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Building meeting grounds.

Increasingly, students' first languages, cultures and epistemological frameworks derive not from the West, but apart from and often quite outside it. Hence, questions arise that are not easily assimilated to mainstream Western thinking and research practices. In essence, these questions are always framed by an architectural phenomenon: thinking takes place, and it does so within and without particular places. The issues raised by this condition are pondered in this article. How to locate oneself and one's practice in another culture? Should non-Western knowledge be seamlessly integrated into the local in the "West" (and its colonial realm), or could a friction or traction between cultures, languages and modes of thinking prove fruitful? How can architectural considerations be out of bounds, yet in contact with specific local and/or native thinking and practices in Aotearoa/New Zealand? How, then, to admit modes of thought, art and practice that are intimately part of students' being, but that often seem incompatible with the Academy? How can knowledge generated under this condition contribute to research more widely? What specific aspects make some students' situation different, and what can their supervisors do to respond?

Prior to this, however, is the issue of making things visible and open to conceptualization, and thereby comprehensible, outside of their culture. When both student and supervisor learn to deal with epistemic potentialities, which relate practice and theory, native and new cultures in different ways, they are likely to experience fruitful encounters and reversals.

This article will explore these issues in the postgraduate architecture theses of Maori and Pacific students: to be precise, in two master's and one doctoral theses by research and three master's thesis projects consisting of designs of wrestling to build a common ground in concepts such as "space," "material," "earth," "sky," "threshold," "ocean," "museum," "exhibition" and "tectonics," origins were excavated in all cases and the oceans navigated between the South Seas, Europe and its colonies, between today and the times before written history. In these supervisions, links had to be forged between anthropological understandings of material culture and specifically architectural understandings of materials and making. These understandings were explored in elementary modes, such as the ensemble of weaving, cutting, stacking and moulding proposed as fundamental by the nineteenth century architect-theorist Gottfried Semper, and models that link material culture and praxis to cosmogony and symbolism (Semper, 2004, see also Pearce (1994) and Henare (2006)).

Meeting without Knowing: Three Research Theses

The cultivation of a point of intersection or encounter is, of course, generally important in research supervision. In the interactions of supervisor and candidate in formulating a project that is, in arriving at it and then in locating relevant concepts that will inform the project's development, a common language is established.

This general principle attained another layer of complexity when I began supervision with Pacific postgraduates, initially with two Tongan research master's students working on Tongan topics who had chosen me to fill in when their intended supervisor had to take leave for medical reasons. For when concepts have to be translated from one position to another (e.g., from one culture to another), a set of contested fields can be identified that may have to be bridged by mediatory terms. Just as there is never a perfect translation between languages, so there is never a perfect translation between language and culture; there is always subtle semantic slippage. But, it is in this very slippage that the most interesting interpretations and re-presentations of knowledge systems emerge as understanding operates in a liminal territory between languages and cultures.

In this encounter, which necessarily involves not knowing, a dialogue develops that transforms its participants, as Hans-Georg Gadamer put it, "into a communion, in which we do not remain what we were" (1975: 371). This not knowing was never more obvious to me than with these particular postgraduates. With them, supervision had to be dialogical, an encounter, a discovery of and discourse on fundamental terms, where nothing can be taken for granted and everything becomes a source of question, contestation, quandary and wonder.

