Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Nautical Symbolism in Christian Maori Architecture

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posted on 2021-11-15, 06:25 authored by Radburnd, Pamela

It is well known that many Maori cultural traditions and cosmological beliefs are anchored in a sea of knowledge associated with seafaring, navigation and the oceanic environment. Despite the loss of deep-sea voyaging, this thesis explores how nautical reflexes were still very influential on various modes of expression in Christian Maori architecture of three distinct Maori religious movements from the colonial and post-colonial periods. During this investigation, this thesis also identifies a relationship that can be found between the appropriation of nautical symbolism in Christian and Maori architecture.

This relationship is examined on two levels: One, in terms of how Christian and Maori iconography has latent nautical meaning and secondly, how nautical symbolism in Christian Maori architecture is more signal than sculptural. The latter identifies the more powerful, metaphysical symbols in Maori architecture and spirituality which make Christian Maori architecture uniquely different from European Christian architecture. This thesis links these qualities in symbolic Christian maori architecture to the psychic and symbolic territories known to the navigator. In doing so, this thesis discovers how nautical symbols occupy a middle ground, an in-between area bridging the known with the unknown and examines their role as mediators between the present and the past; the individual and the collective.

This thesis finally presents an architectural design which explores specific aspects of research. In doing so, the use of nautical symbolism and water-based pragmatism through architecture explores how such methods and expressions can influence and transform Western notions of knowledge or conventional notions of contemporary (terrestrial) architecture in New Zealand. To achieve this, nautical concepts from case study material are applied to a contemporary design project in order to open up architecture to its metaphysical dimension rather than focussing on the object (sculptural) that is frozen in time. As a result, this design also celebrates and revives the nautical instinct of Maori in terms of how it can offer new and meaningful ways to design architecture in oceania and New Zealand.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Architecture (Professional)

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


de Sylva, Shenuka