Nan O'Sullivan

Programme Director Culture + Context Design School of Design

Research interests

Interdisciplinary foundation education, Bauhaus pedagogy,New Zealand Architecture, Modernism, Material Culture

Nan O'Sullivan profile picture


Dip. Interior Environmental Design (AUT)

Masters of Architecture (VUW)

PGCert Higher Education Learning and Teaching (VUW)


Colourfull patterns and shapes in a rectangle box.
Symbols by First Year Design students

Both design practice and design education are evolving dynamically with the re-emergence of an interdisciplinary and more comprehensive approach to the pedagogy and discourse surrounding culture within design thinking and making. A demand to widen the scope of design inquisition away from the predominantly euro-centric model currently practiced to a more culturally inclusive approach acts as the principle catalyst in my endeavours to develop pedagogical models to enable this paradigm shift. A focus of my research is the use and understanding of the universal and the more culturally specific examples of visual-spatial languages. My research aims to place indigenous knowledge within design pedagogy in order to enable more diverse and inclusive approaches that engender more fluid, transparent and coherent communication. This research involves a critical approach to the application of Bauhaus ideals amalgamated with cultural and indigenous practices to address both contemporary and future scenarios involving design thinking, teaching and practice.

Full list of publications by Nan O'Sullivan

Black and white photos of students holding up banners stating there Ta-Va.
Second year design pedagogy, creation: sharing - one's ideas and perspectives. As a specific feature, and as an expansion on their understanding of the relevance Ta-Va has in contemporary society, second year students are introduced to the ideology teu la va - the recognition of sacred and unbreakable connections. These connections can be to people, ideals or nature but importantly they are emotional, binding and eternal. These ideals engender respect and reciprocity and encourage mutuality, symmetry and balanced socio-spatial relationships. Students use these ideologies as the focus,  nexus or counterpoint to western ideals and practices to create a personal standpoint that they aim to pursue and allow to guide their own design thinking, learning and practice.


As a pedagogue my relationship with the Schools of Architecture and Design has been an enduring one and one of which I am very proud. For the bulk of my career I have combined both teaching and design practice. In recent years I have centralised my efforts in pedagogy and research. My focus has been the interdisciplinary and extremely diverse first year studio. Currently I am the Deputy Head of the School of Design the Programme Director of First Year Design. I believe by taking an inclusive approach to the teaching and learning environment, and embracing diversity in order to introduce students to the multiplicities and intricacies of the design world, its vocabulary and its possibilities.  I encourage an environment in which our students are both well-equipped and confident enough to confront and challenge, in an innovative way, the complexities held within the environments they both inhabit and design within.


Programme Director First Year Design Victoria University of Wellington, 2013

Tutor/teaching fellow Victoria University of Wellington Schools of Architecture and Design, 2000–2012


Established in 1991, nan-odesign has endeavoured to bring to each project a level personal and personalized design work. Each project is a portrayal of each client.

Work history

Athfield Architects, 1982–1987

Bossley/Cheshire Architects, 1987–1988

Craig Moller Architects, 1988–1991

Private practice

nan-odesign, 1991–2012

Nan O'Sullivan CV