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New Zealand Institute of Architects









The Creation of Space

by Nga Wharerangi Turnbull

I te tīmatanga ka moe tahi a Rangi rāua ko Papa i roto i te haumaru o te aroha. Ka noho kōpipiri ana ngā atua o te ao i waenganui i ngā mātua. Ka wānanga, ka whakawhiti korero, ka puta te whakaaro kia wehe ngā matua.

In the beginning, Rangi and Papa slept together in the safeness of love. The gods of the world were squashed between their parents. After much discussion, the decision was made to separate their parents.

Ko te kaha o Tāne ka tutuki pai ngā mahi. Ka torotika ona waewae, kua wehe ngā matua.

By the strength of Tāne they were able to achieve this. He stretched out his legs and the parents were separated.



Ko Ranginui e tū nei, ko Papatūānuku e takoto nei.

Ranginui became the sky above us and Papatūānuku became the earth beneath us.

Ka puta ko ngā wai o te ata, ko ngā hau e whā, ko ngā mea katoa. Ka puta ki te whai ao ki te ao mārama.

This brought about the water of the morning, the four winds, and all things. All things came out into the world of light.



Hui e, taiki e.

Assemble, and come together.

The creation of space.


The kōrero1 above describes a condensed version of the origins of creation from a te ao Māori2 world view. I was five or six years old when I heard this for the first time and that pūrakau3 has always stayed with me. The teachings within it have permeated out as I’ve grown and the relationship between this story, my life and my own journey through architecture can all be tied together as one.

The slow shifting sun lit the last dark space in the place that I call home. A hot pot cooked a bacon hock on the fire for morning tea and me and Mum came in from the garden to eat. Growing up in a small Tūhoe community like Rūātoki your connection to the whenua4 was like everything else around you – organic. It grew like the grass and the grains in the soils around our quiet country home. A home that’s stood for 30 years and carried my family through highs and lows. A life created by my parents in a space created between the two of them. I will forever call this place my ūkaipō5.

The origin story above talks about the tight embrace of sky father and earth mother and the love and peace they shared. It talks about the collective discussions of their children to separate sky and earth and their desire to create a space for themselves to grow. The space created is what’s known as te ao mārama: the world of light, life and understanding.

One great thing I’ve learnt is that this story can be used to describe the different stages of any architectural project. It speaks of the planning and implementation needed to resolve an issue that faced a collective. By discussion and hard work they were able to achieve a desired outcome. The space they created gave way to endless opportunity and by mastering the environment and working with nature their aspirations came to life. One thing I love is that the codified knowledge in this story can be utilised as a guideline to help create beautiful spaces for all to enjoy.

Architecture to me is exactly this. The collective, the issues, the discussions, the aspirations, the planning, the work and the outcomes. To create space, the idea being that the spaces created ultimately respect what was there before. To move the earth and cut the trees we must be certain the space we aim to make will be worthwhile. To make physical what was once intangible. To bring an idea to life. To inspire and to create something that will benefit the collective and set the soul aflame. That to me is the true voice of architecture.

When I think of what my parents achieved on our whenua and the work they put in to create a space for us to grow I am truly proud to know they were the architects of their own destiny. They turned their dreams into reality and they built a life between themselves for us.

For years I’ve worked with clients to bring their dreams to reality. The best part of my job is knowing how much I have helped them and their families create a space they can call their own – not just a building but also a space they can enjoy, be proud of and ultimately create a life in.

My dream now is to expand on this and move into an era where I can replicate the same feelings on a larger scale. To create spaces that help not only individual households here and now but also whole communities, iwi6 and hapū7 for future generations. To intertwine the teachings I’ve taken through my career and from my family and bring them to the world. Architecture is what enables me to do this. It is a means for me to assist others. To act in service to those brave enough to venture into it. It’s a voice to speak the ideas into reality and like our origin story, it’s a beautiful way to create space.

My final thought is this: architecture is a collection of varying elements coming together to create something physical. Within that physical is the spiritual; within that spiritual is the emotional – all seamlessly woven together so that we are it and it is us. Ninety-nine percent of architecture is unseen and the final physical form is the one per cent that tells the story. Every conversation, every decision and every experience from all the contributors come together to speak a language that the eyes see, the hands touch and the heart feels.

That’s what it means to me.

Kia ora. 


1. Kōrero: talk, story
2. Te ao Māori view: Māori viewpoint
3. Pūrākau: story
4. Whenua: land
5. Ūkaipō: my home, my hearth
6. Iwi: tribe
7. Hapū: subtribe


This essay was the winner in the Open category of the 2022 Warren Trust Awards for Architectural Writing.

Photos: Sky by Nic Chi from UnSplash; kauri tree by Agami Stock from iStock; hills by Onni Anttoora from Unsplash.