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Unitec’s Wharenui, Ngākau Māhaki, Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

  • Bridgepoint Lecturers Avian McManus (L) and Arihia Waenga (R)
    Bridgepoint Lecturers Avian McManus (L) and Arihia Waenga (R)

Unitec’s wharenui, Ngākau Māhaki, has celebrated its tenth anniversary with a host of activities involving members of the local community.

The centrepiece of Unitec’s Te Noho Kohitanga marae, Ngākau Māhaki, was built and designed by Te Arawa master carver Dr Lyonel Grant (Ngāti Pikiao).  Opened in March 2009, Ngākau Māhaki was the first whare whakairo (or carved meeting house) in nearly a century that was been created using traditional architectural approaches.

The design was based on the traditional way whare were built – structurally it is held up by the carvings and where possible traditional methodologies were implemented.  It features a blend of classic and contemporary design, combining traditional techniques with modern media.  The whole inside front wall features a map of Auckland carved from medium-density particle board, while for the tāhuhu or ridge pole, representing the ancestors’ backbone, four logs have been lashed together using traditional waka or canoe joints. 

At the time of the opening, Dr Grant said, “I wanted to do something new, not just decorate a box, but create a showcase for our culture that’s unique in the world. To do that I had to turn the clock back 100 years, look at the traditional techniques, and then work out how modern construction methods could be used to complement those techniques, given that this wharenui is maybe three times bigger than the classical model.”

Most of the weaving across the wharenui was completed by Unitec weaving tutor Judy Robson-Deane (Te Rarawa) and Shona Tawhiao (Ngai Te Rangi), with help from past weaving students and several Northland weavers.  On the back wall alone there are nearly 28,000 strips of flax, while the front wall features weaving that is layered in a special way to symbolise waves and the sea.

Unitec’s Tumu Glenn Mckay says, “Ngākau Māhaki occupies a very special and meaningful place in the heart of our Unitec community.   As well as hosting our staff, students and visitors for powhiri, marae and cultural awareness workshops, conferences and hui, it also serves as a hub for teaching and learning about te ao Māori, including our inspiring Mātauranga Māori electives.”

Today’s celebrations at the Mt Albert campus featured photo and video exhibitions, arts and crafts displays, and Kapa Haka performances by local schools, including Ngā Tūmanako, the winners of the New Zealand national Kapa Haka competition.

Celebrations will be held at Unitec’s Waitakere campus on Thursday.

You can learn about the history and design of Ngākau Māhaki here.