Last night was the annual S&T Student Award prizegiving, which occurs at the opening of Auckland University’s School of Architecture award exhibition for Masters students. This year’s exhibition was titled “5 Futures”, referring to the latest winner and runner-ups of the NZIA Graphisoft Student Design Awards and the winner of the AAA Unbuilt Architecture Award. Don’t miss the “5 Futures” in the George Fraser Gallery, 25a Princes Street, open until 22 March.

S&T's Rajan Hira, Alby Yap, and Bernd Gundermann assessed the works on display separately before unanimously choosing Holly Yumeng Xie’s work “Vanishing Acts” as the winner of the S&T prize.

The reasons were summed up in Bernd's comments: "In our daily practice as architects we realise that what once was known as the ‘art of building’ increasingly succumbs to the tyranny of market demand for more ‘building’ and less ‘art’. Observing our built environment taking over our natural environment and filling the most beautiful land in the world with mediocrity, architecture has in many ways become rather part of the problem of our age than the solution. What makes Holly’s work stand out is her reference to imagination rather than drawing from the well-known means of construction in an accomplished manner. If our profession has a future, it will emerge from audacious and imaginative visions. We saw this in the winning thesis. The cunning and delicate models on display went along with beautiful graphite drawings. The minuteness of the architectural interventions was a refreshing departure from the extravagant gestures of others."

The S&T Student Award has also, quite interestingly, become a trendsetter of sorts. Last year we distinguished Frances Cooper’s magnificent opus “Architecture of the Synthetic, the Spectacular, and the Belligerent”. A few months later her work was honoured by the prestigious Global Architecture Graduate Award, sponsored by Architectural Review. This year the NZIA complied and acclaimed a work similar to Frances’. 

S&T is delighted to elevate the next original and call the attention of the architectural community to her enchanting work. 

The following describes Holly’s thesis in her own words:

Vanishing Acts

Investigating the landscape of misanthropy, escapism and self-imposed exile I endeavour here the remembrance of the unacquainted while highlighting the geography of loss and context of isolation. Deception Island tourists may partake in an Antarctic pilgrimage to the eighteen stations of an archive of discarded identities along the interior coastline of a submerged caldera. The stations mark out revealed and vanished sites read off the superimposition of historical maps where cartographic deceit and misinterpretation reveal the intrigue of early expeditions of Antarctic discovery. Along the beach pilgrimage one would come across, for example, the Sea Foam Combs, the Snow Catcher, the Tea Tower, and the Shouting Stairs to “drown the wakeful anguish of the soul”.

First, when the canisters are being carried and contemplated, there is an emphasis on emotional weight and burden. Canisters containing the detritus of discarded identities are disposed on the artificial floating Requiem in the middle of the vast water theatre. Thereafter notions of weightlessness and unbearable lightness take effect. Experiences, activities and functions are divided in this way. In this case resin and plaster casts drove my practice of design by making; detailed graphite studies on layers of Mylar, encouraging opportunities for miscommunication follow.