Expressing tikanga Māori architecturally

Master of Architecture (professional) student Ben Tunui (Ngāti Awa, Te Atiawa) has won the 2020 Te Kāhui Whaihanga Resene Student Design Awards with his Master’s work Utu.

Ben Tunui with his project 'Utu' at NZIA awards
Ben Tunui with his project 'Utu' photo by David St George.

Ben’s research focuses on Tikanga Māori, and how we can use it as a catalyst for architectural design.

“It offers new ways of drawing architectural inspiration from Te Ao Māori,” explains Ben. “I hope that this project lifts the level of conceptual design thinking around Māori and Indigenous architecture.

“Utu was a piece of research and a provocation to designers in Aotearoa today. It was about wanting to design with tikanga Māori at the core of the concept, not just an overlay to finish.”

For his research, Ben analysed the rituals of encounter, or three parts, of the powhiri process.

“I wanted to excavate the underlying spatialities of these rituals. Then my focus was about how I used a methodological process to turn these spatialities and observations into not only architecture, but symbols (principles, building blocks) to be carried back across into architectural practice.”

The judges were very impressed with Ben’s “visionary architecture that is immersed in whakapapa, wairua, tikanga, kawa - and aroha”.

They noted, “While based in formal tikanga and concomitant weighty cultural understandings, the freedom of architectural interpretation is refreshing and uplifting. This project provides a rigorous, robust yet experimental working methodology that acts as a pathway for other Māori (Pasifika/Oceanic/indigenous) students to follow – consistent with traditional tuakana-teina knowledge exchange.”

“To win feels amazing, mind-blowing and humbling,” says Ben. “I have so many amazing family and friends that I am inspired by and to achieve something like this has a funny way of making you feel big and also so small at the same time.”

“To witness Ben’s presentation of his important work to a jury of highly respected and knowledgeable judges was an absolute pleasure,” says Professor Andre Brown, Head of the Wellington School of Architecture. “He spoke with passion and calm authority about his influences, his development and his work. His presentation and his modesty were an absolute credit to the School and the University. We’re very proud of him and look forward to seeing the impact he will undoubtedly make on the industry in the future.”

Read more about Ben’s win, and the full judges’ citation on the NZIA website.