Space, time and house

Semisi Fetokai Potauaine's M.Arch thesis was the first of such encounters for me. It examined the traditional Tongan fale (house) with the intention of developing a specifically indigenous epistemology (Potauaine, 2010). He located the act of building within a schema of a threefold division-material arts, performance arts and fine arts-in a meditation on aesthetics as expressed in language and crafts, including poetry and dance. Central to the thesis was the proposition of the role of the arts as mediators in relationships of exchange, which give rise to order or conflict, manifest verbally thorough intersecting meanings and, in the visual arts, through intersecting lines and spaces. Order arises through tatau (symmetry) at the intersections of the fourfold of ta (time), va (space), fuo (form) and uho (substance). Symmetry, he argued, is what in Tongan thinking transforms chaos into order. Continual successions of symmetries through intensification, moreover, produce harmony and beauty. Intersection requires differences and oppositions to come together in conflict and in resolution. Characteristically, symmetries are embodied by what is called heliaki, the device of intersecting or intertwining meanings in poetry and intersecting lines, colours and spaces in the visual arts. This is found particularly in traditional lashing and fabric patterns, which derive from the interpenetration of the colours kula (red, understood as male), and uli (black, as female). In fact, these binaries would appear to constitute an extraordinary measure of Tongan thinking, offering potential for conflict and symmetry, as Potauaine put it,

By implication, on the one hand, time, form, red, day, sun, life happiness and enlightenment are masculine, and, on the other, space, content, black, night, moon, death, sadness and ignorance are feminine (Potauaine, 2010: 116).

Such binaries require some pondering on the part of outsiders, particularly given philosophical trends to deconstruct any such configurations in Western thinking (in the Pacific they are thought relationally, as interlacings, not oppositionally). Moreover, traditionally, at least at my university, it is expected that entry into the academy would mean entry into Western modes of thinking, through and after which other cultures might be investigated. In fact, after Potauaine submitted his thesis, a dean of graduate studies informed me that such students should first gain a traditional Western master's degree, to be followed by an Oxbridge Ph.D. Only then would they be capable of researching their own culture. From this perspective, Academia would concern quite simply culturally compatible and internally agreed communication. Yet, the generation of new knowledge means little if it cannot be passed to others across cultures.


A major problem becomes visible precisely through new knowledge: things that may be worthy of thought may not be immediately accessible to, expressible within, or capable of being integrated into traditional Western thinking and theses. Here, students may find themselves in conditions of alterity, betweenness or coexistence in double worlds. These may prove to be either a dilemma, a split, or a creative and fruitful intersection and intertwining.

Facing the sky

Bruce Sione To'a Moa's M.Arch thesis (2011) concerned the ancient royal langi (tombs) of Tonga's most sacred paramount chiefs (the Tu'i Tonga). The langi, as Moa describes it, "is typically an earth mound retained by walls of tilted slabs made of coral sandstone or reef limestone," quarried from surrounding coastal areas of the archipelago (61). The tomb consists of "mainly undressed stones while others are carefully cut, fitted, dressed and smoothed to form the elaborate pyramidal structure of the langi" (61).

Moa's research arose from his dissatisfaction with conventional academic content. He turned towards something outside the architectural academy, his own culture. At its most basic, the thesis was an objection to the status quo: most discussion, architectural and otherwise, concerning Oceanic buildings had put the primary focus on tectonics (which is to say, timber construction) typified by the fale, rather than masonry tombs, platforms or altars (which Semper terms "stereotomy"). Thus, Moa argued, "the langi tombs need to be equally recognized as stone architecture with their own fundamental theories and tenets. Monumental stone architecture exists across Moana-Oceania" (175). Like all the students I mention here, Moa treated the very words "Pacific Ocean" and "Polynesia" with suspicion. The indigenous word for ocean, moana, implies not separation between islands --the Continental perception--but the ocean as continuity and connection between them.

One of Moa's most important contributions to knowledge was as an interpreter of facts outside of the established discourse: as an architect, he created fine, intuitive syntheses between structure and ornament, carpentry and stonecutting, social hierarchy and architectural form, word and building --relationships that traditional anthropological scholarship had not quite been able to comprehend.

