A Ngā Tamatoa perspective on emergence In the built environment

Rameka Alexander-Tu’Inukuafe



As design practitioners who work within the realm of Papatuanuku and Ranginui; the issues of climate change and growing populations confront us. What are emerging and future issues which will begin to challenge architecture, landscape architecture and design practitioners here in Aotearoa New Zealand? 175 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, how do we as design practitioners engage with Māori (iwi, hapū, marae, whanau)?  Have the NZIA (New Zealand Institute of Architects) and NZILA (New Zealand Institue of Landscape Architecture) made much progress over the past 20 years in engaging with the Treaty and Māori design practitioners? Further more would this have happened without Māori design practitioners driving this ‘bicultural’ partnership?

I recently discovered an article, ‘Relish the difference’, in Architecture New Zealand, dated March/April 1994, in which Rau Hoskins discusses biculturalism with Mike Barns, Tony Ward and Peter Maher. I would compare this group to an architectural version of the Māori activist group Ngā Tamatoa, who stood up for Māori rights in the 1970s. I very much admire the perspective of the 1994 article and how it cuts to the chase: “In terms of the Treaty, we shouldn’t be sitting here talking to you today about the need to promote architecture in your magazine or talk about it, you should be able to look out the window and its there” states Barns; and “whoever controls the resources controls the culture,” states Ward. “The notion of biculturalism is meaningless unless you have equality of access and control over resources – without this, partnership cannot exist.”

Mike Barns explains that Māori people are acquiring a large proportion of the natural resources in this country and suggests: “Within twenty years, Māori are going to own a large proportion of the public assets, probably around 30%. Why are we churning graduates out the architectural schools who know nothing about Māori as clients?” Ward, however, is also hopeful about the future of Māori architecture stating, “We’re talking about a different way of approaching design, where what results emerges from the people themselves, and the architect is merely the vessel whereby that happens; the servant of the people, the mouthpieces of the people...not separate from them. Part of them, bound into them, intimately connected with their culture, loving it, valuing it for its difference.”

Therefore the question is, has there been progress since this 1994 ‘bicultural architecture’ discussion? In terms of Māori architecture being more visible, we have people like Rau Hoskins and Rewi Thompson at the forefront of that, the airing of the Whare Maori television documentary series, ‘Te Hononga’ Māori architectural studio at UNITEC. The recent Venice Biennale kaupapa led by David Mitchell, Rau Hoskins and others, Deidre Brown’s Maori Architecture book, the Te Aranga Māori Design Principles, Ivan Mercep and Tūhoe descendant Brendan Himona’s landmark Te Kura Whare - Tūhoe’s living building. Along with the steadily increasing number of Maori architectural graduates.

In terms of landscape architecture, specifically Dr Diane Menzies article ‘Whose Place?’ in the 2013/2014 X-Section Journal No. 3 suggests there is still plenty of work to be done within the landscape profession here in Aotearoa. With Menzie stating “if the profession fails to extend beyond tokenism by recognising other cultural values in practice, then those from non-western cultures are likely to turn their back on the profession. This is already occurring in New Zealand where some Māori perceive landscape architects as unresponsive and disinterested in Māori cultural values”. I know the recent 2013 IFLA World Congress seems to have been a catalyst for more meaningful engagements between the NZILA and Māori landscape practitioners here in Aotearoa, with people such as Phil Wihongi, Damian Powley and Josephine Clarke being able to voice their perspectives on a global stage. Brendan Himona and I also attended a critique for a landscape studio earlier this year at Unitec, led by Phil and others, focussed on a papakainga development for Ngāti Rauwaka ki te Tonga down in the South Waikato.  

However if you take people like Rau and Phil Wihongi from the equation and other Māori practitioners, would there have been as much progression? I would suggest that not as much would have been achieved without Māori driving this. The recent Memorandum of Understanding between Nga Aho (Māori design practitioners) and NZIA is a perfect case in point; if it was not for Māori practitioners pushing for this, then it would not have happened. I do not think we will see a big shift until we see the changing of the guard across the board, be it in education, the NZIA and NZILA and the design profession; including gaining more Māori architects and landscape architects, skilled in both Te Ao Māori and Te Ao Pākehā, in positions of influence within architectural practices.  

