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Weaving M?ori design into the fabric of Auckland: A Q&A with M?ori design leader Phil Wihongi

LT: How does what you offer influence design in Auckland?

PW: We work across Auckland Council and Council Controlled Organisations, so have considerable reach across the Council wh?nau. We can be involved at the highest strategy level through to project framing and delivery mahi. Externally, we actively reach into the design industry and also out to our design educators. Our work is underpinned by the recognition of those iwi/hap? who hold mana whenua/mana moana over the takiw? of T?maki, and our work with these groups is beginning to shape authentic design responses that reflect this beautiful place – T?maki.

Phil Wihongi, Auckland Council’s M?ori Design Leader, out in the field.

Phil Wihongi, Auckland Council’s M?ori Design Leader.

Why is it important to have someone like yourself working within a local authority?

Local Government has a key role in the promotion and implementation of an authentic M?ori design kaupapa. Council can, and should, maintain an enabling/advocacy function alongside regulatory function. Amongst our team’s many roles is to help define and demonstrate best practice, to build meaningful engagement processes with Mana Whenua, and to document and promote tangible M?ori design exemplars as they arise.

How is Auckland doing in terms of M?ori design?

Hmmmmmn….. It is important to remember that whilst this kaupapa has been undervalued historically, there are a number of factors bubbling right now that are influencing and increasing the ability of our communities to understand and respond to this kaupapa. We are slowly gaining built exemplars that we can point to, and currently have some really exciting public realm work coming through to demonstrate spaces and design developed through an innovative design partnership with Mana Whenua. These things will all help to shape and frame our move from Auckland to T?maki.

We simply don’t have enough M?ori practitioners, and M?ori student numbers coming through the three programmes do not align with demographics – this is an issue that needs addressing. Landscape architecture is little known and even less understood as a design and planning discipline amongst M?ori communities and we collectively need to think about increasing visibility and relevance for M?ori.

How responsive have you found the design community?

A work in progress to be honest, but definitely improving.  The design industry see the value and potentials for design of meaningfully engaging with Mana Whenua and m?tauranga M?ori to create outcomes that are of here. We have a number of ‘live’ initiatives with industry and educators that are focussed on increasing M?ori presence at all levels and areas of the design professions, in particular landscape architecture.

Phil Wihongi says local Government has a key role in the promotion and implementation of an authentic M?ori design kaupapa. Image Credit - Neil Challenger

Phil Wihongi says local Government has a key role in the promotion and implementation of an authentic M?ori design kaupapa. Image: Neil Challenger.

As a M?ori landscape architect, do you feel any special responsibility?

Definitely. I see and feel the legacy of taonga our t?puna have provided for us, and understand the critical importance of providing for those that follow us. We have a number of highly talented young M?ori out in practice now, and it is important that the design community support and grow these taonga.

How well is the profession doing when it comes to cultural considerations and M?ori perspectives? 

The signing of the Ng? Aho/Tuia Pito Ora MOU in 2015 was a foundational moment for landscape architecture, and we are still working out how this agreement can and will guide the profession and practice in Aotearoa. Membership of Te Tau-a-Nuku (M?ori Landscape Architect r?pu) continues to increase. Te Tau-a-Nuku has in the past organised a number of events for the profession around M?ori design kaupapa, and this will continue into the future.

What else could it do?

Whilst design uptake is definitely increasing, we can only achieve meaningful M?ori design outcomes through meaningful involvement of those who hold mana whenua/mana moana. The reality is that design drawing from M?ori kaupapa requires the formation of relationships with Mana Whenua that must extend beyond the transactional, and which must be reciprocal and kept warm to truly be effective. This requires work and commitment from both sides to ensure that all that we do fosters mana.

We simply don’t have enough M?ori practitioners, and M?ori student numbers coming through the three programmes do not align with demographics – this is an issue that needs addressing. Landscape architecture is little known and even less understood as a design and planning discipline amongst M?ori communities and we collectively need to think about increasing visibility and relevance for M?ori.

Anything else you want to add?

Nau te rourou, n?ku te rourou, ka ora ai t?tou. We are in the midst of really exciting times in Aotearoa right now, and our M?ori design community are always looking for new kai.

This was originally published on Landscape Architecture Aotearoa
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