The Australian Institute of Architects yesterday announced its 2021 National Prize winners, with the awards recognising the outstanding efforts of both architectural practitioners and advocates nationwide.

The Gold Medal, seen as the Institute’s most prestigious honour, was won by Donald ‘Don’ Watson. Affectionately nicknamed the ‘Renaissance man’, Watson — who has traversed scales, typologies, and public and private commissions in a celebrated career spanning more than 50 years — was awarded the medal by the esteemed Jury who describe him as a most worthy recipient.

Watson has been a seminal figure in his profession’s understanding of the constructed world, renowned for being Queensland’s foremost architectural historian. Watson initially rose to 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.

Australian Institute of Architects National President Alice Hampson says the work conducted by Watson that has spanned decades has ultimately earned him the Gold Medal.

“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,” she says.

Andrew Mackenzie was awarded the National President’s Prize by the AIA. As a writer, curator, editor, publisher, advisor and procurement specialist, Hampson says his efforts in raising awareness of Australian architecture have been deservedly rewarded.

“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.”

The Leadership in Sustainability Prize jointly awarded to Caroline Pidcock and Tone Wheeler for effectively founding Australia’s sustainability movement 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,” as per the Jury’s statement. 

Suzanne Hunt took out the Paula Whitman Leadership in Gender Equity Prize for 2021. 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 spanning over a 30-year career. Hamann has challenged and changed the way we understand Australian architecture in all its glorious specificity and differences, through his job as a professor of architectural history at RMIT. Through numerous research grants and editorial contributions, he has made a profound contribution to Australia’s built heritage. 

Kelly Nortje and her project “Remove – Repair – Reciprocity,” took out the Bluescope Glenn Murcutt Student Prize for this year. A University of Queensland architecture student, Nortje was commended by the Jury for her project, described as ‘an engagingly light conception of Australian public culture.’

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’, through an Instagram account titled The Projects by People.

To watch the awards ceremony in full, click here.