I am the river. The river is me
Throughout Aotearoa-New Zealand many of our landscape features are deeply connected to whakapapa (genealogy/lineage) and hold grave amounts of cultural and spiritual significance to tangata whenua (indigenous people). One prominent example of this is the Whanganui River. Throughout history being seen as a sacred source, the recent acquisition of legal personhood has witnessed the acknowledgement of its mauri (life force) and future well-being. Being a widely used and respected waterway, the river holds identifiable character and meaning throughout its journey through the Manawatu.
With the scope set with the city of Whanganui, something that is lost with the reaches of the urban river environment is the ability to convey these ideas and values to the people of the city. Many significant sites and history are lost to the standardization of the river’s edge. This added with the issue of flooding leaves areas lacking in connection and resilience. With a river surrounded in cultural importance and personhood, how can these ideas be conveyed to people less familiar, but still respect the values of local iwi (tribe) and the river itself?
This design-led research aims to explore the ideas and values behind Te awa tupua, and how the contrasting perspectives of nature and culture can be understood and re-thought in regards to the riverside landscape. Focusing on the understanding of values, history, connection and health. The research uses a built framework to guide decision making. While the design solution acts to improve the cultural and spiritual presence along the river’s edge. Utilizing forgotten areas of land along the river’s journey, old Pā sites are resurfaced and reconnected to the city. While the connection the riverside landscape has been rethought to bring the idea of ownership and use, back to the river environment itself.