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Introduction, judges and events images

Elyjana Roach, Danielle Koni, Christina van Bohemen and L. Mason Rattray.

Photo by David St George

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For the first time in a number of years the NZIA Central Innovation Fifth Year Student Design Awards took place in Wellington, with the two-day event hosted by Victoria University of Wellington on the city’s waterfront.

Victoria, of course, is home to one of New Zealand’s three accredited schools of architecture – the troika is completed by the Unitec Department of Architecture and the University of Auckland School of Architecture. Annually, each school selects four fifth-year students to contest the Student Design Awards. Each finalist, selected for the strength of his or her final-year thesis project, constructs an exhibition of work using large-format images, architectural models, digital material and other devices (including, this year, a board game, by University of Auckland student Brooke Bardell-Munro) to help convey the strength of their work to the awards jury and, indeed, to a wider audience comprised of praticing architects, potential employers, media and interested members of the public.

The structure of the Student Design Awards is that of call and respond. Finalist presentations are followed by a period of engagement and critique by the jury. An ongoing aim of the awards is to provide graduating students with exposure to a high level of professional inquisition, and a carefully composed and well balanced jury with excellent professional and academic credentials is critical to achieving this aim.

In 2016, the awards jury was convened by Christina van Bohemen, President of the NZIA and director of Sills van Bohemen Architecture. Christina was aided in her deliberations by Stephen McDougall, a founding director of Studio Pacific Architecture in Wellington, and Sydney-based architect and academic Melonie Bayl-Smith, from Bijl Architects. The jury’s culminating act is to allocate three awards to exceptional finalists: an overall prize and two highly commended awards.

So, what of the 2017 awards cohort? In recent years, one might venture that student design awards finalists have tended towards schemes that might be best described as ambitiously futuristic and sometimes dystopian (a mirror, no doubt, to the world’s pressing concerns, such as climate change and sea-level rise and the plight of refugees). While this year’s finalists were no less ambitious – perhaps they were more so, in the respect that some were actively seeking to take their projects beyond paper and screen and into reality – many have are pitched at a human scale, and demonstrate a depth of feet-on-the-street community engagement that would be welcome in the real world.

Perhaps there is no greater example of dedicated community engagement than in the work of Elyjana Roach (Victoria University of Wellington), whose project ‘THINK BIG, act small’ sought to reclaim and improve, for the people, Porirua City’s industrially blighted waterfront. Elyjana’s toolkit of large, medium and small interventions were not just imaginings; they were inspired by feedback elicited from a main street pop-up store and sculpture project. For this work, Elyjana was highly commended by the awards jury.

Unitec student Shaun Goddard’s work was driven by ground-up consultation conducted with south Auckland design collective The Roots. In ‘The Tipping Point’, Shaun addresses the growing disparity between parts of Auckland through community-based music platforms with a shared architectural language.

It was improving the fortunes of rural farmers in India that inspired L. Mason Rattray (Unitec). ‘Tipping the Balance’ is a model for an Indian dairy farm that integrates the soclial and physical characteristics of village life into a working farm. The project, informed by Mason’s experiences working in the sub-continent, are equally about farm performance, community establishment and the improvement of lives. For this project, Mason won the 2016 NZIA Central Innovation Student Design Award.

Great personal investment in, and familiarity with, one’s chosen subject matter is also a characteristic typical of the Student Design Awards. For Danielle Koni (University of Auckland), frictions between iwi and the crown over Ngāti Whakaue land provided motivation for her project ‘Once the Dust Settles: Weaving a Cloak of Resilience for Hinemoa Point’. Danielle’s exquisitely drawn work expresses a deep reading of the cloak motif – a metaphor that is increasingly popular in contemporary architecture.

Kyle Ramsey’s (Unitec) subject matter was also found close to home – well, actually, it was his hometown, New Plymouth, where he sought to restore the Huatoki Stream to its full dignity and explore the architectural potential of nearby buildings while overcoming the “tyranny of transport planners”. Former representative soccer player Elizabeth Milne (Unitec) re-envisaged a dilapidated stadium in Papua New Guinea, the host country of the 2016 U21 Women’s World Cup, as not just a gathering place for sport but a village green, a place for everyone, even outside of game day. While studying te reo, Victoria University of Wellington finalist Jacob Dench became aware of the tree-village of the Muaupoko of Whakahoro, an almost forgotten chapter of New Zealand history. Jacob’s project, ‘Te Mōrehu’, imagines an orator’s platform constructed using contemporary tensioned-structure technology.

It was the environment in toto, and New Zealand’s portrayal of it, that drove the University of Auckland’s Brooke Bardell-Munro to imagine a fantastical realm in the Hauraki Gulf that questioned the validity of New Zealand’s claims to environmental purity.

It was the environment in toto, and New Zealand’s portrayal of it, that drove the University of Auckland’s Brooke Bardell-Munro to imagine a fantastical realm in the Hauraki Gulf that questioned the validity of New Zealand’s claims to environmental purity. For Sharon Lam (Victoria University of Wellington), another environmental condition – the plight of the honey bee – prompted a whimsical study that considered the role another species can play in altering the ways we see ourselves and relate to others.

Fifth-year architecture study allows students to undertake comprehensive research and to provide solutions that might challenge accepted architectural or social norms. Deeming current reponses to an impending climate catastophe as woefully inadeqaute, Liam Stumbles (University of Auckland) seized the opportunity to investigate a series of more radical actions that are based in a comprehensive study of climatology, cyclical development, digital tools and futuristic tech.

Atypical design tools, including robotic arms and stereoscopy, allowed Nicholas O’Connell (Victoria University of Wellington) to bend and refract space and exploit the potential of errors and glitches in the design of shelters for Matiu/Somes Island. Elliott Morgan (University of Auckland) bravely challenged conventions relating to the design of mental illness – and sought to destigmatise the common health condition – by designing a clinic with façades that respond to and emote the presence of occupants and employing interior devices that recall the memory of previous visitors.

The NZIA thanks Central Innovation for its support of the Student Design Awards and congratulates all the students on the quality of their presentations, and wishes them all the best for their careers in architecture.

New Zealand Institute of Architects
February 2017