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New Zealand Institute of Architects









Interview: Professor Deidre Brown in conversation with Jeremy Hansen and Jade Kake.

From her ancestor Te Pahi through to current projects, Deidre discusses the people, places and events that have been instrumental in shaping her life and informing her work.

Jeremy: Congratulations, Deidre. Perhaps the best way to begin is for you to introduce yourself to readers.

Kia ora, Jeremy. Kia ora, Jade. Ko Mataatua te waka, ko Ngāpuhi te iwi, ko Ngāti Rēhia te hapū, ko Mangaiti te marae, ko Deidre Brown tōku ingoa. I have whakapapa to Ngāpuhi, but I also whakapapa to Ngāti Kahu at Taupō Bay through my great-grandmother, and to other parts of Ngāpuhi through my great-grandfather Hāpeta Rēnata. That’s my ancestral background and it’s had a defining influence on who I am, who my mother was, and the journey that I’ve been on in explicit and not explicit ways.

Jeremy: Did you grow up in the north, Deidre? I wondered if you could tell us more about your early childhood, and the influence of your mother and the ancestors you mention, on your upbringing.

I was born and raised in West Auckland. Up north for me was a presence that was always there, but not one I could regularly access when I was growing up. My parents were not well off and we didn’t travel a lot. My mother kept up her engagements with Northland and I have strong memories from childhood of her getting in the car and going away to tangi, and also lots of relatives from up north coming to stay. My mother was constantly talking about the whānau and her mother, but she’d also go back further and talk about her grandparents and people before that time who had died before she was born. She was raised in an environment where storytelling and understanding who you were was really important.

This was at a time when having Māori ancestry, particularly in the city, was not valued. My mother was careful around her own identity – and, in my early life, around my identity – and when she would reveal that she and I were Māori, because she didn’t feel it was an advantage within the health system or the education system. But she never let me forget that I was Māori. And it was very clear from the people coming through the house that we were a whānau Māori.

My father was English; he had left England after the Second World War. He hated the war; he hated what it did to his country, what it was doing to other countries. And he didn’t like where he was living after the war. He had always imagined sailing, reading every book he could find about it, although he’d never been sailing at all. One day a yacht arrived in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he lived, and he climbed aboard, pretending he had practical experience in yachting, and sailed away in 1947, making his way to New Zealand.

Much later, he met my mother. He didn’t speak Māori, but even though my dad was English and that was part of his heritage, he had moved over into my mother’s world.

Jeremy: Did your mother speak te reo Māori?

She was not a te reo speaker beyond learning some kupu to speak at the dinner table, although her mother was fluent. My grandmother was from Kaeo, but my mother was born and raised in Gisborne and she and my grandmother and my uncles had been very engaged with kapa haka there. They were part of a very early kapa haka group called Ngāi Tāone, the ‘Town Tribe’, and they used to perform with Rongowhakaata, who had their own group, at the Gisborne Opera House. Mum was raised away from her tūrangawaewae but was still involved in Māori culture when she was in Gisborne.

Jeremy: How did your parents meet?

It was probably in the 1960s. Mum saw him first. She saw him walking in town. He had very deep auburn hair and Mum said he walked into the light and the light struck his hair. She thought he was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. He told the story that he was in the pub and she walked in with her friends.

I still have the silver lamé dress she was wearing on that evening. She loved dressing up, she was very creative and used to make all her own clothes. She must’ve been very overdressed for the pub. And he said he thought she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. They both got talking and were married within three months. I came along a few years later.

Jeremy: What jobs were your parents doing when you were growing up?

My mother worked a range of jobs. I remember her as an outwork machinist. She had wanted to be a tailoress but it hadn’t worked out. She sewed beautifully. The house was always filled with fabrics and clothes and all sorts of things. All the mums in my working-class neighbourhood worked, mostly in factories or as outworkers, and that made them the best role models. My dad was a clerical worker in a chemical dyes company. I don’t know if this is interesting, but my mother’s father, Ivan Slater, had the largest collection of Alexandre Dumas first editions in the world – he was also a cinema projectionist in Gisborne and augmented that collection with all sorts of cinematic posters. He and my grandmother opened a record exchange and philatelist shop in Gisborne, where she was probably the first Māori main-street business owner. They promoted themselves as being able to find any record in the world and I think through them I inherited the gene for researching and looking for remote, lost or forgotten taonga. The bulk of my grandfather’s Dumas collection was sold on his death to the University of Texas and it was enough money for my grandmother to buy her own home and live in Auckland. He was widely read and my mother inherited some of his remaining library. I was lucky because I was brought up with very old books around me, and my father also read a lot.

