Architect and biomaterial expert Maria Walker named Future Thinker of the Year for 2023

05 May 2023

Maria Walker has become the fifth young leader awarded the title of Future Thinker of the Year. The annual award, run by the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC), acknowledges a student or young professional who demonstrates environmental knowledge and leadership, and recognises their success and passion for greener, better buildings.

Maria is an architectural graduate at Warren and Mahoney and last year completed a Master of Architecture (Professional) with a thesis exploring the key market entry points and barriers for mycelium bio-composites – a mushroom-based biomaterial.

“I’m thrilled that, as finalists, NZGBC provided this platform for us to share our innovations and our challenges to the industry last night. For my own vision and mahi to have been acknowledged is an honour. To optimise the impact of green initiatives, we need to build trust, exposure, and data exchange between academia, practice, and disciplines. I look forward to connecting with other agents of change in a bid to transform industry mindsets regarding biomaterials and digital design, and to make experience-rich learning more accessible to young people.”

Maria was announced as the winner at the Future Thinker of the Year awards evening held at the University of Auckland’s School of Architecture last night. She presented on the night alongside this year’s finalists Luis Medrano, PhD candidate member of the Future Cities Research Hub at the University of Auckland, Oludolapo Olanrewaju, a PhD candidate at Victoria University of Wellington, and Emily Newmarch, Low carbon design specialist at Warren and Mahoney and PhD candidate at Victoria University of Wellington. 

One of this year’s judges, Technical Director of Sustainability & Advisory at Mott MacDonald, Warner Brunton, says all of this year’s finalists demonstrated individual strength and conviction in their subject matter areas and advocacy for meaningful action.

“At Mott MacDonald we are passionate about supporting broader engagement and leadership on sustainability that leads to tangible outcomes. Future Thinkers is a really important platform for change and after five years I am increasingly impressed and buoyed by the depth of knowledge, participation and passion for action by future leaders in academia and industry. Both Maria and the other finalists should be proud of their inspirational work and I look forward to seeing how they progress this network over the coming year and into the future.”

Vajini Pannila​, Principal, Registered Architect at Warren and Mahoney, and judge, says the judging panel were impressed by Maria’s ability to identify key challenges hindering innovation in the industry. Her creativity in illustrating solutions and systems for overcoming these challenges were impressive. She demonstrated the passion and leadership skills that will enable her to positively influence the network.

“Young people are our future leaders and we applaud all four finalists for their brave and inspiring visions of how to tackle some of the most challenging obstacles facing our industry in addressing the climate crisis. They will all no doubt continue creating positive impact and influence within the industry.’’

With a huge cohort of students and young professionals entering the industry with a passion for sustainability, NZGBC chief executive Andrew Eagles says it’s refreshing to see the calibre of entrants for this year’s award.

“There’s a huge opportunity for those joining the industry to make a real difference. Many large, established companies are still just getting their heads around how they need to, and can, reduce their emissions and create better performing buildings. There’s a knowledge gap which many of those studying now are able to fill. A huge congratulations to Maria, we’re looking forward to working together and helping amplify your voice and ideas,” Andrew Eagles says.

As the Future Thinker of the Year, Maria will contribute to numerous events and speaking opportunities throughout the year.

You can view her full application video here


The 2023 judging include:

  • Warner Brunton, Technical Director Sustainability & Built Environment at Mott MacDonald, -
  • Vajini Pannila​, Principal, Registered Architect at Warren and Mahoney
  • Sarah Daniell, Associate & ESD Team Lead at eCubed
  • Eloise Blewden, 2022 Future Thinker of the Year
  • Bhumika Mistry, NZGBC Technical coordinator

This year’s shortlist was Nola Smart, Ruby Crooks, Oludolapo Olanrewaju, Luis Medrano, Rana Abdollahi Rizi, Maria Walker, Maggie MacKinnon, Emily Newmarch, and Alexander Wierzbicki

Previous winners include Previous winners include Master of Architecture student Eloise Blewden, urban strategist Meredith Dale, sustainability lead Tessa Meyer, and sustainability engineer Kate Boylan.

A huge thank you to our Future Thinkers sponsors Mott MacDonald, Warren and Mahoney, and Resene.