2014 Wirihana Emerging Leadership Award Winner


The work of Cecile Bonnifait made her a compelling choice to win the Wirihana Emerging Leadership Award. In one’s second decade of work it is easy to succumb to the exigencies of practice, but her mix of artistic and built work, as well as continuing research, is prolific and inspiring. This is, in New Zealand anyway, an almost unique approach to the architectural profession that indicates a practitioner breaking the mould and establishing new ways of working that have the potential to reinvigorate the profession.

Cecile studied and worked in France before coming to New Zealand in 2000. She is a co-founder of Bonnifait and Giesen / Atelierworkshop; Cecile has most recently been involved in a project with one of the communities on Samoa’s southern coast, ravaged by the 2009 tsunami and 2011 cyclone. The first phases of the project ‘Managing Risks for Adapted and Considerate Architecture in Samoa’ are currently being exhibited in Apia, in parallel with the United Nations’ Small Island Developing States conference.

Atelierworkshop is also noted for its recent experiments with the up-cycling of containers, intended as portable flexible solutions for accommodation, events and emergencies. The prototype Port-a-Bach has been widely published both in New Zealand and internationally. It is now part of the permanent collection of the Puke Ariki museum, New Plymouth.

Cecile and Atelierworkshop’s other activities include a broad range of urban design and architectural projects, displaying a special attention to issues of heritage and sustainability. Their houses however are another measure of both the quality of their architectural achievement and a focus on searching for new solutions to the constraints of design and construction in the present day. Despite a marked simplicity of design, these houses result in stimulating architectural spaces that experiment with the contemporary family’s living and working arrangements. The construction and materials indicate a close alignment with industry, rather than a preoccupation with trendy aesthetics, resulting in a refreshing efficiency and economy of design that maximises the possibilities of form and space without compromising architectural quality.

Cecile is a worth winner of this year’s award, with a history of outstanding work. However she has also demonstrated an ability to work well in collaborations and across a variety of areas, institutions, cultures and clients. Her engagement with contemporary issues beyond the normal scope of practice makes her a model and leader in the evolution of architecture in our region.