Jade: You’ve had so many interesting influences in your life. I’d love to understand the different pieces that have helped shape you and form your view of the world.

Books were always important in our lives, as was the appreciation of writing from other times. I think having written historical sources in the house, and also my mother’s own oral histories, was important. It was an environment rich in histories, stories and curiosity, and it couldn’t help rub off on me. But how would you make that into a career? No one in my family had managed to turn these things into a viable profession.

Jade: How did you start to synthesise all these experiences into a pathway that made sense for you?

I was always interested in creative things. That probably came from my mum. I have well over 30 first cousins and one of them was doing tech drawing. I asked what that was and he said, ‘Oh, you learn how to design buildings’. I was only 11 and living in an ex-state rental in New Lynn. I had absolutely no exposure to contemporary architecture as we know it today. I asked my dad about it and he encouraged me to look into architecture as a future possibility.

It was decided that I wouldn’t go to the school I was zoned for because my cousins had gone there and left with no qualifications. Dad argued my way into Lynfield College as an out-of-zone enrolment, saying I wanted to be an architect. I kind of had to be after that, but it was also what I wanted. There was never a plan B.

Jeremy: What was it about tech drawing that sparked your curiosity when you didn’t have a notion of what architecture was at that point?

I loved drawing and it was exciting to think that drawings could be used as the basis for the creation of something people could live in. With that ability, I thought I could shape the way people live in a positive sense.

Jade: What was high school like after your dad had advocated to get you in?

Lynfield was great because the school was very strong in art. There was tech drawing but I eventually dropped out – I was one of the few girls and used to get hassled a lot. Social history was becoming important and we had a very inspiring history teacher in Bruce Deverell. Claudia Orange was writing at the time and he was very inspired by this. He championed us learning Māori history when it wasn’t even in the core curriculum. Quite a few of the class went on to study history and train as history teachers because of him.

Jeremy: Did you feel well-prepared to go to architecture school when you got to university?

I think I did, but in those days you had to do an intermediate year before you could apply to architecture school. I did two papers in New Zealand history, one in anthropology and another in Māori studies with Ranginui Walker as the teacher. It was so inspirational – this was at the height of his activism and writing.

Claudia Orange and Judith Binney taught New Zealand history. James Belich turned up, MPK Sorrenson was there. It was the late 1980s when we were moving towards the sesquicentennial of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, so there was a lot of soul-searching within the country. Biculturalism was kind of the buzzword, but what did that mean? Also, the first Waitangi Tribunal reports had come out. All sorts of things were happening and it was an exciting time to be learning.

In architecture, The Elegant Shed series was on TV and I remember being quite inspired by it. Dad bought me the accompanying book, which featured Rewi Thompson’s work. They were interesting times architecturally and in terms of how people were thinking about Māori culture. And I gained entry to architecture school.

Jeremy: How did architecture retain your interest through that year? From all you are describing, I’m surprised you weren’t swept into a history degree instead.

I was still very committed to studying architecture.

Jeremy: What was it like when you got to architecture school?

It wasn’t what I imagined. It was the tail end of the modernist era there and the beginning of the postmodern era. There was nothing Māori being taught in the first few years. It wasn’t until I encountered Mike Linzey and Mike Austin, maybe at the end of third year, beginning of fourth year, that there was any kind of engagement with anything like that at all. I tried to do it in my earlier studio work and was not successful because I got pushback. There was a lot of discussion around cultural property rights, and I think some academics who were not Māori in the creative disciplines heard this as, ‘You don’t need to engage’. When I tried to do something Māori in the first year, I was told, ‘You don’t know anything about this. It would be offensive to Māori culture to try to do this’. I actually hadn’t said I was Māori. I ended up crying in the bathroom. That was my first crit.

