Bruce Dickson has done big projects in other centres, but Whanganui's built heritage has been his passion for the past five years.

He's delighted to have been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to architecture.

"I'm just very proud to have been considered worthy."

An earlier surprise was being made an honorary associate of the Universal College of Learning (UCOL) in March, also for his architectural work. He's "quite blown away" by it all.


Mr Dickson has been a registered architect for 51 years, with a practice in Whanganui for 50 of them. He's been a founder and director of several architectural practices, still works full-time and puts in "an awful lot" of voluntary time as well.

His designs have won awards in Whanganui and elsewhere, and he has been a chairman, treasurer and awards convenor for the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

Mr Dickson was born in Whanganui and his grandfather and father were both builders. After university he worked in Auckland and England, before returning to Whanganui to work with his father for two "wonderful" years.

One of the practices he started grew to have offices in five main centres. At times when he was young and ambitious, Mr Dickson was spending 60 per cent of his work time out of town. "You had to get away to get the challenges you really wanted."

But he was also closely involved with Whanganui's central business district. In 1991 he helped found Mainstreet Wanganui, and in the late 1990s shaped the landscape of the CBD and later Majestic Square.

He and his wife Judith bought the Rutland Hotel when it was a "wreck" and about to be demolished. Rebuilding and refurbishing it consumed 12 years of their lives.

He also rebuilt Embassy Three Cinemas, initially built by his father, in order to keep entertainment venues in the Bridge Block of Victoria Ave.

He was a member of Whanganui's Historic Places Trust, and a founding member of the Whanganui Regional Heritage Trust. He's been Wanganui Collegiate School's architect for 25 years, designing new buildings and strengthening old ones.

He helped design the Conservation Department office in Taupo Quay, and a space for the Sarjeant on the Quay gallery. At the moment he's involved with earthquake-strengthening the Royal Wanganui Opera House and Alexander Library.

And he was instrumental in getting a building set up for the Tramways Wanganui Trust, and was joint architect for the UCOL campus in Taupo Quay.

By 2011, when he turned 70, he was tired of travelling and the business side of architecture, and wanted to work on Whanganui projects.

"As you get older, you think what's really important is how you can really make a difference," he said.

He thinks conserving heritage is important, and said not many architects took an interest in that. Looking back over his career, he remembers the people more than the buildings. They are people like heritage dynamo Wendy Pettigrew, council planners and fellow Mainstreet volunteers - and especially his wife Judith, who has supported his career.