on the merits of a cup of tea

phil wihongi

Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Hine

Māori Design Leader, Auckland Design Office (ADO), Auckland Council


There are few acts that are, at their heart, more humanising and equalising than the sharing of food and drink.

The simple act of breaking bread together encourages a momentary sharing of time and space, which in itself creates opportunity for recognition and exchange set against the purpose that has called people together. For many cultures, this act may invoke elaborate ritual, bound in tradition and culture, rooted in and recognising place. It can mark the transition between states of being in the interaction between individuals and groups, a welcome into the heart. It can also be one of the ultimate expressions of love, poured into the creation of the food that is shared.

It is at this point that we land. The primary thesis of this paper is to suggest that the humble cup of tea can provide us with a metaphorical means for talking across culturally bound and codified notions of design in a shared journey from New Zealand to Aotearoa.

Are we here or are we there (or are we nowhere)?

“We shall not be satisfied until this outlook includes our whole environment – the places where we work or play…. because we want this in New Zealand, overseas solutions will not do. New Zealand must have its own architecture, its own sense of what is beautiful and appropriate to our climate and conditions.”

on the necessity for architecture


This passage is taken from perhaps one of the most celebrated treatises on the need for a national design philosophy (albeit focussed squarely on architecture as ‘divine’ saviour). This bold assertion and questioning of belonging and place however remains firmly tied to the aesthetic sensibilities and expectations of the academic training these young architecture students were receiving in 1946.

Our design disciplines (landscape architecture, architecture and design) continue to draw heavily from the deep well of their western pedagogical foundations. This situation has resulted in a steady production of graduates with talent and/or technical proficiency, set firmly within the viewpoint and traditions of a dominant western culture and knowledge system.

This is less critique than observation, and is not intended to undermine the value or importance of western knowledge systems and their whakapapa. Rather, the intent is to emphasise that this focus has come at a considerable cost in the recognition and development of a pātaka of mātauranga Māori relating to this field, and in the ‘production’ of qualified Māori design professionals.

It is not uncharitable to suggest it is but a few notable designers who have been able to successfully trawl the currents that run through and between the two founding cultures of Aotearoa. These rare individuals have been able to identify and grasp the design potentials that the two cultures offer when brought together, and we honour their legacy. 

It is also not unfair to suggest that tertiary education design providers have historically struggled to consistently provide high quality and meaningful study opportunities founded in Te Ao Māori as part of their respective study programmes. Those institutes that have, have generally relied heavily upon specific staff members’ interest areas and goodwill for delivery of these ‘specialist’ courses rather than providing structured learning opportunities that staircase and reinforce Te Ao Māori knowledge across academic programmes.

In these challenging climes, it has often been difficult for Māori (and Pasifika) to see ourselves in these courses, and therefore to assign value and relevance when we are faced with tertiary education choices. Consequently both of these groups (but particularly Māori) are poorly represented in design profession statistics. The paucity of meaningful research into the design and architectural traditions of our founding culture and how they might be brought into the light of day in the 21st century is also evident within the current body of academic research.

And so?

Architect David Mitchell has spoken in the past as to how through early contact and exchange Māori architecture has borrowed from European architecture, and that in turn New Zealand architecture has borrowed from Māori and Pacific architecture to give us an emerging architecture style, distinct from its Eurocentric origins. Mitchell is describing a developing hybrid knowledge unique to this place, a truer vision of the nationalistic design philosophy that the (pre-)Group Architects so brashly sought to establish in 1946.

This certainly rings true when examined abstractly, however is difficult to see how this hybridity is made manifest in the design of our built environments. It seems at times that we have lost sight of our location in the South Pacific, and of the fact that we are firmly anchored at the beating heart of both Te Ao Māori and Pasifika (at least in terms of population).

Development of this hybridity is incredibly difficult without purposefully curating a balancing of focus and the sharing of game time and opportunity for Te Ao Māori content within design programmes. Also required is a concerted and ongoing commitment to developing both capability and capacity of the Māori design community. Such initiatives travel alongside a clear need to improve how we collectively alert Māori (prospective students and communities) to the richness of career opportunities that the design industries can offer, and how we articulate the benefits that increased numbers of qualified Māori design professionals can bring for our Māori and broader communities.

