The art of cultural integration in design

The art of cultural integration in design add

A culturally significant change is gaining momentum in New Zealand's architectural landscape. At the helm, are a collective of practitioners whose heritage and knowledge are facilitating the revolution.

No longer just a catch-phrase, the rich virtues and value of Te Aranga Māori Design Principles are garnering a well-deserved and respected identity.

Ahead of his 2017 ADNZ Conference presentation Mana Whenua Architecture; Designing our Aotearoa New Zealand built environment with Mana Whenua / Māori Design Principles, Jasmax Kaihautū Whaihanga - Māori Design Leader, Rameka Alexander-Tu’inukuafe, discusses the art of cultural integration in design.

"My iwi and hapu are Ngāpuhi, Ngāi Tawake ki te tua whenua and Ngāti Rehia, and I am of Māori, Scottish, English, German and Tongan descent. This has definitely influenced how I view the world," Rameka explains.

“I grew up in a far North small, rural town. I learnt Te Reo Māori first at a kura kaupapa Māori total immersion Māori language school in Kaikohe before attending a mainstream secondary school in Kerikeri from the age of 15. At home, we spoke English."

Rameka’s calling to architecture was one experienced at a young age and he quips this was driven by a relatively naive expectation of earning a handsome remuneration right away. “It’s a lot harder than that!" he laughs.

Conversely, Rameka's wisdom today is driving the integration of Māori Design Principles into architecture transcending all genres. These principles, while a powerful reflection of the Māori culture, don’t discriminate against who can administer them. Their benefit to Māori and non-Māori architectural practitioners is equally important.

Throughout his life and his career, Rameka has been witness to, and proponent for a number of projects that embrace the principles. “From getting to know one of the key Māori practitioners and architects that worked on Te Papa, to securing a Māori design internship with Jasmax and today leading a project for a kura kaupapa Māori school close to where I used to live, I can see progress."

In an era where the seeding of these design concepts has even greater potential - thanks to a growing post-Treaty settlement, iwi-driven economy - Rameka advocates for industry-wide accountability in the understanding and application of Māori design.

An important catalyst has been the adoption of Māori Design Principles by Auckland Council. Such an important development helps to close the door on a history marred by hurt, parochialism, prejudices, distrust and insecurities.

“Previously the words ‘Māori’ and 'culture' have been used generically. It’s about making them and the aesthetic distinguishable. This creates a big opportunity not just for Māori and iwi but for everyone.

"In the past, engagement with Māori and iwi was left to the last minute due to lack of awareness on both sides. This is changing."

However, Rameka is conscious there is quite the journey ahead. "With several thousand New Zealand architectural practitioners and maybe 20 registered Māori architects, we have a way to go. At Jasmax, we have 300 staff who are starting to strongly identify with the principles.

"We have a Māori design group called Waka Maia who help to drive all Māori initiatives within the practice and we have have introduced free Te Reo classes as a foundation and already 20 have joined - it’s these little steps that will make a difference."

While the governing incentive really requires no explanation, Rameka offers further insight, “If you want to do architectural work in New Zealand, then making it relative to New Zealand should be a priority. Relating to other cultures is a way to upskill.

“I like to connect people and bring them together to build relationships. If we’re not meeting each other halfway, things won’t happen. Progress has been made over the last 20 years and it will be awesome to see in another 20 years how far we have been able to take this.”

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