Jade: It seems like a really non-constructive way to put it. Instead of asking questions and providing gentle guidance on how you might do it appropriately in a real situation, just a no?

Well, the lecturers didn’t have the tools either. There was nothing they could rely on. I don’t want to present it as something that harmed me. If anything, it motivated me to continue.

Jeremy: Deidre, you mentioned that your mum was selective in revealing her own Māori heritage. How would you describe your own, if it’s the right word, identity as a Māori person, a Māori student at that time?

I declared it when I could. But at that time it wasn’t normal to give pepeha at the beginning of anything in a university setting. I also had a Māori Department of Scientific and Industrial undergraduate scholarship to enable me to continue to study because my parents couldn’t support me. Saul Roberts was in my year, as well as Keri Whaitiri and Ephraim Cooper, so there were Māori students. I never hid that I was Māori, but there was no place for it to slot into the pedagogy. There was no space to do anything with it until I made contact with Mike Austin, Mike Linzey and Sarah Treadwell.

I should say, too, that my mother brought me up with stories, particularly of my great-grandfather, Hāpeta Rēnata, who was a Methodist home minister and one of the first Rātana āpotoro (apostles). The image of the Rātana temepara (temples) as being a different kind of Māori architecture was always there for me. And Ranginui Walker was talking about wharenui as a whare whakairo (carved meeting house) and a little bit on Rātana. There was always this knowledge that there was a breadth to Māori architecture that was yet to be fully articulated.

Mike Linzey had published ‘Speaking to and talking about: Māori architecture’, a paper about Te Kooti that was very well thought through. I thought ‘if you could do this about Te Kooti, maybe you could do it about Rātana architecture’. It ended up being the basis of my undergraduate thesis. Bill McKay, who was in full-time practice, was looking at Rātana architecture and Rua Kenana. We were both very inspired by Judith Binney’s work about the whakapapa of prophetic Māori leaders. Bill and I co-authored two articles, and that work shaped up my master’s thesis and my PhD thesis, which are variations on the theme of the whakapapa of architecture.

Deidre on the day of her Master of Architecture graduation, 1994. Photograph by Grant Bulley.


Jade: How did you make the decision to take an academic track?

When we entered the school, the stock market crash was making its full effects felt on the building industry. And the dean at that time, Alan Wild, said most of us probably wouldn’t be employed as architects when we left the school because of the recession.

He also said something like, ‘Studying architecture will make you successful, whatever your definition of success is’. That put into our minds to consider the expanded field of architecture. At the end of the degree, I think only a handful of people found employment. But by that stage I’d become so fully swept up in this idea of there being a Māori architectural history, my curiosity got the better of me and I just wanted to keep going. I didn’t know what would be at the end of it, but I knew that I couldn’t live if I couldn’t find out more.

I’m really pleased I went on that path. Just recently, I’ve been reflecting on what might have happened if I had got a job and hadn’t entered academia. I think because I love working in large organisations, I would’ve loved to have been a director of architecture in a multidisciplinary practice or maybe a practice director in a large practice like Jasmax or Warren & Mahoney. I have absolutely no skills to do that at this moment in time. That would’ve very much been a parallel life.

Jeremy: Did you see academia as a career possibility when you went into architecture school, or did being an architect initially seem the inevitable outcome?

I went in with the intention of becoming an architect. That’s what I really wanted to do. But the recession meant we all started thinking about the expanded field and quite a few New Zealand academics came out of that time. Towards the end of my architecture degree I still wanted to be an architect, but Mike Linzey had read an essay I’d written about Rātana and suggested I think about doing a master’s and a PhD.

My parents had always thought, and rightly so, that if you’d spent five years at university there would be a good job at the end. They were both on the pension at that time and there wasn’t a lot of income. I had to sell the idea to them about going into postgraduate work and possibly not working in the profession. I don’t think they really minded at the end of the day; I think they just wanted me to be happy and hoped there would be a job at the end.

Jeremy: What was your PhD focused on?