In attempting to uncover the rationale for the design of the langi, Moa found compelling connections between the stepped form of these tombs and what he argued was their representation in a pattern known as fata-'oTu'i-Tonga (literally "pallbearer of the Tu'i Tonga"), a kupesi (classical motif of intersecting binary colours) represented in traditional lalava (lashings), lalanga (mat weaving) and koka'anga (bark cloth making). Langi were erected to mark and commemorate the sacred kings, believed to be direct descendants from the sky (the normal meaning of the word langi), the realm and residency of the god Tangaloa. Tangaloa created the first man and also anointed the first individual of the sacred line of kings. In the traditional Tongan house (fale) the sky is referred to in the highest timber member of the roof. Likewise, the Tu'i Tonga is called sky, placing him at the top of Tongan social structure, and at times he is seated on the sky (the langi-tomb).


Another connection in this web is the fata-'o-Tu'i-Tonga pattern's pointing, in Moa's reading, to the act of carrying, supporting a load (the term fata refers to a horizontal support structure in the fale, as well as to genealogy). The tiered, pyramid structure of the langi, elevated above the ordinary people, parallels the hierarchy of the deities. Further, traditional lashing and fabric patterns derive from the interpenetration of the colours kula and uli. Moa argued that in the case of the langi tomb, the colours are interpreted as stone (red-male) and soil (black-female), which come together by intersection. As with the fata-'o-Tu 'i-Tonga pattern lashed in the fale, the langi "was intended to be viewed from above, by the eyes-face of Tangaloa from the sky, signifying and connecting Tangaloa with the Tu'i Tonga" (Moa, 2011: 175). Unlike most conventional architectural cultures based on facades, the principal face here is the horizontal surface directed vertically to the sky.

Designing a house to meet in

The tradition of placing candidates in an on-going, wider research project may be productive for some, if their contribution is to be no more than a part of research as yet unexamined in detail, which can then be integrated into the larger project in a positive way. In such situations, candidates are likely to align themselves with a particular scholarly position. For the supervisors, this has the great advantage of engaging with the candidate right in the centre of their on-going research engagement, which presumably they know very well. Nevertheless, a position of unknowing can also be fruitful: it may lead to a situation where one's teaching comes into question and entails risk, courage, and a certain amount of trust. When concepts and practices from outside challenge Western research, the Socratic paradox (The Apology) of the principle of not knowing ("I do not suppose that I know," Plato, 2008) may, taken seriously, lead to greater attentiveness to and responsibility for the matter at hand. Benefits can arise from not being bound into pre-established frameworks, topics or discipleships, since experts who do not assume sovereignty over the field within which they claim expertise, may see the potential of different or unusual approaches to the subject matter.

Albert Refiti, a Samoan candidate, was trained and practiced in architecture. He is perfectly suited to working back and forth between Polynesian and Western frameworks and widely read in Western philosophy, architectural theory and anthropology. He brought his knowledge to a doctorate devoted to the traditional meeting-house, faletele, as exemplification of the Samoan experience and understanding of what we call "space." His doctorate is an excavation of origins, a way of navigating across the moana of the South Seas, to Europe and its colonies, between the times before written history and today (Refiti, 2015).

Our meetings were dialogical, an encounter, a discovery of and discourse on fundamental terms, where nothing could be taken for granted. Since I am not a speaker of Samoan, we were faced with the task of finding a conversation in which we could establish a common language. Without even intending to, we probed unanswerable questions such as: What is space? What is time? What is material?--Western or otherwise. My lack of expertise in Refiti's field seemed to prove fruitful to the extent that it led to interchanges and questioning, as I tried to locate my knowledge of Western antiquity against his of the same, and of Samoa. "Is it like this?" I asked, filtering the Samoan cosmogony, divinities and mythologies through Homer, Hesiod and current accounts of antiquity. Refiti would contemplate my suggestion and reply: "Yes, something like that," or, "No--not at all, it's rather like...." Establishing links between anthropological understandings of material culture and specifically architectural ones, we explored and linked theories in order to find common ground. Thus, Gottfried Semper (who relied on the anthropologist Gustav Klemm) led us to examine concepts of place, social interaction, time-space, making and materiality, especially the theorization of Semper's Four Elements: weaving, cutting, stacking and moulding. Semper, too, had linked material culture and praxis to cosmogony and symbolism, and grouped craftspeople around these categories. We discussed how Semper's concepts might relate to the Samoan guild of building experts, tufuga, and how they might, in turn, relate to Austronesian, Polynesian and Samoan culture. Theorists linking architecture to anthropology, like Joseph Rykwert, or anthropology to architecture, like Tim Ingold, provided useful models for developing the topic. Thus, embodied and local knowledge could be connected with architectural knowledge.


