Meet the 2023 Future Thinker of the Year shortlist

18 April 2023

We're delighted to announce this year's Future Thinker of the Year shortlist: Ruby Crooks, Maggie MacKinnon, Luis Medrano, Emily Newmarch, Oludolapo Olanrewaju, Rana Abdollahi Rizi, Nola Smart, Maria Walker, and Alexander Wierzbicki. 

Their applications and video submissions will be considered by our panel of independent judges who will decide a final four to present at our awards evening on May 4

Ruby Crooks

I am currently completing my 5th year of my Masters of Architecture (Prof) at Victoria University of Wellington.

I am studying full time while working for an architectural firm in Christchurch called Maguire and Harford Architects, who I have been with for the past 5 years of study.

Throughout my architectural journey I have been immersed in the sustainability sector through various papers and interest in furthering my knowledge and ability to design quality spaces.

My thesis has been based around a deep energy retrofit of existing dilapidated school blocks in New Zealand. This topic was selected in an effort to aid in New Zealand’s journey towards net-zero carbon and provide an opportunity for existing buildings to be utilised to their full life cycle potential.

Throughout my time at Victoria University I have been a member and then President of the Student association of the Design and Architecture school called STUDiO. This club runs as a supporting foundation for the students at VUW in an aid to provide additional help and opportunities for professional interaction outside of the university. This experience aided in my leadership skills and provided knowledge for how influential external applications and programs can be for the benefit of students. This is especially true in topics such as sustainability where students aren’t given many tools during their studies so welcome the extension of knowledge via the external sources.

Maggie MacKinnon

Maggie MacKinnon is a PhD candidate at Victoria University of Wellington’s Faculty of Architecture and Design Innovation. While completing a Bachelor of Science in Biology at Mount Allison University, Maggie became deeply concerned by the destruction and degradation of natural environments due to urbanization. This led her to switch fields and complete a Master of Architecture at the University of Toronto to learn how to design buildings and cities in a way that is less damaging to the environment. 

With her interdisciplinary background in biology and architecture, Maggie’s PhD research connects both fields and investigates how architecture can provide habitat for native species in cities to increase urban biodiversity, ecosystem services, climate change mitigation, and human wellbeing. She is particularly interested in green infrastructure solutions for building envelopes, such as green walls and green roofs. The title of her thesis is Architectural Green Infrastructure: Habitat provision by architecture to enhance biodiversity and climate regulation in built environments. It will cover her research on the benefits green walls and green roofs can have for biodiversity, thermal performance, and stormwater management, as well as how they could be strategically deployed at an urban scale

Luis Medrano

A PhD candidate and member of the Future Cities Research Hub at the School of Architecture and Planning of the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Luis has a Bachelor’s degree in architecture from UAEM and a Master’s degree from UNAM, Mexico. His research has centred on energy efficiency both for residential and non-residential buildings, becoming a consultant for the Danish Energy Agency and CONUEE to update an energy efficiency code in Mexico. Luis's work has been published in peer-reviewed journals and been presented at conferences such as IREE 2017, and ASA 2022 in Australia.

Professionally, he has worked in structural calculation, design, and construction companies with projects in Mexico City and New York City.

Emily Newmarch

Emily is a PhD candidate in Low Carbon Design at Victoria University of Wellington, and a Low Carbon Design Specialist at Warren and Mahoney in Wellington, New Zealand. With a passion for sustainability and connecting the professional and academic worlds, Emily is focused on driving collaborative research projects and educating others in reducing embodied carbon emissions.

Her goal is to be a leader in low carbon design, and to complete her PhD in reducing embodied carbon. She is dedicated to sharing her knowledge and creating space for others to research and explore innovative ideas.

Emily has extensive experience in undertaking life cycle assessments in a range of different building typologies. She is a skilled architectural designer and has taught students and industry professionals in a range of topics surrounding sustainability in architecture.

She has completed her undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in architecture at Victoria University of Wellington and has worked in a range of small and large architectural practices. Additionally, Emily has consulted for a variety of practices and software companies on energy simulation and life cycle assessment.

With her expertise and dedication, Emily is committed to advancing the field of low carbon design and promoting sustainable practices in the built environment.

Oludolapo Olanrewaju

Oludolapo Ibrahim Olanrewaju is a current PhD Candidate at the Wellington School of Architecture from Nigeria. He attended the Federal University of Technology, Minna, where he studied Bachelor of Technology in Quantity Surveying and graduated in 2017 as the best-graduating student in the Department of Quantity surveying for the 2017 set. 

With a passion for technology in the construction industry, he founded a startup named “Dollasoft Technologies” in 2013 during his undergraduate studies. He designed a voice-enabled building quantities estimation software named “DOLLAQUESS”. Through the company’s research arm 'Dollahills Research Lab', he has executed several research projects to enhance the construction industry. In May 2022, he was one of the selected reviewers for the “Best Reviewer Recognition - 2021” category awarded by the International Journal of Construction Management due to his contribution to the development of the journal. In November 2022, he was awarded the research excellence award by the Postgraduate Student Association of Victoria University of Wellington.