Mike was very keen on what I’d written about Rātana. I met Bill McKay in the last year of my undergraduate degree and he’d been looking at what he coined Mōrehu architecture – the architecture of Māori prophetic movements. That followed where folk like Judith Binney had gone with historical research and Bronwyn Elsmore with theological research. My PhD traced a whakapapa up to the Rātana movement of poropiti Māori, or Māori prophets, and their architecture. It argued that you could see a whakapapa of architecture emerging with each innovation and each new building; an iconography was being pulled in, adding to the next prophet’s work. I also broadened it out to have a political aspect.

I spent a lot of time at the National Archives in Wellington looking at Āpirana Ngata’s papers. He produced a wealth of material about what he was doing with the School of Māori Arts and Crafts, which he had established in the late 1920s and was part of the revival of customary Māori architecture at that time. My work ended up being a history of Māori religio-political architecture from the founding of Kīngitanga in the 1850s up to 1950, which is around the time that Rātana passed away.

There was a Rātana connection in the family, as I mentioned, with my great-grandfather Hāpeta Rēnata, who was a Rātana āpotoro. He had been a Māori Methodist home minister and was based in Kaeo before he converted to the Rātana movement. My mother was always keen on me knowing about this when I was young, even though she wasn’t Rātana herself, so my PhD was a way of honouring that, too.

The buildings I was dealing with in my PhD were much more diverse than perhaps what was acknowledged at the time as Māori architecture: wharenui and whare whakairo were part of that, but there were all these other buildings as well. I don’t want to use the term ‘hybrid’ because I think it’s the wrong term, but I really responded to the diversity of those buildings. In 1993, Roger Neich published Painted Histories, which was the story of the painted buildings of the Ringatū movement. It was inspirational for me and a number of Māori artists who were able to use it as a way back into tikanga and customary Māori culture.

I was doing my PhD when my mother reminded me that Patu Hohepa, who I’d never met, had a box of Hāpeta Rēnata’s papers. I visited Pat, we had a wonderful conversation and he said, ‘Here is this tin trunk just full of your great-grandfather’s papers’. The whole thing is in classical te reo Māori, all these workbooks of when he was involved with the Māori Land Court, his ministry, all kinds of things. Pat said, ‘I’ve been waiting for someone to come and pick these up and it might be you on behalf of your whānau, but before I release them you have to learn te reo Māori’.

Mum had spoken te reo in the house when she was growing up, but of course she wasn’t able to speak it at school. I think she was a bit whakamā about the fact she never had the language but she had reservations about me learning it in terms of a way forward. Pat phoned her and they had quite a long conversation about me learning Māori, and that conversation bolstered her spirits at a time when she was entering into the autumn of her life. She was unwell and I could see her wairua and her mauri uplift through that conversation. She gave me the okay from her perspective – she was still supporting me at home – to learn te reo. I studied for three years at university with Pat.

Jade: Did he give you the papers then?

Yes. Our whānau came together and it was decided that my uncle, who had been raised with Hāpeta, would take the papers but two copies were made, of which I have one. Learning te reo allowed me to read them and unlocked ways of thinking and seeing the world and feel like I was getting my culture back.

Jade: It must have been really important to have your mum’s support.

She was committed to that. I started the first year in March 1994 and Mum passed away in November 1994, so she didn’t see me through that journey but was there for the beginning. I was able to talk to her about what I was learning, which made her happy.

Jade: What was that experience like, to be able to read those papers? 

A lot of it is him in a constant cycle of prayer, but there’s whakapapa and him talking about his ministry. There was nothing in it that would support my thesis, but it was fascinating being able to glimpse back into life in Whangaroa and the rest of Tai Tokerau in the early part of the 20th century because he was working hard to get Māori land back to the people. He was also working hard through his ministry – that Rātana period coincides with the outcomes of the influenza epidemic in 1918, which had a huge impact on our whānau. He had a child and a grandchild who died during that epidemic. It brought me back into that point in time.

Jeremy: Everyone I’ve talked to who has done a PhD feels lost in it for some time. Was that your experience or did you feel like it was pointing you towards something that would hold you for a long time?

I’d done preparatory work in my master’s thesis and I followed a process. I remember the long bus trips in from New Lynn and walks up the hill to uni and constantly thinking in those in-between moments: ‘I’m sure there’s something in this that needs to be shared in lots of different ways, and this is good work to be doing’.

