How Maori will rebuilt Christchurch look?

Tui Falwasser, left, Aroha Reriti-Crofts, and Debbie Tikao, of the Matapopere Trust, at carved Maori sayings at the Terraces on Oxford Terrace.
Tui Falwasser, left, Aroha Reriti-Crofts, and Debbie Tikao, of the Matapopere Trust, at carved Maori sayings at the Terraces on Oxford Terrace.

How Maori will rebuilt Christchurch look?

Let’s start a stroll through central Christchurch at Victoria Square. After a stoush over the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority’s plans to radically alter the square, a working group did a lot of talking and recommended keeping Victoria Square pretty much as it is. Paths will be modernised and widened, a punt/waka stop will be established and so forth.

The statues of Queen Victoria and Captain Cook and the Bowker Fountain will be retained. And a few Maori elements will be added: a work by a Ngai Tahu artist on a low retaining wall and a significant new Ngai Tahu artwork. There’s a strong desire to say something about the Ngai Tahu signatories of the Treaty of Waitangi.

This is the work of the Matapopere, a charitable trust tasked with “making Ngai Tuahuriri and Ngai Tahu values and stories more visible within this new emerging city”, says general manager Debbie Tikao. It provides cultural, artistic and design advice to Christchurch City Council, Otakaro Ltd and Regenerate Christchurch (Cera’s successors) with the intention to “weave” Ngai Tahu values into the anchor projects.

The very English Victoria Square will not get the major overhaul proposed by Cera but will get a work by a Ngai Tahu artist on a low retaining wall and a significant new Ngai Tahu artwork.
The very English Victoria Square will not get the major overhaul proposed by Cera but will get a work by a Ngai Tahu artist on a low retaining wall and a significant new Ngai Tahu artwork.

Matapopere is not about political power or economic clout. It’s about architecture, design, art, decoration and values.

The significant Victoria Square artwork is still being developed, so it can’t be described. But it will “sensitively sit in that landscape and have some substance”, says Tikao. There will be a “strong Ngai Tahu presence and a more balanced presence” in the square, she says. “We didn’t want to demolish and start again.”

It’s hard to think of a more place more symbolically important to the Ngai Tahu experience under colonialism in Christchurch. It was an important pre-contact Ngai Tuahuriri mahinga kai (food gathering site) and a Maori market in early colonial days. But it was transformed into a paean to the queen, already three years into her reign when the treaty was signed, and the guy who claimed Aotearoa for her crown, Captain Cook.

A detail from a 130-metre long story arc depicting Ngai Tahu and Pakeha migration and settlement at Takaro A Poi/Margaret Mahy playground.
A detail from a 130-metre long story arc depicting Ngai Tahu and Pakeha migration and settlement at Takaro A Poi/Margaret Mahy playground.

And when Ngai Tuahuriri – the hapu or sub-tribe with traditional rights and responsibilities over the Christchurch CBD – got the chance to radically remake the square, they didn’t. Instead there will be rebalancing. The queen and captain will get a Maori neighbour.

Rebalancing comes up a lot. “The English aesthetic is very visible and character defining within Christchurch,” says Tikao. “Ngai Tuahuriri inspire to have a more balanced presence.”

Otakaro Ltd calls this adding “an additional layer [to Victoria Square] which celebrates the city’s bi-cultural heritage”.

Artwork at Takaro A Poi/Margaret Mahy playground's water park depicting tuna (eels) by Ngai Tahu artist Priscilla Cowie.
Artwork at Takaro A Poi/Margaret Mahy playground’s water park depicting tuna (eels) by Ngai Tahu artist Priscilla Cowie.

Let’s stroll now to Takaro A Poi Margaret Mahy Family Playground, recognising that dual names in official Christchurch are a given. Amid the slides, trampolines and sand pits is a 130-metre long Story Arc depicting Ngai Tahu and Pakeha migration and settlement. Included in the arc are lines written by Mahy and Elsie Locke and others in te reo Maori.

The te reo matters. Kids are taught Maori at school but they are not speaking it in the city, says Tikao. “If they see their own language in the urban environment, then maybe they’ll be more comfortable speaking it in public.”

Look too for the colourful blue and green splash pad at the playground’s water park. It depicts tuna or eels by Ngai Tahu artist Priscilla Cowie. A mix of native and exotic plantings and trees were also influenced by Matapopere.

A compass at the northwest entrance to the Hine-Paka Bus Interchange highlights landscapes of significance.
A compass at the northwest entrance to the Hine-Paka Bus Interchange highlights landscapes of significance.

So there’s a Maori presence at the playground, but it’s almost all at ground level and muted. You’d have trouble tripping over it.

“Art is a visual language which can express the narratives and underlying cultural values of Ngai Tuahuriri,” says Tui Falwasser, a Matapopore arts advisor.

Let’s walk now to Hine-Paka Bus Interchange. Matapopere came late to this project, Tikao says, but worked in Maori and Ngai Tahu themes of navigation, travel, constellations and tipuna (ancestors). Most of this is decoration, and high up in the vaulted ceiling, but a compass etched into paving outside the northwest entrance is hard to miss. It highlights landscapes of significance.

