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Overview and judges

One of the aims of the Student Design Awards is to expose graduating students to high-level professional inquisition.

Accordingly, the finalists in the awards programme present their projects to, and are interrogated by, a judging panel with strong vocational and academic qualifications. The other side of this coin is that the awards are an opportunity for the profession to connect with the schools and their students.

Even if the Student Design Awards did nothing else – and, of course, the awards have many benefits – they certainly serve to illustrate the rapid pace of technological advancement and the scarily impressive fluency of students in the medium of digital representation.

In 2014 the jury comprised convener Pip Cheshire (Cheshire Architects, Auckland), Professor John Macarthur of the University of Queensland and Louise Wright (Assembly Architects, Arrowtown).

The jury was tasked with deciding a winner and making two highly commended awards from among the 12 finalists in the competition. As usual, the submitted projects were the products of a considerable amount of work undertaken throughout the students’ final academic year. The impressive entries combined timeless types – ‘old school’, one might say – of architectural representation, such as hand sketches and physical models (model-making is still evidently a much-appreciated and enjoyed craft) with contemporary modes of digital production. Some of the large-scale renderings deserved space on a gallery wall – the scale and detail of the images was certainly proportionate to the ambition of the concepts they illustrated.

As is usual, the finalists in the Student Design Awards seem to have taken to heart Daniel Burnham’s injunction to make no small plans. And why not? If you can’t think big when you’re a student, when there are no constraints upon imagination, then you’re perhaps unlikely to make much of a difference in later life. A proclivity to grandiosity in some cases went hand in hand with an inclination towards disaster scenarios.

So, for example, Mayank Thammalla (Unitec) presented a concept – Sink or Swim – that relocated communities in the Maldive Islands, which are threatened by rising sea levels caused by global warming, to re-purposed, semi-submersible oil rigs. Impending inundation was also a concern for Norman Wei (University of Auckland) who, in his highly commended entry Super-Pacific City: The Saga of Lomipeau, turned to Tongan mythology for inspiration in creating another floating world. An actual disaster was the topic addressed by Carinya Feaunati (VUW) who proposed an education building/community centre that would revive a Samoan village severely damaged by the 2009 tsunami.

Disaster of another kind was the prompt for Benjamin Allnatt (VUW) who presented Plan B Hive: An Outpost in the Hinterland, a scheme for a fortress building near Wellington that would house the government in the wake of the Capital’s much anticipated ‘big one’. Ji Min An (Unitec) took an ongoing, slow-motion crisis as the subject of her highly commended project, Korea/Korea, which posited a building in the demilaritised zone to be shared by North and South Korea. The extreme situation dealt with by Hamish Beattie (VUW) in his project, Topology of a Phantom City, is the phenomenon of the contemporary ‘informal settlement’, the favela-type development that occurs alongside ‘intentional’ or established cities. Social criticism and environmental polemics mixed with futuristic scenarios in projects presented by Shane Tregidga (Unitec) and Zee Shake Lee (University of Auckland). Shane’s The Steaks are High is an urban vertical feedlot which would confront city dwellers with the realities of meat production, while Zee’s Moving Grounds: Irrupting Three Kings Inverted Volcanoes presented several options for building on an historic Auckland site about to receive a large residential development. The scheme presented by Natalee Tan (University of Auckland) – Rotovegas: Playground of Flux – had a futuristic aspect, too, but also revealed a theoretical impulse in its marriage of ‘ludic’ fun and vehicular movement in the tourist playground of Rotorua. Going back to the future, Flora Kwan (Unitec) bravely took on one of the most fantastic representations of architecture in her attempt – Piranesi: [Th]reading the Repository – to make built sense of the labyrinthine world of Piranesi’s series of carceri (prison) etchings.

In contrast, the remaining two projects located themselves quite specifically in particular New Zealand suburban environments. Raimana Jones (University of Auckland) proposed some architectural and urban design repair work for his own traffic-damaged neighbourhood in Auckland, and Tom Dobinson (VUW) produced a multi-layered project that combined an appreciation of the character of Lyttelton, where he grew  up, with a proposal to physically reconnect the town to the port that has substantially formed that character. For this project, Tom won the 2014 NZIA Graphisoft Student Design Award.

The NZIA thanks Graphisoft for its continued support of the Student Design Awards – this is the eighth year the company has sponsored the awards programme – and congratulates all the students on the quality of their presentations, and wishes them all the best in their careers in architecture.