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Overview and judges

An image from Market Square / Wetland Pier. A final-year project by Rachel Murray.


In late November 2015, four final-year students nominated by each of New Zealand’s three accredited schools of architecture – The University of Auckland School of Architecture and Planning, Unitec Department of Architecture and Victoria University of Wellington School of Architecture – gathered in Auckland to contest the NZIA Cadimage Group Student Design Awards.

The awards, organised by the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) and held annually for the past 13 years, provide an opportunity to further extend some of New Zealand’s most talented students of architecture through exposure to high levels of appraisal, critique and feedback from judges with excellent professional and/or academic connections.

This year, as in previous years, the 12 finalists presented their comprehensive final-year thesis projects to a three-strong jury: NZIA President Pip Cheshire (Cheshire Architects, Auckland), Brisbane architect Michael Banney (m3 Architecture) and Wellington, via France, architect Cecile Bonnifait (Atelierworkshop). Following the presentations and subsequent inquiries the judges chose a single winner and conferred two Highly Commended awards.

The structure of the Student Design Awards programme is also organised with an exhibition component, which allows finalists to communicate their ideas to a wider audience. The awards evening exhibition, which is accompanied by a lecture (this year given by Michael Banney) and the presentation of awards, is typically attended by architects, students, academics and media who are interested in making their own assessments of the relative merits of the finalists as well as, by proxy, the pedagogical directions of the three schools. It is also an opportunity for guests to muse on wider themes, the selection of subject matter, the development and presentation of ideas. Entries in 2015 were notable for an array of presentation techniques that included moving images, large detailed panels and models, and both handcrafted objects and those produced using additive technologies.

Year upon year, the concerns of students expressed through their comprehensive final-year projects are diverse and challenging. The 2015 Awards included several environmental projects in which water is a central concern. In Aphiwat (Don) Pengpala’s home village of Ban Thang Khwang in Thailand, access to water, as well as water quality and the importance of water-based festivals, inspired ‘Water You Know’, with comprehensive studies parsed through additional filters (including Bernard Tschumi’s concept of “no architecture without an event”) to create plans for structures incorporating Thai culture, values and village customs into their solutions.

Closer to home, Rachel Murray’s ‘Market Square / Wetland Pier’ illustrated the benefits of active conservation by bringing a rehabilitated lagoon into the heart of Waikanae’s town centre. In ‘Post Civic’, Robert Pak’s scheme to alleviate the blight around Auckland's old Railway Station, reverse reclamation via a canal linking land to harbour introduced new “micro” community spaces into a heavily privatised precinct.


It was the “machine-scape” of Taranaki – and ideas relating to the future uses of obsolete or unused pieces of large infrastructure – that drove David Walsh’s project ‘A Point of Change’. A confluence of architecture and science, David envisioned educational and thermal power possibilities for the region’s derelict oil and gas sites.

While David’s project was heavily grounded, Nicholas Denton’s gaze was diverted to the heavens. ‘A Place to Navigate With/In’ combined the author’s fascination with astronomy with research into the culturally equitable design of urban environments – unlikely bedfellows perhaps, but the deeply researched work culminated in a line of latitude under “a common sky” with seven observatories marking places of important cultural intersection on common ground below.

Chirag Jindal’s point of interest, meanwhile, was speluncean. His recording and revealing of the labyrinthine lava caves that sit beneath Auckland was interlaced with proposed interventions that would allow others to venture to enjoy the underworld milieu.

As in previous years, this cohort of finalists revealed a keen social sensibility and a willingness to grapple with culturally complex subject matter. Hannah Broatch, Highly Commended for her entry, drew on her extensive personal research and fieldwork in India to design accommodation for migrant construction workers in Ahmedabad. John Belford-Lelaulu undertook the design of a building that would showcase Samoan culture in its New Zealand heartland of south Auckland. John’s proposition, ‘La Malofie’, drew design inspiration from traditional Samoan tattooing.

Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries might be considered an unlikely starting point for an architectural project, yet the Man Booker Prize-winning book formed the basis for Kate Turner’s work ‘The Fictional Generator’. Prospecting the complex narrative for architecture, Kate re-imagined buildings from the novel’s Hokitika gold rush setting in contemporary Coromandel, another historic mining location which currently faces renewed mineral exploration. Kiri McKenna’s ‘Salon of the Muses was a re-envisioning of the grounds around Old Government House at the University of Auckland, with lightweight, ephemeral structures employed to make the experience of the landscape more open and accessible.

Another finalist interested in regional translocation, as well as pointed socio-political commentary, was Tessa Forde. ‘The House that Politics Built: Parliament Aotearoa’ proposed a new cluster of Parliament buildings might be sited in downtown Auckland. The scheme blended satire and architecture to make some trenchant points about New Zealand's current political culture. Tessa was Highly Commended for this work.

The work of James Durcan was positioned at the nexus of contemporary digital fabrication techniques and traditional Maori craft methods and design approaches. His proposed structure, conceived in collaboration with Poverty Bay's Ngai Tamanuhiri iwi, is intended for off-grid construction at a coastal site near Gisborne. For this project, James won the 2015 NZIA Cadimage Group Student Design Awards.

The NZIA extends its congratulations and best wishes for the future to all who participated in this year’s awards. A special acknowledgement must also go to Cadimage Group, which for many years (formerly as Graphisoft) has generously sponsored the student awards programme. The NZIA thanks the company for its generous and continuing support. 

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