Giving back to the community is at the heart of Unitec Architecture graduates Martin Leung-Wai and Waikare Komene’s entrepreneurial venture, The Roots; a collective of creative industries including architecture, art, design, landscape architecture, performing arts and many more which aims to inspire the next generation through creativity and provides graduates with opportunities to be a part of projects that allow them to apply the knowledge they learned at Unitec.
“We have to take our hats off to Unitec. It made us who we are.”
Several of Martin and Waikare’s projects involve mentoring creative Māori and Pacific high school students, inspiring and engaging with them through creative projects, and at the same time promoting environmentally sustainable design principles.
There was an emphasis on re-shaping and changing the world in ways which will benefit local communities during their studies, which fit with Martin and Waikare’s worldview. “We consider ourselves kaitiaki, or guardians, of the earth.”
In his first year Waikare received a Whai Ake scholarship, which offers mentoring, the opportunity to meet other Unitec students, and cultural support. “It made me feel more grounded, like I wasn’t on my own when I came into this new institute. I had a family of 30 before I even began studying. It felt quite good, to not feel alone in that big new world when we transitioned from high school.”
Of his experience as a Unitec student, Waikare says, “The Māori studio was a highlight at the architecture school. As an architect you have to go through and understand how to talk to your client and the Māori studio provided us with that; talking to clients, having real life clients, but also these clients were community based, so having to design and build, to give back to communities. The fale was a hidden gem. It’s where we sat and got inspired.”
As part of last year’s Auckland Art Festival, Martin and Waikare repurposed used car tyres for the Garden of Avondale project at Rosebank School. The garden was a collaborative project which paired high school and primary school students in a tuakana-teina mentor relationship which was equally as important as the creation of the garden. Together they designed and built the garden with support from Martin and Waikare, parents and the community.