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Honoring the Māori way of life

Delivering life-changing architecture

In an effort to better understand the art of collaborating for better indigenous outcomes, we reached out to our team in New Zealand to explore what is happening in the heart of Auckland and beyond.

This article was first published in the second issue of Deloitte's global infrastructure magazine, Infrastructure with impact

Anthony Ruakere, a partner at Deloitte Zealand and Hourua Pae Rau (Deloitte’s Māori/Indigenous Services Group), is a Māori leader who is passionate about improving the lives of his people. Anthony says, “Growing up in the shadow of my ancestral anchor, Mount Taranaki, keeps me grounded in my sense of place. These roots also guide me in my work, which in part is focused on ensuring that infrastructure design positively represents us as a people and, via delivery, plays a part in addressing the inequities experienced by Māori. To that end, Māori-owned businesses continue to punch above their weight in contributing to New Zealand’s economy.” This often starts with casting a net far and wide to gather like-minded individuals who are equally committed to positive change for Māori New Zealanders.

Anthony and his colleague Chelsea Natana invited Anthony’s friend Nicholas Dalton, founder of TOA Architects, to participate in a meeting to share their combined knowledge and insights to better understand the role that infrastructure can play in addressing indigenous inequity in Aotearoa (New Zealand). The room was silent as Nicholas and Anthony began the meeting by reciting a karakia, the Māori spiritual incantation used “to draw the energies inside and around us, to bless our space and connect us at a deeper level.”

In 2011, Nicholas founded TOA Architects, striving to create real change in the industry for and with Māori communities. In the past 12 years, he has grown the team to three offices with more than 30 employees and is proud to say, “What makes TOA different is that we are 100 percent Māori owned. Our team takes a special interest in the recruitment and retention of Māori within our field, leading the way for a pathway of difference.”

Nicholas grew up in Mamaku, a tiny village where everyone knows one another by their first name. He says, “This community is what shaped my “care factor”. It’s where I learned to harness natural energy and work harmoniously with the people and environment around me – which is a key influence in the work my team and I aspire to produce today.” Nicholas is on a lifelong mission to build ground-breaking infrastructure that enriches Aotearoa. He says, “It is not just about protecting and improving its natural mountains, lakes and rivers but also uplifting its indigenous Māori communities. We take our role seriously as ‘Kaitiaki’ – or guardians – of our clients, Māori communities and mother nature.”

As a young architect, working for some of the largest firms in Aotearoa, Nicholas developed a greater calling as he witnessed a substantial gap in the market. He says, “After reaching maximum frustration with how Māori projects were being handled, I wanted to create something that was bigger than me. That was enduring, that was about culture and whakapapa – our people.”

Like many New Zealanders, Nicholas is worried about climate and weather catastrophes that will keep happening, like Cyclone Gabrielle, New Zealand’s worst weather disaster in a generation. “We need to remember that this country was largely made up of wetlands… so we need to look at different infrastructure responses. To restore the wetlands, we need to go back to old knowledge.”

Nicholas continues, “When we are working for Māori, we involve their descendants in the process… that’s the ultimate dream. For example, inspiring the next generation who are watching their 55,000 square meters of land being turned into 55 sections for various clusters of intergenerational living. Like the Rotoma project, which involved designing and building 483 bedrooms on-site. During the process, we made sure the wetlands were restored while introducing incredible modern-day buildings.

“When we go to any wetlands, we draw on specialists who live there, who know the land. And we also lean on experts of western science, who specialise in environmental monitoring such as air and water quality.

“It means that any work we do must enhance the lifeforce of the surrounding areas and increase the health and wellbeing of the fish and animals that live there,” says Nicholas.

To meet the needs of a growing population, the team at TOA Architects have given themselves a mission to build 1,000 Māori Modular Housing, or MMH, in Aotearoa by the end of 2023.

“Innovation is at the very core of MMH. One of the main differentiators is having all major components made in a factory and then assembled on-site by a highly trained team. This way, they don’t have to have five builders in a house for six months. Instead, the house is completely finished on-site, within just a month,” explains Nicholas.

MMH will also combat other social issues, like unemployment and waning economic growth. Nicholas says, “As much as we can, we are sourcing our products from Māori owned businesses, particularly timber products. We are committed to rejuvenating timber production in our country. Creating 1,000 of these homes will have a knock-on effect of creating NZD 300 million of value in the Aotearoa market.”

By 2040, Nicholas aims to have all of his staff fluent in the Māori language, and other firms to have revised policies and practices to ensure diversity is embedded. “This way, all aspiring Māori architects will be able to go into any practice and feel safe and valued,” he says.“

Currently, Māori only make up 3 percent of Kiwi architects. By 2040, our goal is to make this reach parity with the population of about 20 to 25 percent,” he says.

One of the ways Nicholas and his team are achieving this is by holding group sessions at local high schools throughout the country. These sessions offer work experience opportunities, learning programs and guided career advice. He says, “Speaking at these schools allows Māori youth to see the opportunities available to them, which they may have never known were possible. We are standing on stage, putting it out there, saying ‘Hey, we are successful Māori architects, you can do it too!’”

Nicholas is building an enduring legacy with TOA Architects, saying, “We’re not a bricks and mortar architecture practice – we’re helping individuals in our communities be good ancestors and live meaningful lives.”

For organisations looking to work with the indigenous, Nicholas says, “Community-led design is everything – you need to ask the people what they need and take a collective approach, with as many voices at the table as possible (from youth to elders). Invest in the relationship – for the Māori, relationship balance is everything – you need to show your heart and be open to hearing our stories and truth

“I want to be a great ancestor – and leave a legacy. Not just beautiful buildings... But being careful with our interactions, healing the whenua and leaving it better than we found it.” - Nicholas Dalton

Kaore te ki, patu te makere noa i te ngutu.
He puoro waihoe i a TOA i runga.
E mataku ana roto i te hau korero;
Wareware i ahau te maru o Taramainuku.
E herengia koia a Kaiwhare rakau ka whiria?
Te ata whakarangona nga mahi a Tāwhaki.
Ko to tinana ra te waiho atu i te hoa;
Ko to pai waewae te tuku mai ki ahau,
Kia huaina atu, e arotau ana mai.
Ka te tiriwa te ripa ki Kinikini;
Kua puawhea te rae ki Hikurangi,
Ki nga tai omanga i te ipukarea o Mokau.
Me ruku ware au te reinga tupapaku;
Kei whakamau kau ki Muru-a-nuku,
Ki taku tau tupu i awhi ai maua.

Hariata Te Huia Rapata – Waikato/Waiohua

How oft do bitter words fall needlessly from ones lips;
So echoes the clamor of the TOA paddle.
Allaying the fears within the anxious tidings;
For I was unmindful of the shelter of Taramainuku.
Is the great Kaiwhare to be confined within the entangled nets?
Unheeded were the accomplishments of Tāwhaki.
You yourself remained always with your friend;
And your kindly footsteps ne’er did come to me,
As a token that you were inclined to see my way.
The dividing line was the hill of Kinikini;
And stormy winds blew upon the heights at Hikurangi,
Where ends the trail of the treasures of Mokau.
Let me, unsung, plunge into the hereafter of the dead;
Rather than fix my mind on Muru-a-nuku,
Where my true love of yesteryear awaits my resolve.

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