unit Y is a registered Charitable Trust, set up to enable students of architecture, recent graduates and communities to realise their architectural ambition through building projects.


our vision

A world where people appreciate and demand aesthetic and economic performance in their built environment and are willing to invest in our future architects to enable this.

benefits of working with us


students and recent graduates 

  • We offer a learning focused alternative to commercial architectural enterprise to help students move from study to practice

  • We offer opportunities to work with real clients on real projects

  • We aim to support ourstudents architectural ambition as they are introduced to a commercial environment.

  • We provide a structured, safe environment with commercially experienced practitioners providing oversight.

  • Our intention is for students to take the knowledge they develop with us back into the design studio for the benefit of the student body.


  • Our approach allows a broad exploration of the potential of a project

  • We ask “what is possible?” through expanded research and conceptual design phases

  • We provide design outcomes to support funding applications for building projects

  • We help clients get architecture projects off the ground

  • We have experts in every area we work in. We have strong collaborative relationships in academia, with students, in communities, in architectural practice, in industry.

  • We maintain energy and enthusiasm throughout to the benefit of the client and community

  • We work with clients to assess feasibility

  • We deliver outcomes which achieve community as well as commercial goals


background to the trust

  • unit Y was established on the back of a succession of ‘live projects’ taught by Mike Davis at the University of Auckland’s School of Architecture and Planning.

  • ‘Live projects’ are so called because they have real clients, sites, budgets, time frames and other constraints that push toward their realisation.

  • Projects to date include Muriwai Surf Life Saving Club (2007); Housing (4) New Zealand (2008); EcoTech (2009); Confucius Institute (2010); Kaipatiki Project (2011); College Rifles Rugby Club (2012); Akarana Golf Club (2013); Fletcher Developments (2014); Samson Corporation (2014); Sunset Beach Surf Life Saving Club (2015); Huia Settlers Museum (2016); Matamata Cricket Club (2018); Newton Central School (2018). 

  • Typically, while students created visions for projects for our clients, their learning through those projects stopped at concept stage. The bulk of the research and learning opportunities embedded in the development and realisation of those visions remained largely untapped by the students who produced them.

  • unit Y aims to overcome the limitations that generate this situation to make the whole of the architectural process available to students as a space of learning.

about the trustees


Dr Kathy Waghorn

BFA, BArch, PhD

Kathy is an Associate Professor at Huri te Ao / The School of Future Environments at Auckland University of Technology. Her teaching and research work sits at the intersection of art, architecture and urbanism. Alongside this academic work, Kathy is the Co-Director of HOOPLA, a social enterprise producing urban research, place advocacy, community engagement and design. In 2016 Kathy was Co-Creative Director of Future Islands, the official New Zealand exhibition for the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale. She maintains an active interest in exhibition as a platform to discuss architecture, curating Making Ways, Alternative Architecture Practice in Aotearoa for Objectspace Auckland in 2019. She is currently a member of the Objectspace Board. 

Rachel Shoebridge_edited.jpg

Rachel Shoebridge 

BCom, Chartered Accountant

Rachel is a Partner in the Advisory team of BDO Auckland, an international network of accounting, tax, consulting and business advisory firms, based in the Auckland CBD Office. With her significant experience, including three years in the UK working in the financial services industry, Rachel provides business advisory services to small and medium businesses, working with them to grow and reach their goals.
In her day to day role Rachel advises a wide spectrum of clients and together with the experience and expertise of the whole BDO partnership.
Rachel’s services include compliance accounting, general tax advice and planning/structuring, general business advice to SME and mid-market businesses, forecasting and modelling, buy and sell advisory, valuation and strategic planning. Rachel has a team of 5 professional staff working directly with her to provide services to clients.


Dr Mike Davis

Trustee, Chair
BArch (Hons), MArch, PhD

Mike Davis is an Associate Professor and Director of Architecture programmes at the University of Auckland, School of Architecture and Planning where he teaches and researches in the areas of architectural design and architectural media. Mike holds a PhD from RMIT, Melbourne and a Master of Architecture in Architecture and Urbanism from the Architectural Association, London.
He is an NZRAB registered architect who has practiced architecture in New Zealand, Canada and the Netherlands, and been involved in projects from Ethiopia to New Caledonia.


Vanessa Ceelen


Commencing her career as a lawyer, Vanessa translated her skills to building brands, strategy and innovation. Vanessa has lived and worked in New Zealand and the Netherlands, with clients across Europe, the UK and Asia.
Using a toolkit which includes human-centred design, Vanessa works with clients to deliver compelling customer experiences, design organisation structures, develop new programme offerings, align products and services, craft meaningful brand stories – all to enable an organization to operate more effectively and deliver meaningful and tangible outcomes.
As former President of the Board of Directors of the YWCA Auckland (elected 2009, re-elected 2011; 2013 and 2014-16 as President), Vanessa brings governance experience in the not-for-profit sector.


contact us

For more information or to find out how we might work together, please contact Mike Davis:

Unit Y is going through a phase of development.  This website contains a portfolio of work. 

For more updated information please contact Mike Davis