DESIGN PROCESS: Mount Ngongotagh New Zealand – Craftsmanship, Making and Dimensional Rules
Leading a new cultural tourism masterplan for the Ngati Whakaue Tribal Lands in New Zealand, Board Director Neil MacOmish describes how the stories and craftsmanship of the local Maori people have shaped a new destination that is truly reflective of the place, people and culture.
Renzo Piano famously said, In architecture, the philosophy should inform the detail, BUT the detail should inform the philosophy.
Our client, the Ngati Whakaue are the Iwi (Maori People) that have occupied the land around Lake Rotorua for the last 750 years. During that time, their craftsmanship and making has been honed and developed and informs an essential part of their culture.
Typically, these processes oscillate from the practical to the decorative, from art to science.
The clients brief was clear but simple to us having won the commission to undertake this cultural and tourism led masterplan. There were to be three pillars that all aspects and each component would be judged against – Our People, Our Stories, Our Place.
So in this regard, an essential consideration in how the masterplan was conceived needed to be underpinned by how it and all the constituent parts, would be made and consequently what the making would represent in the narrative.
Our research consisted of a substantial amount of historic material describing the heritage of the Iwi, our own background research, work undertaken by Professor Terry Stevens as well as a lengthy site visit and engagement sessions with all parties who had a vested interest including neighbours. Two key aspects of this research were discussions with staff and students at Te Puia, the Maori cultural and geothermal centre in Rotorua and the discovery that one of our clients’ principle businesses was the production of engineered timber.
All of this mapped a rich narrative for our use in the concept design and organisation of the proposed masterplan. For instance, in the use of engineered timber sheets, a 1200mm panel size was an optimum dimension that could be fabricated and would result in little waste material on or off site. All buildings and dimensional criteria would use this ‘rule’ to establish an aspect of the masterplan’s spatial characteristics in a wholly sustainable way. Even buildings that require long spans or on difficult parts of topography are conceived in timber – glulam or composite frames as well as the skin and external walls. The Karearea (The Hawk’s Nest) hotel is a typical example of how this is manifest. A slender timber frame that moderates the severe slope is occupied by modular bedroom units that are simply slotted into place.