“Each precinct is unique and as such each approach is different,” Tikao says. “Some precincts and buildings will have a stronger visible Ngai Tuahuriri / Ngai Tahu aesthetic, whereas some precincts might have a stronger ecological / mahinga kai focus.”

A short walk brings us to the Justice Precinct. “People should start paying attention” to this project because Matapopere was deeply involved, Tikao says. A large art work by Ngai Tahu creative Lonnie Hutchinson will “cloak” one side of the building and will reflect “significant relationships between Kaiapoi Pa and Banks Peninsula”. Hutchinson also created window frits, or decorations, depicting the huia feather.

Hutchinson is a contemporary Maori artist, and more traditional forms of Maori art will be seen inside the Justice Precinct, especially the works led by Fayne Robinson a Ngai Tahu master carver.

Maori motifs on the Colombo Street frontage of the Hine-Paka Bus Interchange.
Maori motifs on the Colombo Street frontage of the Hine-Paka Bus Interchange.

These elements and others will be officially unveiled at a later date. Tikao enthuses that it will be good and abundant enough for a book.

Ngai Tahu weren’t prepared to be design and art advisers when the iwi became a statutory partner under the Cera legislation, an observer from the architectural community once said in a social situation. Formally the trust didn’t exist until July 2014, two years after the blue print was released.

“Embedding indigenous values into a contemporary urban environment at this scale is a global first,” Tikao says. “There has been no template to draw upon … We’ve been working it out as we’ve gone … and we’re getting better results now than when we first embarked on this journey.”

Tikao says Ngai Tuahuriri / Ngai Tahu first had to consider and write narratives about Otakaro and the anchor project places, a project led by Dr Te Maire Tau a former deputy chair of the trust. These narratives all included deep consideration of values.

Among them is manaakitanga, the extension of charity, hospitality, reciprocity and respect to others. This has practical consequences. Places should have a strong whanau focus, down to considering that seating arrangements should accommodate whole families. Many families can’t afford cafes in the central city, they bring their own food and need large picnic tables.

“This is not necessarily standard urban design practice,” Tikao says. “Some of this stuff gets missed.”

It’s time to cross over to Otakaro / Avon River Precinct. It embodies another value – mahinga kai, the knowledge and value of customary food gathering places. Matapopere was deeply involved in the restoration of the river, a literary trail that will follow the river and 13 Nga Whariki Manaaki, or Woven Mats of Welcome that will likewise follow the river from Christchurch Hospital to the playground.

Inspired by traditional woven fabrics, these mats are made from stone pavers set into foot paths. Each mat serves a different function – welcome, remembering those who fell in battle, togetherness and the like. Some are already installed and others will follow.

The river precinct says a lot about how Matapopere operates. It has three staff on fixed-term contracts and a long list of advisers with specific technical expertise and traditional knowledge. These are called upon as needed.

Matapopere is a consultancy, Tikao says. “We do work and we get paid.”

“Everything we do is done through collaboration which is a really rewarding and successful way to work.”

It’s not far to the Metro Sports Facility. The preliminary design was released in mid-September and focused on the number and depth of swimming pools, the nine netball courts, seating and so forth. But Matapopere got credit too: “This facility will embody mana whenua values and stories which will celebrate the uniqueness of this landscape and our identity. These qualities will contribute to a facility which will be enjoyed by the whole community,” said Matapopore chair Aroha Reriti Crofts.

“The one thing that wasn’t readily apparent was the overriding concept we got from Ngai Tahu and the local iwi – the concept of well being, and looking after people and looking after the community,” says Otakaro Ltd chief executive Albert Brantley.

“There was a good interchange of ideas that went back and forth,” he says. “Sometimes they wanted things done with a certain material and then there’s a degree of pragmatism that was brought and its never really been an issue,” he says.

Matapopere looks for the “best outcomes while keeping within budget”, Tikao says. “To get things off the ground, you need to compromise.”

Matapopere’s influence at Metro Sports went as far as colour schemes. The five planned hydroslides, for example, were seen as eels by Matapopere’s consultants and since eels are black, the hydroslides will be black. At least for now. There is much work to be done on detailed design of the sports facility.

Matapopere’s input has been “very good”, says Warren and Mahoney’s managing director Peter Marshall. His architectural firm played key roles in the 100 day blueprint, the Justice Precinct and the Metro Sports Facility, and has worked closely with Ngai Tahu.

“It’s good to have a broader context and get another stakeholder perspective,” he says. Matapopere’s effectiveness goes beyond decoration, he says. The iwi explained their underlying values and understandings of places and projects, he says, and this influenced the design.

W&M architects and designers met often with Matapopere’s people, visited their maraes, listened hard. This is fairly new for Canterbury but more common on the North Island, Marshall says.

Our walk through central Christchurch could include a visit to the South Frame, which Matapopere helped to make, in part, a “story of stone”. But that’s another story.

For now, mark the words of Otakaro Ltd’s Brantley: “Matapopere will be an integral part of the design team for the Metro Sports Facility moving forward”. At the Convention Centre, the next anchor project, “we’ll be doing exactly the same thing with Matapopere”.

You sense that Matapopere’s consultants and people are gaining ambition, their designs and art are getting bolder, and that the Convention Centre could be their highest achievement to date.

Originally posted by: The Press
Posted: September 24th, 2016