This handsome book will grace many coffee tables throughout New Zealand and abroad, but it’s a much more substantial work than that. It asserts a place of significance for Maori architecture on the world stage and is both well written and beautifully illustrated. It comes at a fortuitous time: there is a welcome reassessment of the previously well-established ‘truths’ of Western thinking and a genuine acceptance that no particular culture has the monopoly on truth and sensibility. Deidre Brown’s book is not the first researched work towards this reformation but it’s the first that threads the development of Maori architecture from pre-colonial times to the present day in a way that’s comprehensible to both non-Maori and non-architects alike.
Brown describes how Maori culture—and its way of understanding the world—is manifested in architecture. She shows how Maori deploy the architectural devices found in the bedrock of all cultures: from spatial organisation to carved decoration, all brought together in a seamless narrative. She goes on to show how Maori adopted technologies from their interaction with the new arrivals from Europe and adapted their own architectural typologies to contend with the colonisation of their land. This process of adoption and adaptation by Maori continues today with a new generation of artists, architects and designers creating new responses to contemporary challenges—even exporting this fresh synthesis back to England for a nursery school in the borough of Hackney in London!
In the end, the things that struck me most in Maori Architecture were the importance of process: how the architecture is brought into being and the intelligibility of the underlying symbolism. One cannot look on the meeting house without expressing wonder; Maori Architecture explains the origins and extension of this archetypal building without diluting its magic.