We also need to actively recognise, develop and provide for those design professionals and practitioners who hold mana whenua affiliations in the areas within which they practice. Where proficient in both knowledge systems (and this responsibility falls equally to iwi/hapū and design educators), this group possess a unique ability to bridge cultural and knowledge gaps between the mainstream design community and Mana Whenua communities, to navigate the serpents and taniwha that occasionally reside in those seas.

The tangible benefits that this group can offer for relationships, for project processes and for project outcomes is evidenced through the (slowly but surely) increasing number of Māori design professionals and the success of projects that they are involved in. Increasing the frequency of these benefits can only be achieved via a broad cross-sector approach to actively curating this expertise, and nurturing those spaces where this expertise currently exists. All sectors. Together.


In 1977 Dr Hirini Moko Mead wrote in the NZ Listener that “it is Māori culture and the special relationship between Māori and Pākehā, for so long the envy of the world, which provides the source for a distinctive New Zealand image”.

So then. The kaupapa matua of this paper is to lay down both tono and wero to the design industries, design education providers, the development community, government agencies and iwi/hapū. We invite you to work alongside the Māori design community, to bring us your talent, to develop with us as we develop, and to collectively work to shape where and who we are in 21st century Aotearoa.

Like our tūpuna, we look forward to looking open-faced and open-minded across a clear space primed for the meeting of minds and worlds, a fertile space where mātauranga, mana and wairua sit easily with other epistemologies and beliefs that others may bring to our shared challenges and opportunities. Read this as an open-hearted karanga into our space,  a call to recognise our mana and rangatiratanga, and the opportunity to come work alongside us, pokohiwi ki pokohiwi. By all means bring the tools and knowledge that you have to challenge and inspire us, but be prepared for challenge and to be inspired by those we bring.

Let’s sit down and share a cup of tea. And when you come whānau, make sure you bring a kai.

The kettle is already on....




Nicholas Dalton

Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue

Founding Director of TOA Architects

The Eye of Rua

The Eye of Rua

Āniwaniwa - I was blessed to take a trip on Sunday afternoon, Father's Day, a seven hour drive to see a sight to behold. An intrepid journey through the only virgin and largest intact native rain forest in the north Island, Te Urewera National Park. Like a portal back in time, this is a right of passage for all New Zealanders, (if you haven't been you need to go !) In Te Urewera, you get a tiny glimpse into what our tupuna - forebears would have witnessed, the deepest valleys, the largest kauri, the clearest rivers, and a mist like no other. Incredible ...

On to the main event, the reason to get me there, the one and only Āniwaniwa, a centre older than I, a whare Tāonga, a great building, a building of huge significance, a building by the legendary John Scott Architect.

John Scott, a great man of Te Arawa descent, is my architectural idol, he is unparalleled in creating, humble yet majestic architecture, architecture that celebrates his Aroha of the Whenua, tangata and a real pride of place. Āniwaniwa celebrates all this and more. It is a building that embodies concepts of both mana Whenua and tangata Whenua, Āniwaniwa is without question a total celebration of this place, Te Urewera, Aotearoa.

Early Monday morning, I was lucky enough to have a solo tour through Āniwaniwa, I used every minute of this time, hurrying slowly through the spaces. John Scott Architect drops hit after hit of architectural euphoria, mostly unexpected, in this building, Scott continues to achieve the impossible, mixing totally humble aspects and materials with volumes like no other, creating spaces which are part majestic wharenui, part cathartic cathedral in the bush ...

All brought to a thud when the hard hats turned up, and after figuring out I was not on their team, I was escorted out. My first protest Ake Ake Ake !!!

Back outside, a group of us gathered by the Waharoa, Struck by complete disbelief (how can you seriously even think of demolishing Āniwaniwa ??? This passionate group, many of whom were responsible for saving Futuna Chapel and others, the children and friends of the late and great John Scott Architect, did the only thing we could do, a poroporoaki a fairwell ceremony. Guided by Ema Scott, the releasing of the Mauri life force of this national treasure was performed ... From early Monday morning many Karakia and waiata were performed, tears were shed, acknowledging Āniwaniwa, in all its mana and majesty, and its place in Aotearoa's living history.

