Karl Burrows and Anthony Hoete introduce the Birkbeck screening of: Te Hono Ki Aoteroa, a ‘waka taua‘, or maori war canoe made from a 800 year old NZ native tree. The waka taua was built for the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden, Holland. In Maori culture, artefacts are treated as living entities not museum pieces: historic canoes are paddled not hung from walls. In Britain, a nation with a long and proud maritime history, increasingly old ships are not kept afloat and, as The Guardian has reported, the Cutty Sark was “dead even before she went up in flames” in 2007. Today the Cutty Sark is held in dry dock suspension and conservation in the Western sense is thus more akin to preservation. The Maori understanding and treatment of heritage is unique (horitage) for its sees heritage as being alive and this represents a decolonisation of conservation. There is also an anecdotal relationship between the maori meeting house Hinemihi (Grade 2 Listed Building sitting in Clandon) and a waka taua. Maori culture is steeped in mythology and the sighting of a phantom war canoe on Lake Tarawera in 1886 was an omen, a sign of death to all who saw it. The apparition was widely discussed and Maori consulted their tohunga, Tuhoto Ariki, who foretold a disaster would overwhelm the area. Mount Tarawera erupted. The documentary Te Hono Ki Aoteroa has undisputed localised cultural value (for Maori, NZers, maritimologists?..) yet the distant event of cutting down a 800 year old tree and its chain-saw and chisel conversion into a naval vessel also raised some questions in relation to both boat and building heritage:
  • in order to carve a canoe, how do you get a 4-tonne log out of the forest?
  • how much did Te Hono Ki Aoteroa cost and who paid?
  • how did Te Hono Ki Aoteroa get to Europe? We imagine a war canoe being loaded onto an Air NZ 747 to become a flying boat as fantastical…
  • with reference to Great Fleet Myth, how would a canoe with such a minimal freeboard stay afloat in the turbulent South Pacific oceanic currents? In the documentary Te Hono, waka rangatira Hekenukumai Busby offered some lucid bush science when commenting that 800 year opld trees weather and ager asymmetrically such that the “heart of the tree is not in the centre”. The heart of a tree, like the human heart, is displaced. The cross-sectional rings of a tree denote not only age but also an asymmetric density. If the log is cut correctly this will provide stable buoyancy to the canoe as the heavier part of the log naturally turns and orientates like a keel when put to water…
Thanks to NZSN, KEA and the October Gallery in London.

000off_survey monkey business

In our informational age, statistics and data have been increasingly deployed as architectural strategies to legitimise design activities. The datascapes of MVRDV, for example, analyse the contemporary city in terms of pure information: “a city that knows no given topography, no prescribed ideology, no representation, no context. Only huge, pure data”. The MetaCity/DataTown project was positioned on the threshold between data visualisation and urban planning and attempted to provoke new architectural and urban thinking. The manipulation of data in a spatial manner with the accompanying all-persuasive power of numeracy means statistics has also be found to bolster weak arguments too. Mark Twain’s phrase “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” exposes the interpretative nature of statistics. Today SurveyMonkey proclaims itself as the world’s most popular online survey tool yet in its name recognises that in the retrieval of data and information as a means of consultation validation there is an element of monkey business.


The NZ Studies Network lecture provided the opportunity to triangulate the Hinemihi Project from three perspectives: art, archeology and  architecture. The lecture also allowed for an element of improvisation and ‘maori performance’ by subverting the ordinarily passive role of the audience and demanding active audience participation. Thanks to Rosanna Raymond’s ‘I am a house’, the audience were animated into the constituent parts of a whare whilst the lecture ended with the audience voting for which architectural strategy was best for the project (WHAT_rrrrrchitecture? from R1: repair, R2: restore, R3: reuse, R4: redevelop, R5: relocate). Interestingly enough R5 threw up the option of relocating Hinemihi to London!?

072hin_NZ Studies Network Conference

The conference aimed to examine the ‘making of New Zealanders’ in the past, present and future. It will focus on New Zealand and its many different cultures, exploring their origins, historical sources and influences, contemporary changes and future developments. It aims to embrace as many as possible of the disciplinary fields within the humanities, social sciences and the natural sciences. We anticipate that the cultures that will be explored will include not only the more obvious national, ethnic and religious ones, but the practices and mindsets of governmental, professional, business, educational, religious and sporting subcultures, and of cultures found in other daily occupations and interests, such as eating, drinking and entertainment. We are interested in how elements of national culture have been imported from the Pacific, the UK, the USA, Europe and Australia, and how they have been exported through migration, disapora, and the media. We welcome proposals that approach New Zealand’s cultures from alternative, ‘outsider’ perspectives, and those that consider whether or not New Zealand’s cultures exhibit any remarkable ‘exceptionalism’.




