ĀKAU Studio has won the 2023 John Sutherland Practice Award
16 November 2023
A small Te Tai Tokerau Northland studio making a big impact in their community has received the 2023 John Sutherland Practice Award.
Registered architect Felicity Brenchley, artist and designer Ruby Watson, and interior designer Ana Heremaia (Ngāpuhi) founded ĀKAU Studio in Kaikohe almost a decade ago. Since then, ĀKAU has evolved into a social enterprise design studio with eight staff. This year, they are the recipients of the John Sutherland Practice Award.
ĀKAU places the community at the very heart of their mahi. Their design portfolio includes public and civic spaces, housing developments, marae and kura, interior design projects and a focus on masterplanning and engaging whānau and tamariki authentically in design concepts. Collaboration and community engagement is embedded in every project by the not-for-profit studio, with the designers engaging with clients, community members and local tamariki every step of the way.
Fees from commercial projects help fund community design projects, with a focus on tamariki and creative education. Through this endeavour, ĀKAU helps tamariki recognise and harness the creativity of their tupuna by involving them in projects where they can see their visions and ideas brought to life. Light festivals, large-scale typographic installations, and streetscape projects are ways in which tamariki have contributed to their community. This practice structure and ethos is unique in Aotearoa New Zealand, making ĀKAU the perfect practice to be bestowed with the John Sutherland Practice Award, which celebrates and acknowledges the influence and impact of members on architecture and the built environment.
“This is a tohu that the vision we strived for when we started ĀKAU is being recognised as important by the profession of architecture,” says Ana Heremaia on behalf of ĀKAU. “It acknowledges the value of community design processes, that whānau and especially tamariki should be involved in designing the future and the built environment around them, and that placing Te Ao Māori as the foundation of design is important for the future of Aotearoa. It shows that all projects, no matter how small, can create positive impacts beyond their physical outcomes.”