Jade: What were some of the archives or collections you worked with?

There was the Āpirana Ngata material, which is in the Māori Affairs papers at the National Archives. I also worked in the New Zealand Sound Archives in Christchurch – they had some fantastic material. There was no architectural history written at that stage, so I had to go to sources such as anthropology, archaeology, art history, history, Māori studies. I used every single library in the university, and I spent a lot of time travelling to museums around the country to look at their photographic archives. Of course, none of that was online, so I spent a lot of time in Te Papa, Canterbury Museum and Auckland Museum, leafing through photographs of Māori buildings, trying to find imagery which could supplement my text.

I should add that Decolonising Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith was not published until 1999, and I finished my thesis in 1997, so there wasn’t that incredible guide to how to do Māori research. But a lot of work was being undertaken in oral histories in New Zealand, mainly focused around Rātana communities in the north and at Rātana Pā itself.

Jeremy: How would you assess the contribution of the Rātana movement to Māori architecture? Did it change its trajectory in some way?

The Rātana buildings, and Bill McKay phrases it this way, were built for their moment and the materials available. I’ve always conceptualised that period – the 1920s up to the 1950s, before the big rural-to-urban Māori drift – as a time when there were three people directing Māori architecture. There was Āpirana Ngata with the School of Māori Arts and Crafts, so very tikanga. He was changing tikanga, too, but promoting the whare whakairo in its full form, plus the wharekai to focus contemporary social and political life onto the marae. He attempted to do this nationwide but had more success in some places than others.

Then you’ve got Te Puea Hērangi with her own architectural movement: she founded the Tūrangawaewae carving school with a little bit of help from Ngata at the beginning. Her influence was very iwi-based, focused on the revitalisation of Waikato-Tainui marae, and the development of affordable housing for her people.

Then you’ve got the pan-tribal religion of Rātana, which a large number of the Māori population were following. You’ve got the Rātana buildings with the bell towers, but a series of other buildings as well.

Any of these approaches could have become dominant after the Second World War, but I believe it was the Ngata programme of whare whakairo that succeeded because Ngata had always said you pass on your knowledge to the next generation. There was a consistency of approach and style and tikanga and Rātana wasn’t doing that. You’ve also got that big drift to urban centres and the construction of whare whakairo after the Second World War. This idea of going back to the marae had been a central theme in Ngata’s work and Te Puea’s work, but not necessarily in Rātana’s work.

Jeremy: When you say Āpirana Ngata’s approach succeeded, what do you mean? It became the dominant approach or narrative?

Yes. And that’s because of all the people who were trained in the school. Ngata was never the director of the school, but very much in control of its operations and goals, which the students were instructed to pass on. Many students picked up these lessons in their own communities.

People were trained within the school, but as the school moved from community to community, its building programme trained people on site. Many of the carvers, many of the tohunga whakairo that are about today, can trace their whakapapa back to the School of Māori Arts and Crafts. Hundreds of women trained in the School’s tukutuku programme. 

Jade: In the north, Te Warahi Hetaraka is a key example of that. I’d say he’s our pre-eminent tohunga for Te Tai Tokerau and certainly Whāngarei. He often tells the story of how he was trained at the Māori Arts and Crafts school and the purpose of that education. We all know the narrative of how he was sent there, to then return home and revitalise whakairo in the north. I’m sure that’s true for other areas.

Jeremy: What did you do when you finished the PhD?

My career took a different turn. I had a part-time teaching job at Unitec for a year, then I was appointed to the University of Canterbury to teach Māori art history full time. I was there for six years and it was such an amazing time. Jonathan Mane-Wheoki (Ngāpuhi, Te AupŌuri, Ngāti Kuri) was teaching European and New Zealand art history. As Ngahuia Te Awekotuku and Rangihīroa Panoho at Auckland started Māori art history courses, Jonathan did the same at Canterbury, but his career was just taking off internationally and they needed someone to be teaching Māori art history. That was me, and I had to reconsider what I had learned in architecture to suit a much wider art history curriculum.