Perhaps it is only when a candidate has a foot and an existence in both cultures that opportunities of tapping the "between" arise together with the most interesting cross-cultural encounters. Reflective questioning of this situation is rare and overshadowed by the desire for cultural fit. Refiti had a back-up team of Samoan experts in language, history and anthropology, but not in architecture. As supervisor, I tried to take the position of critical respondent, rather than speaking from a position of expertise in his field. The discussion of process, the logic of the approach, the rationale and comparisons with other cultures, I trusted, would allow us both to come to grips with the concepts and practices that feature in his thesis, to imagine what they were over the course of Samoan history, and what they might mean today. Essential, from my point of view, was to render an architectural account, even as, at times, the research appeared to stitch together various disciplines.

If not everything can be translated from one culture to another, the cultivation of a point of intersection, encounter or meeting is all the more important. Between the historical fale, on the one hand, and the metaphorical or even actual, still existing fale, on the other, an in-between realm or potential space for the search unfolds where thought can seek its place, seek its basis, while working from that conjectured ground up. Implied in practice-based knowledge, particularly in the embodied skills of guilds (such as the Samoan tufuga), but also in thought passing across cultures, is the idea of a localized knowledge. Thinking which relates to the local, the specific or vernacular craft, as opposed to any theory applied from without, relates and responds to the matter at hand "with all the hidden riches of its nature," as Heidegger puts it, linking the craft of teaching to handcraft itself (1968: 14).

Housing Cultures: Three Project-Based Theses

What is a museum?

Since the 1985 Te Maori exhibition in New York highlighted Maori taonga (tribal treasures), there has been a resurgence in Maori cultural confidence and a revitalisation of the creative and performing arts. Rameka Alexander-Tu'inukuafe's M.Arch(prof) thesis, Te whare tapu o Ngapuhi: An architectural response to Taonga revitalization (2014), points to the fact that there has not yet been any architecture that provides specifically for taonga and embodies the many Maori views of them. Taonga refers to all dimensions of "property" (tribal, sub-tribal, extended family and individual), including ancestral treasures in the form of artifacts, restricted sites, knowledge and genealogies. Alexander-Tu'inukuafe's aim was to investigate tangible and intangible notions of taonga to attempt to translate them into architecture. This endeavour specifically responded to the needs of his tribe, Ngapuhi, which is Aotearoa/New Zealand's largest tribal grouping.

Some of Ngapuhi's most treasured taonga can be traced from chiefs who once cared for them, to explorers who once desecrated, illegally removed them and then to museums where they were subsequently deposited. By the same token, the displacement of art and artifacts from their original contexts in palaces and churches, in the revolutions which produced Western museums, are reminders that the museum as institution has resulted from enormously disruptive events now perhaps quietly forgotten: even in Western cultures, museums are fraught institutions.

Only recently have taonga begun to be repatriated and returned to their ancestral territories. Alexander-Tu'inukuafe's thesis, thus, questions what such things as museums, cultural centres, archives and libraries might mean to Maori, given their longstanding distrust of such institutions. In fact, the term "museum" is inappropriate, he argued, when framing a discourse to revitalize the relationship between tribes and their taonga and to facilitate the repatriation and storage of taonga for future generations in their ancestral homelands. His project was to pose a model for tribal revitalization through tribal custodianship in an "indigenous museum typology" (Alexander-Tu'inukuafe, 2014: 22), which "is conceived from this tension between Ngapuhi and Western positions on taonga" (25). We normally describe an artifact in terms of what it looks like, how it was made and what it does. This is quite different from what is significant to Maori, whose concern, first and foremost, is to whom it belonged and who used it. Associations and links with past ancestors are what give taonga significance for descendants: objects just like land and sites.

