Exploring ecological architecture at Archiprix 2017

21 March 2017
Norman's photo cropped
Norman with his Archiprix workshop team

Completing a postgraduate thesis takes dedication and lots of work. To then be nominated to represent your university at Archiprix International, a competition for the world’s best graduating projects in architecture, urban design and landscape architecture, is an enormous achievement.

For Norman Wei, who recently graduated from the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Auckland, it also meant traveling to Ahmedabad in India to take part in the international event.

The standard of work was very high with 385 architecture schools participating in the competition. Archiprix also includes workshops and the opportunity to connect with other graduates from across the world.

The theme for this year’s workshops was Making Habitat – Megacity, Micro-narrative, organised by the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, one of the most prestigious architectural schools in South Asia.

Over a hundred graduates, from almost 50 countries participated in the workshops which were led by renowned Indian architects and designers. The purpose was to produce micro-architectural and urban strategies to solve mega urban issues in Ahmedabad.

“I was privileged to be working with architect Chitra Vishwanath in her City Positive group for the entire ten days. Chitra is an inspiring mentor who is passionate about ecological architecture. My team mates from Afghanistan, Brazil, Netherlands, Mexico, Italy and India, were also amazing,” says Norman.

His team worked on an ecological enhancement proposal for a piece of vacant land that had become a dump. Instead of researching through books and journals, the group were taken to visit numerous sites to see how the locals organically recycled and reused waste in their city.

The highlight for Norman was a visit to a local slum called Gulbai Tekra. The area is occupied by craftsmen from Rajasthan who make their living producing religious idols from recycled waste materials.

“The products were elegant and beautiful and the slum dwellers were the friendliest and most welcoming bunch of people I have ever met in my life,” says Norman.

“In Ahmedabad, we also discovered a lot of other interesting ecological strategies used by local people, such as feeding street cows with leftover food and organic waste, then collecting the cow waste for fertilising plants and vegetables, which forms an ecological loop,” he says.

As a result, his team’s final design proposal was essentially a collective of what they had experienced and learnt from the city.  

Norman’s thesis project Lomipeau Spaculation, which drew inspiration from a Tongan legend, made it through to the final 23 projects of Archiprix’s competition, which he considers a great honour.

 “The most precious part of Archiprix was that I got to know a group of people I would like to keep in touch with life-long. The amazing city of Ahmedabad also helped me gain a completely new perspective about architecture and urban design. There is crazy traffic, cows roaming on the streets and illegal structures everythere. Despite this, in Ahmedabad the chaos is organised. Everything co-exists harmoniously and symbiotically. It’s a very habitable city,” he says.

Norman is currently an architectural graduate at Moller Architects in Auckland. While working toward being a registered architect in New Zealand, he is also keen to develop his interests in ecological architecture which he learnt from the workshop.