Indigeneity is the answer

Indigeneity is the answer add

While benefits are gained from globalisation, the more we borrow from international design trends, the more our cities begin to look like we could be standing anywhere in the world.

Phil Wihongi has the answer, "Indigeneity is a way out of that", he says. According to Phil, who is the Māori Design Leader for the Auckland Design Office at Auckland Council, indigeneity is New Zealand's point of difference in the world, "it says: we're different, we're unique, we're beautiful and stand alone".

Phil says the creation of his role is a sign of the times - it is a step change for council and local government in New Zealand, an outcome of the Auckland plan to deliver a Māori identity, the result of a rapidly changing treaty landscape and maturity of leadership and individuals championing for the cause.

"It's really important that we are having this conversation now, with the scale of change in development in Auckland. I'm not sure we're ever going to get this opportunity again, at least not in my lifetime." he says.

That's a lot of pressure on one man in an entity staffed by nearly 9,500 for a region with a population of nearly 1.4 million and growing.

If you ask Phil to give examples of what Māori design looks like, he describes it as place-based and responding to the people and who they are.

He gives an example of the campus development at Te Wānanga o Raukawa. Established to contribute to the well-being of Māori, Ngā Purapura is not your typical wellness centre or gym. It houses two large indoor courts, a gym, offices, teaching spaces and a central kākano that sits within the glassy foyer.

Another is Te Oro music and arts centre at Glenn Innes. Its signature roof form is described as a 'floating geometrised leaf canopy atop a series of timber trunks' in response to Taurere - Mt Taylor, an important part of local story telling for Mana Whenua iwi.

"It's a striking building which is fully informed by local narrative, and contributed to by local practitioners and artists," says Phil.

"What we are trying to create is a platform which facilitates working with Mana Whenua groups to translate those groups' narratives and knowledge of place into design. Increasingly we are seeing a lot of 'co-design' where Mana Whenua members are working within design teams.

"The richness that is here in Tāmaki Makaurau, the base layer in our cultural landscape is undeniably Māori. There is a long history of plentiful resources and people wanting to be here. And there are still people wanting to be here with so many migrants choosing to settle here in Auckland. So those older narratives are still very relevant today."

He says there is no end of enthusiasm from the designers involved in the work.
"It's easy for the design industries to see the huge potential and the importance of treating the process with integrity and respect. They see straight away it's a heck of an opportunity and there's a lot of excitement around that.

"So that's it - we're doing it. We're realising a rich and largely untapped potential through interpretation of traditional knowledge, through knowing our place and shaping where and who and how we are through design," says Phil.

Phil Wihongi will be speaking at the ADNZ conference from 26-28 in Auckland.

To register visit: To register for the 2016 ADNZ conference visit:

To find out more on Te Oro visit:

Photography by The Designers Institute of New Zealand / Thievery Studio