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New Zealand Institute of Architects









Highly Commended: Grayson Croucher

Grayson Croucher from Waipapa Taumata Rau, The University of Auckland, Te Pare School of Architecture and Planning has received Highly Commended at the 2023 Student Design Awards for project 'Moving Mountains – Didactic Architecture for Aotearoa'.

Project description

Didactic refers to something that is intended to teach or instruct. In the context of architecture, didactic design involves creating spaces, structures, or interventions that have an educational purpose. These architectural interventions aim to communicate specific messages, convey information, or provoke learning experiences. Didactic architecture often incorporates interactive elements and visual representations to engage and educate people about a particular subject or topic.

The Legend of the Mountains pertains to the well-known Māori mythology story regarding land creation, thought to be derived from the Oruanui volcanic event that created Lake Taupō. Occurring approximately 26,500 years ago, the tale speaks of several warrior mountains, all of which were fighting for the love of Pīhanga. This love story highlights the tension in the land and the destructive nature of the event.

Fast forward to Aotearoa in the early 1800s and this vast and unforgiving landscape became increasingly treacherous due to the beginning of the New Zealand Land Wars that transpired after the signing in 1840 of the Treaty of Waitangi. Ultimately taken advantage of, deceived and manipulated over the years, Māori fought back. The British colonisation of Aotearoa created further tension, both physically and emotionally on the land and its people.

Expanding the notion of a traditional museum and spreading it out over the landscape, interventions and 'exhibitions' are scattered across the land for 'all' to see. The aim is to create a collection of architectural interventions that provide insight into our cultural heritage, both pre- and post-colonisation, highlighting the tension and disagreement, the acts of gifting and preservation – the events in time that shaped us as a nation.

Jury citation

This is architecture as the embodiment of cultural knowledge, identity and history. The narrative is beautifully handled.

The stories of our geography and the way landscape has been formed through legend are uncovered, valued and brought together to heal the difficult passages of our history. How that has been achieved with such evocative structures demonstrates a commendable depth of understanding.

The structures and thinking behind them are convincing and relevant and we need to get on and build them, not only for ourselves but for our visitors. Masterful. The models not only honour engineering, but the lives and stories buried within the sites’ history.

The designer’s practice looks back while remaining firmly in the present. History of the sites has been examined and the possibility of travelling through time is established in the models. This approach goes beyond just being a narrative.

The project is completely engaged with the modern condition, which is something that needs to be confronted. There’s a clear grasp of scale and meaning and a lovely sense of lightness to the structures but, at the same time, mass. Opposites are in tension – lightness and weight – and when that’s revealed there is radical tension between opposites. There is no grey area.