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New Zealand Institute of Architects









It Becomes Us

by Elizabeth Kuschel-Young

What does architecture mean to you?

We are who, not what.

A living

breathing entity

far beyond the imaginings

of those who would seek to claim us

an echo

a hand

reaching out across history

to touch you on the shoulder and whisper the breath

of long dead stories

on your many necks.

We walk


through a chattering crowd of people

barely making ourselves known yet we scream

so loud we can’t be ignored; the pillars

of axioms and archways positing your history

as fact.

We watch you pass us by,

Your sands of time falling together to form our bricks; unbiased

in our watching we carry the weight

of your sins on our marble shoulders.

Initials etched into the foundation of humanity,

a last cry to be seen

and remembered.

We are the end

of a long phrase,

the last note

of a melody; final and complete.

Welcoming you home after a long day

the gentle curves of a lived-in home

with worn-out skirting boards and peeling wallpaper,

the coat hooks

nod as you shuffle past,

kicking off your shoes and slumping into the strong warm embrace

of a sagging armchair

We are stability ever-shifting, undefinable


We subvert

and conform.

A shining beacon cutting through the grey

we present you with a mirror; a mirror that reflects who we were,

who you are

and who you may become.

We are a conversation

between comfort and a warning, a dichotomy.

We seek

to reveal you and show you what you have done and will do,

whether good

or evil.

We will be your future as we have been your past.

We are as much the intricate gold detailing

of the Château de Versailles

as we are the neglected and festering homes

of those who built it.

We represent decadence and deprivation

at play.

We have predicted your future;

we have stared through you

and judged you

for the part you have played.

We permanently mar the surface of the earth

an ugly beautiful scar,

and finish your sentences.

We know what you must do

to ensure we don’t outlive you

as we have so many before,

and we ask the question,

will you plug your ears?

and drown out our silent screams?

or finally stop the crowds chattering

and turn to face the reflection of who you have become?


This poem was highly commended in the Rangatahi category of the 2022 Warren Trust Awards for Architectural Writing.

Photo: A double exposure street scene, 1951. The Boston Public Library, via Unsplash