Australian architects & advocates honoured with awarding of 2021 National Prizes

The Australian Institute of Architects is today recognising the outstanding efforts of both architectural practitioners and advocates for the profession with the awarding of its 2021 National Prizes.

The Institute’s most prestigious honour, the Gold Medal, is awarded this year to the ‘Renaissance man’, Donald (Don) Watson. The Jury described Watson, who has traversed scales, typologies, and public and private commissions in a celebrated career spanning more than 50 years, as a most worthy recipient.

Recognised as Queensland’s foremost architectural historian and a protagonist of postmodernist design, Watson has been a seminal figure in his profession’s understanding of the constructed world.

After 15 years’ balancing sole practice, National Trust consultancies, and part-time lecturing, he rose to national prominence in 1989 when his ‘Campbell House’ won the Robin Boyd Award for Residential Architecture. That same year, Watson embraced a radically different portfolio, designing 11 TAFE buildings across South East Queensland for the Department of Public Works. The collection, delivered over the course of 15 years, is regarded as some of Queensland’s finest examples of postmodernism.

In bestowing this highest of honours, Australian Institute of Architects National President Alice Hampson said, ‘Don’s lifelong contribution to Australia’s architectural landscape has been delivered with an unwavering focus on inclusivity and humility and the impact of this, together with his philanthropic endeavours and advocacy for the preservation of architectural works, will prevail for many generations to come.’

Advancing issues in architecture, championing local architects, and broader advocacy roles have seen Andrew Mackenzie awarded this year’s National President’s Prize. As a writer, curator, editor, publisher, advisor and procurement specialist, Mackenzie has elevated awareness of Australian architecture. National President Alice Hampson said, ‘Andrew’s tireless efforts in advancing architectural excellence and interests through multifarious roles have captured our history, shone a light on important issues, and quietly elevated the profession’s standing and the prestige of local architects.’

Inseparable contributions to the role of sustainability in our built environment has seen this year’s Leadership in Sustainability Prize jointly awarded to Caroline Pidcock and Tone Wheeler. Both recipients were recognised by the Jury as founders of the sustainability movement in Australia and commended for leading the profession by ‘their involvement in demonstration projects that enable everyone to see that sustainability can be cost-effective, inclusive and beautiful.’ Pidcock has shown through her leadership and contribution to almost every professional and community-based group with a sustainability agenda in New South Wales, over several decades, that architects must attach the agenda through civil society. Wheeler has contributed to leadership in sustainability in education, research, advocacy, community engagement and policy development at a national level, helping to create many of the guidelines for how to achieve sustainability in the built environment.

The first female Chapter President for WA and engaged advocate, mentor and policy commentator, Suzanne (Suzie) Hunt, is the recipient of this year’s Paula Whitman Leadership in Gender Equity Prize. Hunt effectively advocates on issues that improve gender balance and the welfare of women and families through research-driven policy agitation, public speaking, and advocacy. The Jury commended Hunt’s influence and impact in challenging the status quo, given freely and generously, while advancing the cause and understanding of architecture.

This year’s Neville Quarry Architectural Education Prize is jointly awarded to Professor John Macarthur and Associate Professor Conrad Hamann. Macarthur’s contribution to education through research, mentorship and intellectual leadership have influenced a generation of Australian architecture students, practitioners, and researchers. Throughout his 30-year career he has produced more than 170 publications, established The University of Queensland’s Centre for Architecture, Theory, Criticism and History (1990), and won numerous awards for his contributions to research projects, education, and teaching excellence. Joint award recipient Hamann has challenged and changed the way we understand Australian architecture in all its glorious specificity and differences. Through numerous research grants and editorial contributions, he has made a profound contribution to Australia’s built heritage. As a professor of architectural history at RMIT University, Hamann is an inspiring mentor for both staff and students, as well as a source of support for emerging architects and historians

The Bluescope Glenn Murcutt Student Prize has been awarded to University of Queensland architecture student Kelly Nortje for her project “Remove – Repair – Reciprocity.” The Jury commended Nortje’s ‘evocative precision at every scale of the project’s conception’, achieved through what they describe as ‘a porous and relaxed civic sensibility – an engagingly “light” conception of Australian public culture’. The Jury was inspired by the sensitivity of the approach, the sophisticated resolution of its architectural response, the deft frugality and conceptual richness of the building’s tectonic language and its exquisite expression through architectural drawing.

Connecting students from different corners of the globe through their work and passion for architecture has seen this year’s Student Prize for the Advancement of Architecture presented to Alvin Zhu of the University of Queensland. In Projects by People, Zhu is commended by the Jury for his ‘generosity in connecting the global community of architecture students’. The Projects by People Instagram account allows students to share their projects, values, and aspirations via a well-presented platform. Zhu has also collaborated with the SONA Career Series and initiated other projects, including Advice by Architects, that provide useful information for students and recent alumni.