Small modest things can, at times, inspire visions of granduer. The recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations included a Buckingham Palace concert featuring popular music artists from the UK. Now we have certain insider information that leads us to understand that our Queen doesn’t necessarily want to look like an embarrassing funky grandmother: Tinie Tempah ain’t on the royal playlist and rightly so: don’t pretend to be something you’re not but show a courtesy. Time moves on as one generation cedes to the next. The Jubilee concert demonstrated a certain UKPR savvy by recognising that in 2012 QE2 needs to be seen as being in touch with her people. A (rooftop) performance by the soft-ska band Madness singing ‘Our House’ was memorable for the projected imagery of terrace houses onto Buckingham Palace. Juxtapose imagery represents a powerful mechanism (i.e. comparative analysis) to highlight the divergence between where we have come from and where we are going. And at the same time a convergence which maintains identity, origin, home. The project Hinemihi is projected with a similar portent. A small humble grass hut can unify and inspire visions of greatness in the enormous 2012 London Olympic arena. Hinemihi welcomes the NZ Olympic team to her on August the 8th as part of Te Maru O Hinemihi’s project consultation… .

072hin_maori fashion!?

When a culture become inclusive rather than exclusive, it leads to appreciation, then eventually understanding. The appropriation of culture is a creative activity. Let’s take fashion as a case in point: it’s a long way from the whare traditions of ta moko, piu piu and tukutuku to the contemporary fashion houses of tattoo, skirt and tapestry evident in facial cosmetics Jean-Paul Gaultier, dresses by Shona Tawhiao and smocks of Marni…


Some cultures have visual motifs so specific, so readily identifiable in their iconography that the motif is intertwined and inseparable from that culture’s history. When a motif is  omnipresent, it is a cultural logo. So what is specific about the South Pacific? Polynesian patterns derive from traditional craftsmanship  that use simple forms (circles, triangles, lines…) and often applied ‘folk’ styles of decoration. What the folk? Folk is according to Wiki: “art produced from an indigenous culture or by peasants or other laboring tradespeople.” Much like the English Arts and Crafts Movement of (East London’s) William Morris, polynesian folk decoration in its hand appliqué was essentially pre-industrial. Such motifs can be found on tapa cloth, tukutuku panels, as tattoo / tä moko and include köwhaiwhai, koru… In modernising its motif, maori culture is at once enhanced yet evolving. Motif modernisation allow new identities to be created to engage and embrace emergent communities such as the Ngati Ranana London-based diaspora. In the transfer from industry to information, craft becomes crafty. Folk today means ethnicity; the example could have been African, Turkish, Maori… MAORI EXAMPLE: There are a number of visual artists who are confronting the modernisation of traditional maori motif. For the NZ artist Gordon Walters, the koru motif was his way of making sense of the environment and reflected the obvious influence of köwhaiwhai and tä moko. Walters’ koru paintings can thus be understood as a profound meeting of Polynesian and European art traditions, where the value of each is upheld. In the image below WHAT_archutecture renders Walter’s 1965 Painting No. 1 in Hinemihi’s original orange-blue colours that were ‘uncovered’ by Dean Sully of the UCL’s Institute of Archeology. More recently Ani O’Neill is a Rarotongan New Zealander of Irish descent whose works of art frequently reference the traditional Pacific arts of lei, weaving, crochet and tivaevae (appliqué). In discussing her work O’Neill has said that “when you stood in the room the circles had an eye-popping, decentralising effect, they made your eyes bounce around… I grew up with a heritage of bright colours, flowers, feasting, sunshine, lagoons… I’m bringing that culture into a developed New Zealand culture that is primarily about progress.” Johnson Witehira‘s digital kowhaiwhai; Modern computer-aided drafting systems use vector-based graphics to achieve a precise radius and can also be used to generate a set of coordinates that accurately describe an arbitrary curve. Such digital drawing systems make use of Bézier splines which allow a curve to be bent in real time on a display screen to follow a set of coordinates, imitating the analogue method of drawing arcs and spirals using French curves: Influenced by such abstract interpretations, it is now possible to reconsider the iconography of maori meeting house Hinemihi in terms of the structure, geometry and fenestration.


WHAT_architecture presents: ‘Hinemihi Tukutuku Weaving Workshop’ Saturday 18th & Sunday 19th May 2012 Hinemihi is a Maori meeting house located within the grounds of Clandon Park, near Guildford, in Surrey.  Hinemihi originally comes from Te Wairoa, on the North Island of New Zealand, and her creation was commissioned by Chief Aporo Te Wharekaniwha of the sub-tribe Ngati Hinemihi.  To the Maori who built her, Hinemihi was a physical embodiment of an honoured ancestress of Ngati Hinemihi, and Hinemihi is considered to be a living being. Tukutuku are decorative lattice-work panels.  These workshops will start the process of creating tukutuku panels for the interior of Hinemihi similar to those that were in the house before she was dismantled and shipped to Britain.