. Unlike many modern housing developments in the area, the families all know each other, because we can move freely between the floors, so we interact and have formed a community,” she says.

As part of Sum Yee’s Masters of Heritage Conservation course work she undertook an internship with the Auckland Council that required her to assess and report on the heritage values of the Mount Albert War Memorial Hall. The project was a highlight of her study and her completed assessment will assist the Heritage Unit at the Council to protect “this fine example of local modernist architecture.”

Sum Yee wants to play an on-going role in heritage conservation both here and back in Hong Kong.  “I now have the skills to assess a building’s significance, and then if necessary, take practical steps to help preserve it,” she says.

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