Dr Peter Maddison initially failed high school but found success after an unexpected chance to study architecture at RMIT.
Graduating with a Bachelor of Architectural Design in 1983, Maddison – who was awarded an honorary doctorate by RMIT last year – has recently found fame as the host of Grand Designs Australia.
Here, he gives his insights into the popular appeal of architecture and how he got the TV gig of a lifetime.
What sparked your interest in architecture?
I failed my final year of high school terribly. Then I repeated my final year at RMIT, which offered a course called TOP [Tertiary Orientation Program] which wasn't a traditional way of doing it.
I responded to that environment as a mature aged student, being treated as an adult. My results were good enough to get me into my dream course, architecture.
There’s a couple of days I consider the best in my life: getting into architecture at RMIT, meeting my beautiful wife, the days my children were born and getting the media gig [as host of Grand Designs Australia].
The greatest revelation was when I actually got in to architecture at RMIT. I could not believe I was capable enough.
Is it true that you’d never heard of Grand Designs when they first asked you to do it? How did you get the job?
I’d never heard of the show! They invited me to submit a CV and my secretary [at Maddison Architects] sent a suitably young picture of me – which they bought – hook, line and sinker!
Three weeks later I was asked if I would do a screen test, I didn’t even know what a screen test was. That test went well and I was suddenly into a final screen test.
I then got serious and did my homework on Grand Designs and established it was actually well regarded.
For the final screen test I visited the building site prior and got in my head around what I wanted to say and to my surprise, I was offered the gig.
It took me three months to say yes, because it was intimidating, the idea of having to perform on camera.
Was it challenging being on camera for the first time?
You bet ya! Overcoming the nerves is very challenging, knowing you’re going to have a million people looking at your every twitch and every little nuance.
I had to overcome my fear of being exposed for the person I am.
It’s still taken me a couple of years to be comfortable in my own skin and not be more than I am, and that’s an important trait I'm aiming for.
What do you do when you don’t like the house that is being built on the show? How do you go about telling that delicate story?
In the show, I’m taken to the hallowed turf of someone’s innermost dreams, and they’re sharing that journey with me.
There’s a lot of respect I need to have to those people sharing their story.
They’re putting their hand up to share it with me, yes, but it’s very easy to take the high ground, high architectural turf and start criticising their journey outright.
I’m very much a fly on the wall. I try to leave it to the public to judge whether it is joyful, a good fit or otherwise.