The design started from a Western museological perspective (where I was able to help his research) but, after a period of self-reflection, it became obvious that a methodology based on consultation with his tribal community, Maori academics and practitioners was central to the issue so that Western concepts, both anthropological and aesthetic, became less relevant.

As a background to the proposition of an indigenous museum typology, Alexander-Tu'inukuafe was forced to challenge Western notions of research. Thus, for example, the methodology and final "translation" into architecture was inspired largely by "oral based knowledge drawn from a diverse representation of Ngapuhi voices" (20). This perspective is in accord with the notions of Paul Tapsell, a Maori academic, of a "post museum," which involves both taking the object to the landscape whence it arose and the concept of accountability (Tapsell, 1997). Thus, quoting Tapsell, Alexander-Tu'inukuafe proposes that "how you honour your source community as co-producers/co-researchers, is essential and gives a community an opportunity to engage in a museum trajectory" (Tapsell, 2010).

There is no precedent I know of for this type of facility, which physically connects artifacts to their source communities and original contexts. The closest model is a marae (the Maori forecourt-meeting house complex) itself. But the marae's primary role is not exhibition. Even marae with elaborately carved meeting-houses are not open daily to tourists or casual visitors. Rather, marae are communal facilities that are sometimes used for sacred rituals such as funerals, and more frequently for meetings, church services, and unveilings of graves. Yet, many Maori consider it important that taonga remain within their own communities, where local artists can learn from them, rather than having outsiders look after them.

Alexander-Tu'inukuafe had to look for other examples to find the appropriate programme, typology, scale and function for developing his new model. These included the Auckland War Memorial Museum's Maori exhibition area, a typical Western display of taonga, and the Auckland Museum's travelling exhibition, Ko Tawa, which takes an innovative approach to display and engagement with taonga source communities. He also examined a new "heritage trail" visitor experience in the Ngapuhi region which uses the notion of a journey through the landscape as a means of telling a story in architecture; a successful cultural centre in Canada by the Squamish and Lil'wat people, which reveals their unique cultural practices and perspectives; as well as Western concepts of "living museums," or "eco museums" as potential precedents of heritage institutions seeking to "treat the community habitats as living museums and collaborate with community groups" (Galla (2002) quoted in Alexander-Tu'inukuafe, 2014: 26), which fit in with indigenous philosophies on museums. Consequently, he developed a programme for an indigenous museum typology based on an understanding of Maori notions of space, Ngapuhi taonga related rituals, and the concepts of tapu (sacred) and mana (authority, prestige). Ralph Hotere and Shane Cotton, who happen to be two of Aotearoa/New Zealand's leading artists, are of Ngapuhi extraction. The latter's work provided a precedent for the drawing and making practice which Alexander-Tu'inukuafe developed over the course of his thesis.


His final design proposition shows how future interactions of Ngapuhi tribal authorities with taonga and the museum sector could progress. He located the site for the project through a series of diagrams and descriptions of the key considerations for locating such a building in a cultural geographical context. The design, as he put it, "evolved through a dialogue between the taonga" and "the rituals and protocols which activate them" (26). The result was an indigenous museum model for dialogue and exchange, where tribal guardians can both conceal and display taonga, in a place that facilitates their return and also allows Ngapuhi to address and redress past grievances, at the same time opening opportunities to look to the future--a meeting ground.