I'm not totally sure what to take from this, there are certainly powers at play above and beyond your average supposedly cannot touch a category one heritage listed whare Tāonga. I and many others certainly hope some kind of justice can be served. For me, I'm very grateful, grateful I got to experience the one, the only Āniwaniwa.


teaching and change

dr. diane menzies

Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Whatui Apiti


Making change can be frustating, humbling and painful. It is frequently misunderstood and unwelcome. The change-maker is the unloved: change is not fast enough for some, rejected angrily by others. Change involving culture also brings misconceptions and fear. It is uncomfortable for all.

Landscape architecture has been a predominantly middle class pakeha (European) pursuit over the 100 plus years since its inception. Although ingrained with western cultural values this had not been recognised by the profession until in the last fifteen years those in Asia and the Middle East raised the problematic nature of cultural values. In Aotearoa New Zealand few Māori students have had the resilience to tackle the alien nature of the profession until recently.

Introducing cultural change into the Unitec landscape architecture programme has been a challenge. Despite the barriers, Māori landscape graduates are beginning to flourish. As graduate numbers increase there comes a greater ability to change teaching and practice to enable different ways of seeing and doing. This short discussion shares some of the steps and stumbles experienced as the landscape architecture programme moves towards bicultural landscape architecture.

The barriers to successful cultural change at Unitec are limited resources, limited skills and knowledge, and resistence. Advantages are committed staff, a vibrant student diversity which includes a global range of cultures, and a refreshing organisational informality. An initial strategy for change-making was the formation of a Māori Advisory Committe (MAC) for staff and management, with open particpation by students as well as invitations to Māori landscape graduates of Unitec. All participants are volunteers, their time being given to support the change. However, as a reflection of the challenge of communicating cultural change, the MAC meetings can be both disappointing and inspiring.

An example of the messages conveyed at one meeting:

                  “We have been sitting around this table for the last two years and nothing has happened,” (from a Māori graduate in frustration, but devaluing staff initiatives).

                  “We are finding huge opportunities for including Māori cultural concepts in procurement and practice. Clients are selecting our proposals for their cultural inclusion,” (from a Māori graduate, providing support for Māori students and staff).

“Here is a proposal for a course on bicultural awareness for landscape architecture,”( from a new Māori contractor presenting a helpful proposal but without discussion with the staff first). The reactions from staff are a feeling of ambush, but also of hope. Change is happening, and in that change is hope and inspiration. Change-makers though need the dogged determination and zeal of missionaries: but this seems to be the nature of cultural change.

What has changed?

·       A noho marae to welcome Year 1 students is now held at the start of the courses. The first time there were 18 staff and students, the second year numbers doubled, and next year 100 are invited to Ngai Tai’s Umupuia marae at Maraetai. The purpose of the two day event is to bring the student cohort togther, while introducing the bicultural course component in a Māori cultural setting.

·       Studios and course work in planning and design with iwi/hapu to experience Māori cultural principles and practice and enhance student perceptions is also intended to provide some benefit for the hosts.

·       In 2016, with the volunteer help of kaumatua, Māori practitioners and staff, eight or so events were held in a marae setting, open to visitors, staff and students. This has included two wānanga on the Treaty of Waitangi; and seminars on research topics

·       Opportunities have been made for student presentations on cultural topics

·       An international indigenous conference to which support for participation and student presentations was given

·       In addition a range of seminars on mātauranga Māori topics have been held through the year.

Other changes include a Māori student scholarship, a room set aside for Māori student use, course review, change to the New Zealand Instiute of Landscape Architects education policy supported by staff, language and cultural learning opportunities offered to staff, and this year a focus on cultural diversity in the annual landscape journal X-section.

A new Masters in Māori Design also opened their teaching to staff and students at Unitec.


This of course is not enough.

Better relationships with local iwi/hapu must continually be built and nurtured; resourcing for Māori staff needs to be found; and students need to be continuously supported. But at the same time Unitec has been enmeshed in change as have other sectors.


What can be learnt?

In order to achieve change, generosity, tolerence, respect, expert communication and solid support are all necessary. The change to bicultural landscape understanding is not negotiable at Unitec: it is now essential for sound professional performance in New Zealand. Students who cannot accept this have left the course, and staff are challenged to undertake continual learning which must somehow be achieved. Yes, change is happening but in the meantime it is a tough, tough challenge.

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