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Whakairo at Te Ora Hou Ōtautahi (Photo: Peanut Productions / Design Tina Tiller)
Whakairo at Te Ora Hou Ōtautahi (Photo: Peanut Productions / Design Tina Tiller)

ĀteaMay 2, 2023

Christchurch’s journey to becoming a more inclusive city

Whakairo at Te Ora Hou Ōtautahi (Photo: Peanut Productions / Design Tina Tiller)
Whakairo at Te Ora Hou Ōtautahi (Photo: Peanut Productions / Design Tina Tiller)

The efforts to rebuild Ōtautahi were co-governance in action, long before the term became a political boogeyman.

My immediate whānau – including my nana – lived in Ōtautahi in 2005. As someone raised on a Manukau marae, Nana felt incredibly out of place in Christchurch back then. She didn’t see many Māori spaces, nor did she see many tangata whenua faces. Six months in, Nana saw a Māori in Ōtautahi for the first time, a total stranger at the supermarket. She hugged them, and shed a few tears.

This was all before the earthquakes. Out of the rubble of Rūaumoko’s destruction, seeds of a more inclusive Christchurch have sprouted in the Garden City’s (re)built environment, nurtured by bicultural goodwill. 

What happened after the quakes?

The efforts to rebuild Ōtautahi were co-governance in action, long before the term became a political boogeyman. “The Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Act began a formal collaboration between city councils, regional councils, crown entities and iwi, which then became hapū”, says Te Marino Lenihan, an educator and former planning professional who represented Ngāi Tahu at the rebuild table. Not only did the inclusion of mana whenua lead to design interventions, it also “shifted culture here in Canterbury, in Christchurch in particular”. That cultural shift normalised mana whenua involvement in citywide decisionmaking. “What I hope we’ve learned is that when mana whenua do sit at the table, we add value to design. This helps create public realm spaces that are inclusive of our culture and therefore help make our people feel valued and welcome”, outlines Lenihan.

How can architecture and urban planning be Māori-inclusive?

In essence, it requires recognising and providing for te ao Māori principles and practices, particularly the recognition that all things are connected. “It’s all-encompassing, involving the building’s relationship to the place and to the natural world it interacts with – whether it’s the air, water, soil, plants or energy and material use”, says Jessica Halliday, an architectural historian and the director of Te Pūtahi Centre for Architecture and City Making. Lenihan adds: “The look and feel of the buildings are important, but its function and wider impact on our environment have to be deeply considered.”

He gives an example: “What’s energy efficiency got to do with Māori culture? It has everything to do with our worldview! If we are designing buildings that suck a lot of electricity – requiring another valley to be dammed to build another hydroelectric station – then it impacts on our relationship with our environment.” 

What does that look like in Christchurch?

Lenihan says the rebuild initiative he is most proud of was reorienting the city towards the Ōtākaro awa (Avon River). Originally, Christchurch’s riverfront properties turned their back to the awa. Why? Halliday says it was because imported Victorian-era ideas saw rivers simply as drains and open sewers. But te ao Māori greatly values awa as powerful ancestral forces that sustain life and serve as conduits for communication, trade and transportation. “Mana whenua valuing the river and turning the city around to face it resulted in amazing new public spaces along the river”, says Halliday. 

The Terraces, one of the many new great public spaces along the awa.
The Terraces, one of the many new great public spaces along the awa. (Photo: Ōtākoro Limited)

Did mana whenua always get what they wanted during the rebuild?

Improving the lives of mokopuna, including those who haven’t been born yet, is a foundational practice of te ao Māori that can be physically manifested through architecture and town planning. Lenihan explains that “our people, we think about tomorrow, not today. Let’s design and build for tomorrow.” Around Christchurch’s post-quake rebuild table, mana whenua tried to push that agenda – but they were not always successful, particularly regarding future-proofing the city’s infrastructure. “When it came to rebuilding our city’s rain and waste water pipes”, Te Marino says, “the powers at be took a ‘like for like’ approach which meant that our city’s horizontal infrastructure was only ever going to be fit for yesterday’s needs and far from what was required for tomorrow”.

Open Christchurch Festival

Taking place at many sites across Ōtautahi, the Open Christchurch festival is a weekend-long ode to the city’s architectural marvels, from private residences to educational facilities, churches, temples, administrative centres, marae and everything in between. Nine of the festival’s sessions showcase Māori buildings to express the growing Māori architectural presence in the city. Notably, the festival’s opening event features two panels of Māori designers reflecting on the past and future. 

