Home to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the building of Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga (Archives NZ) is being redesigned to reflect the partnership enshrined in this founding document, this taonga it holds and cares for.
When visitors enter, they will get a sense of walking down into the whenua. A plaza will have references to the original pipi beds, gardens and kūmara mounds of mana whenua, Taranaki Whānui Te Ātiawa. On the facade, the lyrics of a waiata will be engraved to face nearby parliament, representing the mana whenua presence on their traditional whenua and the pā of Pipitea.
The $290m makeover of Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga (Archives NZ) is a reassertion of mana whenua in the capital city. Taranaki Whānui Te Ātiawa memories of their home are reflected throughout the building, designed by architects Warren & Mahoney with design agency Tihei Ltd, led by Rangi Kipa.
Rangi Kipa is an unparalleled practitioner of Māori cultural art forms, and is revered internationally as a carver and tāmoko practitioner, but it’s his background in social science that he credits as allowing him to implement critical thinking in terms of decolonisation when engaging in design. Kipa says that’s what this development is about.
“When we unpack the site and how … the Crown’s organisation has impacted upon our people, and we think, ‘What would our people have had as aspirations? How might we give life to their story, but how do we give life to it so that we continue to be on the whenua?” says Kipa.
Kipa is the artist behind another recent co-design project, the award-winning Te Hono Papa Rererangi i Ngāmotu, New Plymouth Airport. An accomplished lecturer of design across multiple tertiary institutions, he says that design leans into language and vision.
“The much deeper conversation is about who we are as a nation. Why are we holding on to these documents if we’re not going to critique who we are as a culture? How can you have any integrity as a cultural institution if you don’t interrogate the lamp that you light yourself upon?” says Kipa.
He’s talking about nation building, which is at the heart of this project. Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga, Archives NZ, is a government agency that’s home to some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most important founding documents – including He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi – so the revamp is being co-designed to reflect the mana whenua-Crown partnership.
From a tikanga perspective, Kipa says He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi aren’t currently being cared for in a way that honours their importance.
“We need to have a mana whenua team that can actually occupy this space and breathe life into those covenantal documents, to manage and mihi to manuhiri, and give life in a way that we would normally do as if it was our paepae,” Kipa says.
The new purpose-built facility in downtown Te Whanganui-a-Tara will be earthquake-proof, with a state-of-the-art archives repository, including digitisation and conservation facilities. To keep taonga safe from sun exposure, the glazing on the windows is designed to transmit low ultraviolet light, while letting a balanced amount of natural light filter through. With 80,000 linear metres of repository space, the building will have climate controls to uphold preservation requirements.
It will hold the more than 12 million taonga currently housed by Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga and Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, the National Library of New Zealand. This taonga includes government records, publications, books, manuscripts, artwork, scientific data, images, films and much more. Joined up end to end, these physical records would stretch 271km.
Construction has now begun and it’s set to open to the public in 2026.
Kipa maintains that Māori material culture is something that doesn’t belong in museums. Shifting the library from a quiet place where a sole narrative is accepted to somewhere people can challenge norms and contest knowledge is part of acknowledging how Māori “keep our knowledge alive by living it out”.
Kipa says that in engaging with mana whenua, Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga is in a process of decolonising its organisation. Influencing the build and spatial layout is one aspect that Kipa says goes hand-in-hand with changing the culture of these institutions.
“On the surface people will see the physical design, but the really profound stuff is the kōrero that happens, where you shape people’s hearts and minds to accommodate us in the future, because in the past they haven’t been able to do that.”
Mana whenua, researchers and relevant groups will be able to review documents in a new area and access items such as maps and art works.
Staff will have audio-visual and film suites for critical listening, viewing, conservation and digitisation of at-risk audiovisual formats.
Kipa says Aotearoa is at the forefront of decolonising models for indigenous people around the world, and we’ve seen a massive growth in Māori culture over the last 40 years.
“We’ve seen it with te reo, with mau rākau, with moko, with māra, with maramataka, with haka, we’ve seen our world slowly slide back up the wellbeing scale and our people are becoming more whole again. [But] you’ve got to keep pronouncing the future, keep bringing it to life because they [non-Māori] don’t have any way of constructing it.”
Exploring this idea further, Kipa explains that Māori have a unique vision for the future to be different for Māori than what it has been in the past, after essentially having ownership of all lands and resources stripped by the Crown, which irrevocably changed the trajectory for Māori.
“The vision that non-Māori have for the future is what it has been in the past, they don’t actually have an aspiration to get somewhere else, because they’re privileged.”
Putting language to the process of decolonisation and unpacking it is half the work, says Kipa.
“The theory of decolonisation is really well understood by us, the path back to undoing that, we can see it, we can map it, we can speak it. If you can speak to it, and get other people to understand it, that’s how we create change.”
Now in his 50s, Kipa has seen the cultural transformation in his lifetime, and he has played a pivotal role himself through a range of cultural expressions. He points out that co-design wasn’t a thing until five years ago.
“We’ve come so far. Now, we’re designing some of the seminal cultural institutions and parts of the Crown that are capable of holding that conversation and leading the way, we’re shaping them to speak back into the future of our nation.
“That for me is exciting, because I look at my native brothers and sisters in other parts of the world and they’re going, ‘how did you pull that off?’”
And through this project, there is a deep hopefulness in mana whenua for the future of Māori in Aotearoa.
“There’s generations of us working way back to that place of our tino – whether it’s tino rangatiratanga, or tino hapūtanga – where we actually have control and authority over our future, and where we are flourishing and prospering whilst looking after our taiao,” says Kipa.
For Rangi Kipa and his team, it’s about projecting a future where mana whenua are not only at the table, but are giving life to these documents and taonga that have shaped our past and playing an ongoing role in the development of our nation.
“When you marry the visionary in our people, and the memory, it’s powerful,” says Kipa.