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Top students' winning visionary designs 'promising' for the future of architecture

Victoria University student Roger Wilson has emerged victorious in the NZIA Graphisoft Student Design Awards, a design competition contested by the top four final year students from each of New Zealand’s three architecture schools at the University of Auckland, Unitec, and Victoria.   

Wilson, 23, won for his scheme for a revived township at Denniston, an historic West Coast mining settlement.

Judges included New Zealand Institute of Architects president Patrick Clifford, Queenstown architect Bronwen Kerr, and Monash University, Melbourne, architecture professor Nigel Bertram, who said Wilson had created “an utterly engaging and evocative world”.

“The reconstituted town of Denniston is an innovative and original proposal,” the judges said. “We’d like to go to this town – at least for a visit.”

The judges said Wilson’s entry benefited from extensive research, including a week-long visit to the Denniston Plateau.

His competition victory will enable him to travel further afield – the Student Design Award carries a prize of $5,000, which he says may fund a trip to Paris, where he spent a year in the course of his architecture studies.

But first, Wilson will benefit from another of the Award prizes, a trip to Sydney to meet some of the city’s leading architects. He will be joined by the two students whose entries were Highly Commended, Unitec’s Erxin Shang and the University of Auckland’s Min Tian.

Judges said Shang’s design for an architecture school in Auckland’s Town Hall precinct was a “highly resolved and articulate urban contribution”. Tian’s proposal for a haven for honeybees sited above a Shanghai freeway was described as “an engaging and plausible contemporary scenario which deals with both urban and environmental issues”.

“Some entries were so proficient, and the futures they proposed so foreign, that they were slightly unnerving, but speaking as a New Zealand architect, I’m very pleased the outlook for the profession looks so promising," said Clifford.

The environmental concern expressed in several entries received “beautiful and evocative” treatment from University of Auckland student Yunwei Xu, who presented scenarios for human habitation in the Franz Josef region following a man-made ecological crisis.

Among the entries praised by the judges were a “well researched, innovative and beautifully presented” proposal for a temporary structure for Maori performance arts presented by Raukura Turei of the University of Auckland, and an “exquisite, highly crafted and novel” scheme for a Helen Clark Memorial Library, by Jessica Mentis, also of the University of Auckland.

Urban themes also figured in several entries. Sophie Hamer of Victoria University reworked Wellington’s Post Office Square as a place to engage the public in architecture, and her classmate Te Ari Prendergast envisaged a Maori carving school on a site in the Christchurch Red Zone, while Unitec’s Nick Adams proposed a shipyard for Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter.

Architecture’s relationship to other design disciplines was exemplified in the entry of Victoria University’s Ashton Wright, who devised a prefabricated construction system for New Zealand school buildings. The classrooms could by customised by designers, and teachers and children, by drawing on a suite of apps offering numerous material options.

The 12 finalists in the 2011 NZIA Graphisoft Student Design Awards were:

  • Nick Adams, Department of Architecture, Unitec
  • Tess Fenwick, Department of Architecture, Unitec
  • Sophie Hamer, School of Architecture, Victoria University of Wellington
  • Jessica Mentis, School of Architecture and Planning, University of Auckland
  • Warren Nicholson, Department of Architecture, Unitec
  • Te Ari Prendergast, School of Architecture, Victoria University of Wellington
  • Erxin Shang, Department of Architecture, Unitec (Highly Commended)
  • Min Tian, School of Architecture and Planning, University of Auckland (Highly Commended)
  • Raukura Turei, School of Architecture and Planning, University of Auckland
  • Roger Wilson, School of Architecture, Victoria University of Wellington (2011 NZIA Graphisoft Design Award)
  • Ashton Wright, School of Architecture, Victoria University of Wellington
  • Yunwei Xu, School of Architecture and Planning, University of Auckland

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