Twining and intertwining

Justine Mitchell's M.Arch(prof) thesis, Intertwining is concerned with the design of a centre of the arts in Samoa. The thesis takes as its key issue the discrepancy between Western and Oceanic epistemologies of the split between subject and object, and between individual and collective. Thus, she argues, referring to Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi (2007) and Albert Refiti (2005: 55),

[t]he Pacific view of the world posits the idea that when an entity comes into being it exists co-extensively with others. Our bodies are woven flesh, woven with the cosmos and sharing divinity with ancestors, land, seas and skies (Tui Atua quoted in Mitchell, 2014:6).

In this understanding, subject and object are intertwined and neither can ever exist alone. She thus contrasts her own milieu with an individualized West, which differentiates between them, resulting in an environment of disconnection between people, and between people and place, and mayhem as regards traditional societies. The thesis thus begins "a critical dialogue" to engender "a contemporary Samoan and therefore a Pacific architecture, which looks to counteract this disconnection" (Mitchell, 2014: 6).

The word and concept of intertwining are borrowed from Maurice Merleau-Ponty but she twists them to refer to a pluralistic relational self, one that intertwines with many others in a Pacific approach to space and relationships. Along the way, she examines the work of the American architect, Steven Holl, particularly his Chiasma Museum (1993-98), which draws on Merleau-Ponty's late philosophy. She finds his conception of the double awareness of the body, through the hand as felt and as touched, relevant to Pacific perceptions and, consequently, approaches to site, context and environment. In his last essay "The intertwining--the chiasm," Merleau-Ponty posed the idea of the body as a chiasmus, or crisscross, bringing together subjective experience and objective existence (Merleau-Ponty, 1964, 1968). The body distinguishes itself from the world of objects since we experience it. Yet, to perceive, it needs to be of an order with the objects themselves. Subject and world are born in a mutual relationship from "flesh," the body's physical being, where touching and the tangible are different, but interwoven, manifestations. Such perception denies the separation of subject and object; body and world are pre-supposed and inseparable: intertwined.

Mitchell sees this plural sense of the self as coalescing with a Samoan sense of interconnectedness, where the self is never considered primary, singular or individual; rather, it coexists with others through its genealogy.

... your body is not completely yours; it belongs to your forefathers, the lands that gave birth to you and to the family and community which nurtured you, your existence therefore allows the presence of these ancient bodies in the now. (Mitchell, 2014: 41)

She quotes Tui Atua (2007) that Samoans "live not as individuated beings but as beings integrally linked to their cosmos, sharing divinity with ancestors, land, seas and skies." In the Samoan world-view, the individual is inextricably intertwined with family, community, ancestors and environment. Mitchell follows Albert Refiti in arguing that the Samoan "being is a woven flesh, a gene-archaeological matter made of ancestors/land/ community/family" (2011: 99). To acknowledge this is to recognize that buildings must also strive to co-exist with people and with a world. They may be conceived as extensions of the body through which meaningful relationships with the world may be filtered and experienced. Buildings thus also intertwine with the world, enhancing both bodily relationships with it and the distinctive qualities of the world in which it is manifested. What is presented always exists in relation to something else, never alone--like Western individual subjects. Such is the Samoan concept of va. Here she draws on Samoan writer, Albert Wendt:

Va is the space between, the betweenness, not empty space, not space that separates but space that relates, that holds separate entities and things together in the Unity-that-is-All, the space that is context, giving meaning to things (Wendt, 1996).

Based on va, she also develops a Samoan phenomenology of darkness, as a counter to contemporary Western architecture's inclination to eradicate darkness for the sake of modernism's clean, well-lighted places. This darkness, which is a central element of the fale, is highlighted to bring about a resurgence of the appreciation of the beauty of shadows, first advocated in the West by the Japanese writer, Jun'ichiro Tanizaki, and discovered in all the traditional architectures of the Pacific. Darkness and shadow evoke not only the experience of the forefathers, in the mythological abode of the dead in the dark underworld of Pulotu, but also the life of navigation, which relied on reading the stars.

