Sky’s the limit for Harvard-bound architecture graduate

Oscar Botha is on his way to Harvard with big dreams to improve people’s lives through architecture.

Architecture graduate Oscar Botha
Architecture graduate Oscar Botha will begin his studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in September. Photo: Chris Loufte

A keen eye for architectural design and a passion for making a difference in the world has earned University of Auckland graduate Oscar Botha a highly coveted spot at Harvard University.

Oscar, who graduated on 14 May with a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, will head to the Harvard Graduate School of Design in the US this September to begin his postgraduate studies.

Best of all, his fees and living expenses will be paid for thanks to the Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship, a highly competitive award granted to a maximum of three New Zealand students a year.

The 21-year-old applied to five universities overseas – Harvard, MIT, UC Berkely, TU Delft and the University of Melbourne. As a testament to his exceptional achievements, he was accepted into every school.

But Harvard stood out from the other universities because of its all-inclusive, multidisciplinary approach to teaching design, he says.

“Architecture has an incredible power to impact people’s lives for the better – and that’s where my passion lies. There are an important range of problems that we must deal with as architects, including sustainability and social concerns. Our role is to weave all those issues together and ultimately design spaces that have a positive impact on the world.”

Oscar’s dream is to open his own architecture firm once he completes his studies.

“I'm very driven to forge my own path in the field,” he says. “I believe you get as much out of something as you put into it.”

In 2023, he was named as a gold award winner at the Best Design Awards with fellow students James Corles and Natsune Suzuki for their innovative case study on Māori papakāinga housing. The project was supervised by Professor Anthony Hoete with consultation from the Kōkōhīnau Papakāinga Trust and Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa.

The aim was to create a modular housing system capable of accommodating 100 people facing hardship in the Bay of Plenty, with the goal of initiating social transformation through innovative housing design.

“One of the biggest draw factors of designing a single huge house rather than a series of detached dwellings is that when it comes to services and amenities, you can have the Rolls-Royce of kitchens, as well as the best bathrooms because you don't have to build 20 of them. If you make those feel super high level, then you can create a level playing field where it doesn't feel like you're in social housing.”

Oscar says he’s always been creatively driven and was drawn to subjects like design technology while he was at high school. His mum, who is a practicing architect, also played a role in helping to fuel his passion for the discipline.

“First and foremost, I always wanted to do something that I enjoyed. And since choosing architecture over other courses, I've never looked back. It's something that I've grown to love while studying over the last three years.”

He credits Professor Hoete, Dr Emilio Garcia and Lars von Minden for their support during his application process and says the highlight of his time at the University of Auckland was the six weeks he spent in Europe in 2023 as part of a school study tour.

“Opportunities like that have helped me to build an appreciation for the discipline and continue to spark my enthusiasm. I’m excited to be part of the global architecture community and draw inspiration from world leaders in the profession.”

Media contact

Hussein Moses | Media adviser
M: 027 361 1000