“There is a place for you”: How Te Tiriti makes room for everyone in architecture and design.

In November we hosted an online seminar about how Te Tiriti o Waitangi can help built-environment professionals create a more equitable future in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The presentation by Ngā Aho member Jade Kake (nō Ngāpuhi ki Whangārei, Te Whakatōhea, Te Arawa) and Ngā Aho Co-Chair Desna Whaanga-Schollum (nō Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Kahungunu, Pāhauwera) delved into their personal experiences as Māori design practitioners, the importance of tapping into Māori networks within design professions and all the ways that utilising Te Tiriti as both a driver for statutory change and cultural change is making our built environment more inclusive.

But they also highlighted that despite efforts in recent years and increasing visibility of Māori, Pasifika and BIPOC practitioners, the architecture profession is still overwhelmingly homogenous. Jade and Desna’s kōrero looks at how Te Tiriti provides a blueprint for change, while leaving room for everyone to find their place.

We’ve pulled out ten quotes that provide a quick guide to how Te Tiriti might be able to help you and your practice be more inclusive. We highly recommend you watch the whole presentation to discover more insights and context for the value of Tiriti-based architecture and design.

Remember: there is a place for everybody

Jade Kake: Under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, there is a role for everybody and there’s a place for everybody.  I think sometimes people feel threatened by this idea of the Treaty because they don’t understand where they sit.  They go, “Well, what about me? I didn’t choose to be born here,” or, “I didn’t choose this and that, and does that mean I’m excluded?  Does that mean there’s no place for me?” No, under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, if it is honoured and observed in the way it was it intended, there is a place for everybody. I hope that we can start to think of our profession in this way. 

Focus on shared goals

Desna Whaanga-Schollum: When you’re considering how to tell where you sit within a Treaty landscape, it’s good to remember that we do share kaupapa, or values. We’d all like see people being healthy. We’d all like to see the environment being healthy, and we’d like see our lived spaces that we occupy being healthier. Through those shared kaupapa, I think there’s always the potential for stronger connections.

Understand why diversity really does matter

Jade: As architecture practitioners, we like to think that we’re really good at engaging radical empathy, and we try to design spaces that meet those needs. But there’s limits to that. If our assumptions go unchallenged, we end up with places – particularly civic, but also commercial and residential – that do not meet the needs of those that are using and living in and occupying these spaces. That is the importance of diversity in our profession.

We really need more Māori and more Pasifika in architecture, but we also need more from other cultures, because again, it’s a problem for everybody if the profession is overwhelmingly Pākehā and male. It means that only one segment of the population is represented. 

Practice the healing power of respect

Desna: It can be extremely challenging being Māori in the design profession. If you’re tangata whenua and you’ve come from that philosophical background, then you go out to the commercial professions, there can be a certain kind of ‘violence’ in the way that the way that people accept or don’t accept the way Māori see the world, and what our priorities are. 

Within a Treaty framework, respect is key: that’s respect for each other and respect in all of our interactions. Also respecting those, such as our kaumātua (elders), that have that authority and responsibility to place and that connection to place.

Collaborate for better outcomes

Jade: I’ve been really fortunate to work this some mainstream practices on some really fantastic projects in a collaborative set-up. I’ve been there as a designer, who’s been appointed by my hapū, and able to work collaboratively with these very experienced, very skilled, mainstream architects, to get a really fantastic design outcome. Maybe that is a future for our profession: where we start to see this partnership, but it’s on more of an even footing, and we all understand our place, whether it’s as tangata Tiriti or tangata whenua.

Ask yourself: who’s not in the room?

Desna: It’s really important to give space to those that may not usually have space. Whenever we go into a conference, a hui or a panel discussion, I’m always thinking: Who isn’t here? Who could we be making space for? What voices are not being heard in this landscape? Whether that’s rangatahi (youth), kaumātua or people that are coming from different cultural backgrounds. It’s important that we help to create space for them. We also need to ask how we can share our knowledge in a way that everybody can connect with, rather than as something to guard and keep ‘secret’ for the purposes of competition.

The more we share our ideas and the more we share our wisdoms, the better it is for all of us – our environment, ourselves, our rangatahi, our kaumātua, our professions – in the way that we go about weaving these spaces.

Recognise the importance of giving back

Jade: We will often see Pākehā architects, usually men, and let’s say they work on a project with iwi as the client. They do a beautiful building that wins a lot of awards. Not to undermine the mana whenua who are the client, because they have the right to work with whomever they choose, but my question to that practitioner is always: what are you doing to give back to that mana whenua group? How are you connecting with their practitioners so that you’re obsolete? 

Know when to let go of competition

Desna: I think the strengths of a Western knowledge system and a Te Ao Māori knowledge system is that the Western system, built around tertiary education institutes, is largely based on comparing everybody’s knowledges and pitting them against each other. From that, we move forward in a way that is a scientific method of approaching knowledge. If you look at Mātauranga Māori, which includes te reo, that’s connected specifically to place and to long-term occupation of a place. That knowledge, which is embedded in our landscape, brings a slightly different perspective in terms of time, too. Mātauranga is also based on weaving everybody together, as opposed to setting us up in competition with one another.

It’s interesting to go back and forth between these two knowledge systems and really think about how we can connect with each other and use our tools to create change. How do we take the tools that we’ve had the privilege to learn through tertiary education and weave them together to create some difference for our people? 

Show up as yourself

Desna: One of the things that fundamentally changes the way you go about doing your work is really thinking about where you come from and what it is that drives your mahi and asking, how do you connect with place? I think it’s worthwhile considering that in your mahi, you always go forward as yourself, and as a representation of your ancestors. Your kids (the next generation) are going to follow along those pathways after you, so it’s vital to be present in these conversations as yourself and all that you represent. 

Think of the Treaty as a cloak over us all

Jade: In Aotearoa I think we are fortunate because we have Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which is a korowai over everybody. That’s our tool and our opportunity to address the inequities that exist.

Watch the full recording of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and equity in architecture

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