Oludolapo has contributed to the body of knowledge in the construction industry. He currently serves as a member of the research committee for BIM Africa. BIM Africa is a non-profit organization spreading BIM awareness to the construction industry in Africa. The report encompasses all the relevant details regarding BIM development in Africa. He also serves as a reviewer for top journals such as Sustainability; Buildings; International Journal of Construction Management; Journal of Facilities Management; Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management; Built Environment Project and Asset Management; International Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation; Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering; and Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology. In addition, he has collaborated with researchers around the world from Nigeria, South Africa, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands in areas of sustainable construction, industry 4.0, artificial intelligence, modular integrated construction, and building information modelling (BIM).

Oludolapo’s PhD research at Victoria University of Wellington explores sustainability at the building and product levels. He combines qualitative and quantitative research techniques to solve environmental product declaration (EPD) data quality issues, a vital document for whole-building life cycle assessment.

Rana Abdollahi Rizi

Rana has experience in developing and implementing environmentally-friendly, sustainable architectural design solutions and simulating building energy performance. Her prior research and publications focused on improving human comfort in buildings for building energy efficiency.

Occupants’ behaviour plays a significant role in achieving comfortable environments within buildings. Occupants require electricity, lighting, heating, and cooling from building systems whilst emitting body heat and occupying and moving through space. In recent decades, modern technologies have enabled buildings to control environmental factors, from externalities to achieve environmentally friendly designs. However, most energy simulation studies have excluded the direct and indirect impacts of occupants’ behaviour on systems and spaces. Therefore, understanding occupants’ behaviour and their triggers of behaviours and incorporating them into comfort provisions measures will improve human satisfaction and energy efficiency in building design.

Rana’s doctoral research reviews literature regarding occupants’ behaviour and triggers of their behaviour concerning façade design for improving comfort in buildings. It then undertakes case studies that simulates occupants’ behaviours in different building envelope designs, and deduces how these behaviours impact the performance of building systems. The research develops guidelines and tools for incorporating occupants’ behaviour into multi-objective energy simulations and building design.

The findings of Rana’s research will enhance policymakers, academics and practitioners’ understanding of how occupants’ behaviour impacts building energy efficiency and comfort.

Nola Smart

Nola is a planning, sustainability and climate change advisor striving for climate action across the private, public and civic sectors.

Being involved in climate and sustainability advocacy while growing up in Christchurch, the earthquake rebuild sparked her interests in the intersection between climate mitigation, sustainability and urbanism/city design. On finishing school, this led her to move to Auckland to study a Bachelor of Urban Planning (Hons).

For the last 5 years Nola has been a member (and more recently the convenor for the Tāmaki Makaurau team) of Generation Zero; a youth-led organisation campaigning for intergenerational climate justice through mobilising New Zealanders and lobbying decision makers. Her role has seen her supporting campaigns like the Zero Carbon Act, local election scorecards, and various local Tāmaki Makaurau transport and urban form initiatives.

Nola works at Beca bridging the Planning and Sustainability & Climate Change Advisory teams in Auckland. She brings an urban planning and advocacy background to deliver sustainability solutions across a variety of industries and scales (single infrastructure projects to whole-of-organisation/regional advice). She has experience in helping project teams and clients incorporate sustainable thinking into their work – from understanding and improving environmental and social outcomes, and sustainable management / leadership, to assessing climate impacts, achieving emissions reductions and sustainability rating frameworks.

Maria Walker

Maria has followed a hands-on, people-focused approach to sustainable practice throughout her studies and career. In 2022, she completed her Master of Architecture (Professional) by producing a thesis rich in academic insight to the key market entry points and barriers for mycelium bio-composites. The inspiration for this thesis came from her learnings of hempcrete on heritage projects in Liverpool, and her time spent building a transportable cabin with a repurposed façade at the 2018 Hello Wood Festival in Hungary. Following the completion of the research study, Maria has acted as a mycelium bio-composite consultant to artists overseas; competed in the 2021 NZIA Student Design Awards; and was awarded a Highly Commended award for her paper at the 2022 SEEDS conference. Although she advocates for low-tech approaches to construction, she also recognises the value of simple, low-code solutions that she developed in her time as a computational designer at Aurecon. A driving factor in Maria’s work is her understanding of the value that expert and non-“expert” knowledge can bring to the exploration of nature-based materials’ roles, and how this can transform the cultures and practices of the built environment.

Alexander Wierzbicki

I am a Graduate Urban Designer at WSP with degrees in political science, urban planning and urban design. I have been passionate about the environment and cities for as long as I can remember and in my early career I have always jumped at the opportunity to learn more in this area.

I have ended up an urban designer as I feel the field is unique in that it covers both the ability to change the development and construction process for the better, such as through the use of low-carbon building materials, and to change human behaviour at the city-level, such as by reducing private vehicle use. In this way, I see it as a means of influencing decisions that are made at the site-level as well as those as a policy or strategic level. This means that it has presented a number of learning opportunities for me that have also had real-world impacts.

At WSP, there is a strong ethos of producing solutions to environmental problems through specifically funded initiatives. This has created opportunities for me to collaborate with my peers on multi-disciplinary projects with a long-term view. Looking forward, it has greatly encouraged to think be ambitious about the change that could be produced in the future.

Outside of my work, I am a social person who enjoys music, art and sport. I love spending time in the city with my friends, enjoying public spaces as well as meals, films and events. I also love to travel and experience New Zealand’s beautiful natural environments as well as cities here and overseas.