Her design also explores ta tatau (tattooing) in an endeavour "to provide a footing and a complete physical manifestation of an architecture that places emphasis on the human experience and its effects" (Mitchell, 2014: 5). The tatau enables an exploration of space-making beyond the traditional fale (meeting house), whilst maintaining relationships of customary importance.


The mark of tatau exposes one's commitment to Samoan culture, family and community, thus linking its bearer to the collective others. It signifies "its wearer's place in society, binding him communally," and how he is

... no longer regarded as an individual but [as] a part of this assembly of bodies. The tatau itself is a relational being linking its wearer to the community, place, ancestors and family. It is essentially an inscribing that is expressive of the va (Mitchell, 2014:48).

These spatial similarities connect the tattooed body and the fale. The permeable wall-less fale grants an openness that is far-reaching in its inclusions, connecting the fanua (landscape), tau (the natural elements), tagata (the people) and all innate and inanimate entities, including tupu'aga (ancestors). Its function is thus not only concerned with sheltering and uniting bodies but also with fostering the va space of relations.

Mitchell's project seeks out and maintains the relevance of the past within contemporary modes of architectural thought and finds significance in negotiating between them. In appearance, her design may not conform to Samoan forms of construction, but it incorporates the essence of traditional ideas and relationships, nevertheless. By the same token, in seeking "a more holistic experience of space" (Mitchell, 2014: 11), it pushes the limits of Westernized architectures.


Sarah Tu'inukuafe's M.Arch(prof) thesis, A new Oceania (2014), concerns the design of an Oceanic Cultural Centre, where an Oceanic world view is brought to bear on the cultivation of Oceanic culture and the dissemination of histories and perspectives of the Pacific. Arguing that "indigenous architecture is constantly being replaced by Western and colonial projections of architecture," which inherently condone "Eurocentric ideologies and the suppression of indigenous culture" (11), the focus of her research is architecture's role in re-envisioning the Pacific. The problem in the Pacific, as she sees it, is that the replacement of indigenous architecture by colonial and Western architecture further damages "the cultural identities of the Pacific" (111). With her overarching question, "how must one decolonize the Pacific free from the doings and wounds of colonialism in order to envision a more optimistic and liberated Oceania?" (11), the principal research question becomes "How can architecture play a role in the reshaping of the perception of the Pacific and towards a New Oceania?"

The thesis takes its title from Wendt's article "Towards a New Oceania" (1976), which highlighted the suppression and domestication of indigenous culture resulting from colonialism in the Pacific. For Wendt, the quest for a New Oceania is not to revive or preserve tradition, but to recognize and embrace the fact that culture is ever-changing. Her other inspiration is Epeli Hau'ofa who, in re-envisioning the Pacific, proposes to perceive it as "a sea of islands" (1993).


Hau'ofa notes that the Pacific we know today derives from a Western perspective, that is to say, "derogatory and belittling" views (149) that islands in the Pacific are small and of low resources. Counter to this, Hau'ofa argues that Pacific Islanders perceive their worlds as much larger than their lands from the depths of the underworld, to the surrounding ocean, and up to the realms of the skies, which is evident in myths, legends and oral traditions.


Tu'inukuafe's design is a demonstration of this world. For her, this very act of re-envisioning a New Oceania through a Pacific lens is the first step towards decolonization. Moreover, she notes of her project, she aims for the "development of a postcolonial regional identity ... to bring about a sense of unity and common identity among Pacific islanders" (Tu'inukuafe, 2014: 26).. In attempting to articulate a Pacific cosmos, she deploys the concept of va to show that Pacific people's worlds extend beyond the physical into metaphysical and spiritual realms; va being, for Mitchell, an all-encompassing space of relation connecting people to land, families, communities and forbears. Developing the concept of va in the architectural cross section, the project was conceived in the three main layers of the underworld or Pulotu (world of darkness), the sea, and the land. The building effectively becomes the representation of a Pacific cosmology, constructed in a manner which is respectful of indigenous culture and which is defined architecturally by the realities and perspectives of the Pacific.

