First Māori woman awarded prestigious architectural medal

Professor Deidre Brown won the NZ Institute of Architects' 2023 Gold Medal, making history as the first Māori woman and first academic to receive such recognition.

Professor Deidre Brown
Professor Deidre Brown, winner of Te Kāhui Whaihanga Institute of Architect’s 2023 Gold Medal. Photo: Adrian Malloch

Renowned architectural historian Professor Deidre Brown (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu) has won Te Kāhui Whaihanga Institute of Architects' highest honour – the Gold Medal for 2023.

The award sees her make history as the first Māori woman and first academic to receive such recognition. It was presented to her at an event on 7 March at Te Taumata o Kupe.

“I would like to extend my thanks to the Gold Medal selection committee for choosing me, particularly as my contribution to architecture is not through the usual route of professional practice, but by academia to educate the next generation of practitioners and support professional practice through research and service,” said Deidre.

“My success is not mine alone. It is the success of many.”

In 2019, Deidre’s appointment as head of Te Pare School of Architecture and Planning at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland made her the first Indigenous woman in the world to hold such a position.

It also marked 30 years since Deidre began studying architecture at the school, where she was told to ‘leave Māori architecture on the marae where it belonged’. Her response was to do the opposite.

“Being part of a group, which I would argue is now a movement of Māori architects and architectural designers, demonstrates how far we have come,” says Deidre.

Now Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries, she continues to make an astounding contribution to architecture in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Deidre specialises in the fields of Māori and Pacific architectural and art history, Māori and Pacific housing and Indigenous design. She has written several books, including Introducing Māori Art and Māori Art of the Gods (both released in 2005), and co-wrote Art of Oceania (2012).

Her influential book, Māori Architecture (2009), traces an architectural evolution from pre-European to contemporary times, telling the story of an ever-changing people and the development of Aotearoa’s unique identity.

Another book is on the way this year. Toi te Mana: A History of Indigenous Art from Aotearoa New Zealand is written with Associate Professor Ngarino Ellis from the Faculty of Arts and will be published by Auckland University Press.

Deidre says that her focus within her discipline is working with people to enhance their hauora (well-being), while creating culturally responsive and responsible architecture.

In 2022, she established MĀPIHI Māori and Pacific Housing Research Centre. The centre, which she co-directs with Dr Karamia Müller, is aimed at supporting Māori and Pacific whānau to live in healthy, affordable and sustainable homes.

She also recently tracked down eight treasured Māori wood carvings in museums around the world that had been missing 200 years.

“The breadth of her work is impressive, encompassing architecture and art, history and housing, culture and craft," said Judith Taylor, President of Te Kāhui Whaihanga Institute of Architects. "Through teaching, research, writing, art curation, leadership and mentoring, Deidre has touched the lives of many. Her sphere of influence is so far-reaching that it’s impossible to define.” 

Deidre will give a series of free lectures around the country beginning in May:

Thursday 2 May at 4pm, The Cargo Shed, Tauranga
Thursday 9 May at 12.30pm, James Hay Theatre, Christchurch
Wednesday 15 May  at 12.30pm, Viaduct Events Centre, Auckland
Friday 17 May at 4pm, Motorcycle Mecca, Invercargill
Thursday 23 May, 12.30pm, St James Theatre, Wellington
Friday  24 May at 4pm, Massey University Refectory Building, Palmerston North
Friday 7 June  at 4pm, Trafalgar Centre, Nelson
Friday 14 June  at 4pm, Municipal Building, Hastings

Media contact

Hussein Moses | Media adviser
M: 027 361 1000