To really achieve buy in we need more Māori architects and landscape architects changing things from the inside of established practices, such as in Jasmax; practitioners who can influence the wider industry. This can also be achieved in the architecture schools, within Auckland Council, Nga Aho and, hopefully, the NZIA and NZILA coming on board. This will assist in ensuring the Te Aranga Māori Design Principles are a recognized engagement and design framework throughout the architecture and design industry. Both Māori and non-Māori designers will better engage with iwi, mana whenua and Māori clients. This should see a change in the built environment, with outcomes becoming more refined over time. 

The other big influence will be iwi themselves. Māori tribal organisations, who are leading projects (not just there to make up the numbers or be problematic stakeholders as some would believe) are demanding that our built environment reflects Māori values. There is no reason why there should not be more purpose-built tribal, cultural centres and iwi-led commercial projects. Ultimately, I’d love to see more built environment projects where there are Māori clients, stakeholders and Māori designers with a kaupapa Māori (purpose). Rau spoke of this in a recent Unitec research publication; he defined Māori architecture as “anything that involves a Māori client with a Māori focus”. (1)


What is exciting is that I do not think this is too far away. I can think of at least 10 Māori graduates – with a range of tribal affiliations and of various levels of experience, who in the next five to 10 years will reach a point where they can lead the design of a range of projects. Why should there not be an architectural and design practice of the scale of Jasmax with Māori aspirations at its focal point and with Māori architects and designers leading the way? 

Alongside this, and with the best resources and technical expertise, I think iwi would be keen to work with a practice like this. There would be no longer a need for a constant dialogue and translation of Māori concepts between mainstream designers and Māori cultural consultants (not if Māori concepts were embedded within architectural education). More time would be spent in the articulation of Māori architecture and design, rather than the current status quo of constantly educating and up skilling others.

Māori architecture and landscape architecture would also move towards the development of Māori design language specific to a rohe or a tribal area, much in the way the language or even carving styles can be traced to a certain area, iwi and carver. In the not too distant future Tūhoe will have a team of architects, landscape architects and engineers, etc; clearly engaged in their unique Tūhoe world view, with the right skills and knowledge to lead the design of a range of commercial and residential developments. There also should be a place for tohunga whakairo, master carvers to form an integral part of the design process. We can return to more traditional Māori practices whereby architect, landscape architect, engineer, builder and carver were one in the same or, at least, arrive at a position where these experts work collectively, rather than in isolation.

So what could be an ongoing vision for Māori architecture and landscape architecture over the course of the next 20 years? Both Māori and non-Māori as architectural and landscape practitioners will reach a cross roads of sorts. An opportunity exists to let go of past mamae, hurt, prejudices, distrust, insecurities, and in some cases racist and narrow minded views and embrace the new opportunities that exist within the exiting new world of the Te Aranga Māori Design Principles era and the growing post treaty settlement iwi driven economy.  

From a Māori perspective we need iwi, tertiary institutions and industry bodies such as the NZIA and NZILA to recognize the value of investing in architectural students and graduates. We also need our Māori graduates to carry on in the footsteps of both Māori and Pākehā architectural practitioners such as Rewi Thompson, Rau Hoskins, Phil Wihongi, Josephine Clarke, Brendan Himona and Ivan Mercep; as well as becoming the next generation of Ngā Tamatoa , Māori architectural and landscape activists creating new pathways for Māori within both industries.  For our treaty partners, I would suggest you get on the waka while you can or you might get left behind. And if you are smart, you will start hiring and supporting Māori architects and landscape architects, graduates and students with the knowledge that Aotearoa New Zealand is quickly changing, and that a large number of property developers, clients, key stakeholders, and potential business partners will be sophisticated, educated and culturally connected Māori. 

No reira ka mutu enei whakaaro whakatoi mai i tēnei tamaiti nō Te Tai Tokerau, i roto i ngā kupu rongonui o te rangatira nei a Tamati Kruger. To conclude and to symbolise the opportunity that exists for us all, I leave you with a proverb that was recently used by Tūhoe chief negotiator Tamati Kruger:

“Let these words guide our way to a greenstone door - tatau pounamu - which looks back on the past and closes it, which looks forward to the future and opens it.”


(1) Advance - Research with Impact, Spring 2014, ‘A Maori Approach’