The very act of drawing the project, and to an extent conceiving it, is intimately entwined with lalava, the traditional craft of sennit bindings that is both structural and symbolic. References to lalava became a means to generate models and a drawing style, which are conceived in terms of the binding together of binary threads in the development of the design, representing land and sea. The design also alludes to the tectonics of the fale in base, columns and roof construction. It is structured around a malae, or meeting ground.

The program of the building is devoted to the reshaping of Oceanic culture, including vaka (canoes) building and art, lalava workshops, as well as an education facility for the relearning of cultural histories and stories which, she notes, "have been belittled" (112).

Clearly, all three theses are linked by a similar thinking, which is a principal reason for their resistance by design. Their architectural propositions may at present be out of bounds, but they are certainly in contact with specific, local and native thinking and practices. Their models are as optimistic as they are necessary.


Not everything can be translated from one culture to another, nor must it be; what is important is the cultivation of an intersection, interpenetration, encounter or meeting. Lurking beneath everything I may seem to have, at times, simply described here, there is a proposition, which has finally to be made explicit.

In Aotearoa/New Zealand, and in the Pacific generally, there are historical, tangible marae and malae but there are also metaphorical open spaces of marae and malae that establish in-between or potential spaces for the search for a thought that seeks its place. I believe that there is potential for pedagogical encounter in a certain play of binaries found in binding, also taken as metaphor, where in unpredictable flipping and reversal between supervisor and student an educational lalava and heliaki might occur and be celebrated.

Such spaces and motifs exist in reality, as metaphors and, given that theorization demands the formulation of concepts, they may be conceptualized as modes of operating between supervisor and student. They are, however, far from simple. They are difficult, complex, demanding, at times scary and filled with risk. Challenges can at any moment overturn what at first naively appeared well established. Nevertheless, their friction and traction are not only awkward and stimulating but, above all, necessary and vital.

It might even be hoped that such models apply more widely, beyond Oceania/Moana ...


Alexander-Tu'inukuafe, R. (2014). Te Tapu O Ngapuhi: An architectural response to taonga revitalisation (MArch(prof) thesis). University of Auckland, Auckland.

Galla, A. (2002). Culture and heritage in development Ha Long Ecomuseum. A case study from Vietnam. Humanities Research, 9(1), 63-76.

Hau'ofa, E. (1993). Our sea of islands. In E. W. a. V. Naidu (Ed.), A new Oceania: Rediscovering our sea of islands (pp. 2-16). Suva: The University of the South Pacific.

Henare, A. J. M., Holdraad, M., & Wastell, S. (2006). Thinking through things: Theorising artefacts ethnographically. Milton Park: Routledge.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964). L'entrelacs-le chiasme. In C. Lefort (Ed.), Le visible et l'invisible (pp. 170-201). Paris: Gallimard.

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University of Auckland

Caption: Figure 1: Kupesi Kafaveimaau (Ordered water flow and woven line space string design) Sennet plaiting and photo courtesy of Semisi F. Potauaine (2010: iv)

Caption: Figure 2: Spatial levels of the cosmos. Drawn by Bruce St Moa (2011: 26)

Caption: Figure 3: Social machinery of production and distribution of traditional Samoan nu'u. Drawing courtesy of Albert L. Refiti (2015)

Caption: Figure 4: Kaitiaki area--Environmental centre. Design by Rameka Alexander-Tu'inukuafe (2014: 115)

Caption: Figure 5: Interior of Cultural Arts Centre level 3. Design by Justine Mitchell (2014: 33).

Caption: Figure 6: Longitudinal section through Oceanic Cultural Centre (top), "Sea of Islands" roof plan (bottom). Designs by Sarah Tu'inukuafe (2014; 89, 96)
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Author:Jenner, Ross
Publication:Knowledge Cultures
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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