Story: Māori architecture – whare Māori

Page 5. Contemporary Māori architecture

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Marae complexes

The whare whakairo is a central feature of politically inspired 20th-century initiatives to revive Māori communities and cultural traditions. This explains why since the 1970s Māori self-determination has been associated with this style of architecture, rather than the dynamic western-influenced buildings constructed by Māori religious leaders such as Rua Kēnana and T. W. Rātana. The whare whakairo’s cultural importance can be seen in the marae complexes, centred on new whare whakairo and wharekai, built to support urban Māori communities. These include:

  • Rehua marae (opened in 1960) in central Christchurch
  • Te Puea marae (1965) in South Auckland
  • Hoani Waititi marae (1980) in West Auckland
  • Ngā Hau e Whā marae (1990) in eastern Christchurch.

These marae complexes include buildings that were not part of marae before European settlement, such as the wharepaku (toilets) and, more recently, whare ora (wellbeing and health centre).

The form of the house remains a rigorously unicellular space with a porch and a single door and window in the front wall. However, in the 2000s building codes often demanded additional openings for convenience, egress or ventilation. Over the last 100 years, European technology and materials have been consistently incorporated into the meeting house, which has raised questions about ‘authenticity’.

Architectural revival

designTRIBE was formed as a collaborative architectural design practice in 1994 to provide Māori and wider community groups with access to high quality architectural services. Architectural designer Rau Hoskins (Ngāti Hau, Ngāpuhi), a director of designTRIBE, led several experimental projects to revive the construction of traditional thatched whare. In 2002 he and colleagues collected oral stories from elders who had helped construct these buildings as children. A whare raupō was built at Te Patunga Bay in Northland, and a whare nīkau at Puataho on the Kaipara Harbour.

From the 1980s institutional marae complexes began appearing in state schools and kura kaupapa (Māori-language schools), as well as tertiary institutions such as universities, polytechnics and wānanga, and from the 1990s in mental health and correctional facilities.

John Scott and Wiremu Royal

Contemporary Māori architects and architectural designers working outside of the whare whakairo idiom were a small but growing minority within the construction industry. John Scott and Wiremu (Bill) Royal were founding practitioners. Royal (Ngāti Raukawa) is thought to be the first Māori architect to graduate from a New Zealand university, completing his diploma in 1960. He founded his own practice in 1968 and worked on a variety of domestic, commercial and international projects, as well as more than 60 marae.

John Scott (Taranaki, Te Arawa) studied architecture in Auckland in the 1940s. In the late 1950s he was commissioned by the Marist Brothers (a Catholic order) to design a chapel in Karori, Wellington, to commemorate the martyrdom of St Peter Chanel on the French Polynesian island of Futuna in 1841. The Brothers built the chapel themselves, with minimal equipment and little previous experience. Futuna Chapel is arguably the most significant New Zealand building of the 20th century.

Last, Loneliest, Loveliest

The 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, the world’s leading architectural event, featured a New Zealand exhibition, Last, Loneliest, Loveliest. A 100-year history of New Zealand’s architecture was on display, including Māori meeting houses and Pasifika buildings. Its creative leader, architect David Mitchell, says, ‘In contrast to European architecture, which is architecture of mass and solidity, Pacific architecture is a lightweight architecture of posts and beams and panels and big roofs. This architecture has been persistently present in our history, it survived a century of colonisation, and it is increasingly distinctive.’1

Other architects and initiatives

Scott and Royal have been followed by other Māori architects and architectural designers including Rewi Thompson, Tere Insley, Perry Royal (the son of Wiremu Royal) and Rau Hoskins. Their buildings do not draw on aesthetics as much as on the concepts, values and technologies associated with the history of Māori architecture and customary ways of respecting the land. Western building systems and materials articulate these ideas and methods in built form. Apart from their residential work and institutional consultancy on health, media, educational and correctional institutional projects, these designers are also making important contributions to Māori housing and urban planning initiatives. There is also a collective of young female Māori architectural designers, including Elisapeta Heta, Raukura Turei and Rebecca Green, who create small-scale unheroic architecture.

Te Hononga: the Centre for Māori Architecture and Appropriate Technologies was set up at Unitec in Auckland in 1999. Students work on architectural projects with Māori communities. A design guide to Māori housing was prepared for Housing New Zealand in 2002.

  1. ‘Māori and Pacific architecture feature in the New Zealand exhibition at the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale 2014.’ Salient, (last accessed 7 July 2014). Back
How to cite this page:

Deidre Brown, 'Māori architecture – whare Māori - Contemporary Māori architecture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 July 2024)

Story by Deidre Brown, published 22 Oct 2014