Te ara o Rata

Te ara o Rata add

Te ara o Rata translates into English as 'the pathway of Rata' or 'the pathway of architecture' and references the responsibilities and values that many Māori architects and designers adhere to from before a project starts and through its lifetime.

Calls for accommodating cultural diversity in our built environments are starting to become more commonplace. Yet any Māori designer will tell you a late invite is not only frustrating, it reeks of 'box ticking'.

Nicholas Dalton (Te Arawa, Tuhoe), Stirling Burrows (Ngāti Ranui) and Te Ari Prendergast (Ngāi Tahu, Apanui) from TOA Architects have been invited to speak at ADNZ's Medium Density Housing Summit next month, to help spark conversations on how New Zealand can better accommodate cultural aspects in design.

TOA has jumped at the opportunity and will bring collective learnings from recent projects and examples from around the world to the discussion.

'When it comes to understanding the client's needs, I think in New Zealand we are renowned for our high-end residential because it relates to people and place. When it comes to medium density there is a disconnect, but also an opportunity to do better,' Te Ari says.

Translated into English, TOA means to be brave, bold, victorious, experienced, accomplished, adept, competent, skilful and capable.

Te Ari likens the role of an architect and designer to that of a traditional Māori carver and like a carver upholds values, the team at TOA Architects strive to incorporate values in everyday practice.

For example, before a carver even considers picking up tools, tradition requires prayer and reflection to acknowledge the responsibility of the undertaking.

'Chopping a kauri tree down is essentially destroying something beautiful, a crime against Tāne Mahuta, so you better carve it into something just as beautiful. If you're going to create an impact on an environment, let it be for a lofty purpose,' Te Ari says.

The carver's prayers also acknowledge Rata, who inappropriately cut down a tree, causing the forest creatures to resurrect it over and over, until proper process and acknowledgement to Tāne took place.

The final concept to acknowledge is that of binding, which follows the opening ceremony of a newly carved structure. The binding of the house through traditional methods also symbolises the relationship of the inhabitants who are bound to each other, to the whare, and to the landscape.

Like a carver, as well as having understanding and respect for materials and the environment in which they are designing, Te Ari says a designer has a responsibility to understand the needs of the people, the end user and their values.

'If the people who will be living there can have more say, then we can start to bring concepts of culture to the project. We need more input from the end users,' Stirling Burrows adds.

'TOA Architects embodies these values wherever possible, when we work on a residential project we get to really know our client and their values. We can then design on this basis.'

‘The disconnect with higher density is we don't have this relationship with the future home owner. How TOA approaches this is to take learnings about culture and people from their residential projects and imagine these people living, with their values, within these spaces and hopefully this starts to inform a more accommodating design that works for both developer and end user,' Stirling says.

'One simple method is to give projects a working name, often in Māori, it's a simple gesture and provides a base line for how we intend to progress. Giving a Māori name starts to embody a concept or a narrative and a relationship with the landscape.'

Hear guest speakers Nicholas Dalton, Stirling Burrows and Te Ari Prendergast from TOA Architects at ADNZ's Medium Density Housing Summit on Integration of Culture - Designing for different cultural groups and incorporating social requirements and needs, April 5th-6th, 2017.

Visit http://www.adnz.org.nz/mdhs for more information.