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"Ko Wai te Ingoa o Tenei Whare?" Architecture and Māori Identity

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posted on 12.11.2021, 15:00 by Prendergast, Simon Te Ari

The whare whakairo or traditional Māori meeting house plays an important part in Māori society and identity. These whare tell the tale of their origin, and in so doing, the origins of their people. The analysis of the meeting house, the histories expressed in its decorative carvings and structural elements are inextricably linked with and dependent upon the structure of the world created by myth and the Māori worldview. However, due to the deleterious effects of colonisation, the art of wood carving and associated architectural practices - central to Māori identity, suffered decline in many parts of the country, leading to the decline of Māori culture and identity. Sir Apirana Ngata instigated the National Institute of Māori Arts and Crafts to resurrect the dying art of Māori carving and carved houses would be a catalyst for the restoration of Māori culture throughout the country. Ngata saw these whare whakairo as being the heart of Māori communities by establishing a renewed sense of belonging and identification with space for Māori, through the telling of tribal histories and emphasising key geographical features. New threats in the form of global hegemony and urbanisation have further impacted on Māori notions of identity, creating a generation of displaced urban Māori youth. This research proposes to establish an architectural response to capture displaced Māori youth through the resurrection of the Māori carving school and return to them the lost stories of their cultural history and identity. This program will be developed within the complex challenges that exist within post-earthquake Ōtautahi/Christchurch, where many have lost homes and livelihoods, especially Māori youth in the Eastern Suburbs. The building elements of the proposed Māori carving school give reference to the historio-cultural features of the original Ōtautahi/Christchurch landscape that are situated in tribal song and myth. It is envisioned that the development of a Māori carving school will help restore Māori identity and a renewed sense of belonging, and allow for the telling of this generations stories through traditional narratives.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Brown, Daniel K,