Post-quake buildings: Tūranga and Te Ora Hou Ōtautahi

The Garden City’s (re)built environment is scattered with beautiful buildings influenced by te ao Māori, the crown jewel being Tūranga: Christchurch Central Library – which is featured during the festival. Halliday says the library team, as the client, “insisted that mana whenua were present from the beginning”. Alongside tohu Māori design elements, Tūranga embeds the whakapapa of Ōtautahi’s mana whenua through its orientation. The library is orientated in a way that highlights significant sites, including Maunga Tere (Mount Grey), Ngā Tiritiri o te Moana (the Southern Alps), Horomaka (Banks Peninsula) and HawaikiAlso, the process of whakamanuhiri (welcoming and entertaining guests) was carefully curated. From the entrance, the ascent into Tūranga symbolises Tāwhaki’s quest into the celestial realm in search of mātauranga. 

Tūranga: Christchurch Central Library.
Tūranga: Christchurch Central Library. (Photo: Adam Mørk)

Another example on display during Open Christchurch is the community mahi complex “Te Ora Hou Ōtautahi“. The complex is named after Te Ora Hou, a kaupapa Māori organisation that works with rangatahi. TOH and the rangatahi they work with were consulted during the design process by the architectural team, led by Amiria Kiddle. Kiddle learned about the organisation’s history and tried to imbue that into the design. To do so, her team worked with Ngāi Tahu artists to “add the extra layer of identity” to the project. Of particular note is the wonderful whakairo adorning the outer wharenui (seen below) and “the panels inside the wharenui that tell the story of Te Ora Hou”. 

Whakairo at Te Ora Hou Ōtautahi.
Whakairo at Te Ora Hou Ōtautahi. (Photo: Peanut Productions)

The Open Christchurch festival is showcasing more Māori buildings across the city, all of which can be seen here. One of them is a groundbreaking cultural icon from the past.

Pre-quake building: Te Puna Wānaka

Post-quake architecture has added to a legacy of inner city Christchurch buildings inspired and influenced by kaupapa Māori. This started in 1994 with the design and development of the Māori studies department at the Christchurch Polytechnic, originally named Te Mātauranga Māori and now known more commonly as Te Puna Wānaka.

“It was a groundbreaking building in our inner city”, says Te Marino, “a symbol of Māori identity and culture in a city renowned for being a stronghold of white power gangs, where skinheads roamed the streets and terrorised anyone who didn’t look or think like them”. A coalition of leaders from local Ngāi Tahu and Mata-a-waka communities (diasporic Māori who came to live in Ōtautahi) fought to construct Te Puna Wānaka. “They wanted a space where their language and culture could be learned and lived”, Te Marino says. 

Mana whenua polytechnic board members led the way, commissioning local architectural firm Royal Associates – led by the Royal father-son duo – to design Te Puna Wānaka. Back then, Perry Royal – now acknowledged as a senior Maori architect – was fresh out of architecture school and working under his father’s watchful eye. Part way through, however, his dad stood down after suffering a stroke, resulting in Perry becoming the boss. “For me, as a graduate architect, it was like being in a lolly shop”, Royal remembers. He was humbled by the board’s confidence in him, but was largely motivated by the brief his father set out: “What boundaries can we push?”

The original Te Puna Wānaka design, featuring a traditional wharenui.
The original Te Puna Wānaka design, featuring a more traditional wharenui form. (Photo: Perry Royal)

A Ngāti Whātua court case also inspired Royal. During the case, legendary scholar and leader Hugh Kawharu convinced the judge to let Ngāti Whātua adorn their side of the courtroom with their regalia – making a historically unfriendly space more inclusive of Māori. Te Puna Wānaka was an attempt to do the same given that the tertiary sector was, and largely still is, a very Eurocentric space. “We were trying to make it easier for future rangatahi to go through this institution and see their own face represented”, says Royal. 

Royal Associates’ final design was an unapologetic attempt to be “as far away from a square classroom as possible”, explains Royal. He loved physically manifesting Māori ideas into the design of Te Puka Wānaka, including “highlighting the natural world as part of the internal building.” To bring the outdoors inside, Royal Associates utilised architectural tricks like striking curvatures, big open entrances, “field-sized” skylights and clear sight lines to maunga

Te Puna Wānaka in its current form.
Te Puna Wānaka in its current form. (Photo: Supplied)

Embedded within the physical building is also an abstract expression of significant atua. Royal layered three atua across the complex, with the heavy base representing Papatūānuku, the middle being Pohohāruatepō and the seemingly untethered top embodying Ranginui. According to local pūrākau, Pohohāruatepō was Ranginui’s first wife before Papatūānuku. Alongside physical portrayals of atua, the building also clearly delineates between tapu and noa spaces. The groundbreaking design of Te Puna Wānaka laid the foundations not only for what was to come in post-quake Ōtautahi but more widely for Māori architecture within New Zealand’s tertiary sector.

Of late, Christchurch has become a more culturally inclusive city – one that I’m sure my nana would have felt more comfortable in than she did back in 2005. By seeing the progress Ōtautahi has already made, the Open Christchurch festival aims to inspire the next generation of Māori architects and urban planners to design a better, more inclusive future. 

Click here to see the full lineup of sessions during the Open Christchurch festival, and click here to see the te ao Māori sessions.

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