Everyone on the teaching staff was at the absolute top of their game; they had exemplary teaching practices, were very engaged in working in public institutions, and had research going on as well. They were the right people to be with. It was hard leaving Auckland for six years, but it was a place where I learned so much.

I joined the Southern branch of Ngā Puna Whaihanga [national body of Māori artists and writers], which was being led by Cath Brown (not a relative) and Patricia Wallace. Ngāi Tahu were just going through their settlement phase, so everything was going off for them: for a Ngāpuhi girl in Ōtautahi, they were the most amazing hosts. I felt like I was in the middle of things, as so much was happening in the contemporary Māori art movement. Peter Robinson and Shane Cotton had been recent Canterbury graduates, and I got the opportunity to meet and work with artists such as Lisa Reihana, Darryn George, Lonnie Hutchinson, Eugene Hansen, Areta Wilkinson and Olivia Haddon. I had the opportunity not only to publish journal articles, but books. Damian Skinner introduced me to Reed Publishing, and Pat Hohepa had said someone needed to write a history of Northland Māori wood carving. So, I thought, as you do, I’d do that.

The book, Tai Tokerau Whakairo Rakau, involved a lot of time in museums in New Zealand and overseas. I engaged with the most incredible Māori art and work of the ancestors, looking at them closely, understanding and seeing the beautiful works and considering what it meant for them to be in museums now. I found that absolutely fascinating. The book was published in 2003 and, sometimes, when
I go to the workshops of tohunga I see my book and people talk about how they use it. I’ve met people who’ve said it has helped them as they’re learning to carve, which pleases me.

Jeremy: How did it feel to be working at the intersection of art and architecture? Did it make you regard architecture differently at all?

It did. In Christchurch I tried to stay very engaged with architecture. I curated a group exhibition of Māori art with Jonathan called Hiko! New Energies and Māori Art at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery, which was about the emergence of the digital Māori art movement. We followed that with an exhibition called Techno Māori, at the City Gallery in Wellington and Pātaka in Porirua. There were architectural aspects to the way
I was trying to put that work into galleries and write about it, but I also got this great sense that the scholarship of Māori art history and the community around it was much larger
and more evolved than we had in architecture. There was a greater body of practitioners linked in with each other, promoting their work through the art gallery system. It opened up a vision of what Māori architecture could be in terms of its organisation and promotion and the story around it.

Jeremy: You returned to Auckland after six years at Canterbury. What did you work on?

I came back in 2003. In 2005, I published two books: Introducing Māori Art and Māori Arts of the Gods, which used the Brian Brake collection of taonga Māori photographs. I worked with Annie Potts and Phil Armstrong on A New Zealand Book of Beasts, about the animal and contemporary Māori art, which came out in 2013. It and another collaborative book from 2012, Art of Oceania, were both Marsden-funded projects. And also Te Puna, a book I wrote for and edited with Ngarino Ellis (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou) in 2007, about Te Tai Tokerau Māori art. Ngarino and I have a new book coming out soon that we started with Jonathan [who passed away in 2014]. Toi te Mana – a History of Māori Art is large at a quarter of a million words and has significant architectural content. It started as a Marsden project and has been a 12-year journey. 

I always wanted to write a book about Māori architecture. Reed said there wouldn’t be a market for it, but after I’d done four books with them they relented. Māori Architecture [2009] is a very condensed version of my thesis, with the addition of those aspects that I’d learned about tīkanga-based architecture and contemporary architecture.

I also came back to the University of Auckland. It was just so good to be teaching design again, and to have that engagement with students in studio. Many of them have gone on to do amazing things since graduating – and we’re all teaching them, not just me.

Jade: Where has your research been focused more recently?

I was always engaged with Whangaroa and Kaeo, but re-engaging with Rangihoua and with the repatriation of the Te Pahi medal has been such a wellspring of ideas and inspiration and other work, which has looked at the materiality of Māori architecture. 

Most of what my mother taught me about Māori culture came through my great-grandfather Hāpeta’s line. But my great-grandmother was a direct descendant of Te Pahi, who was a rangatira (chief) in the early part of the 19th century, and his pā was at Rangihoua, where he set up the most incredible enterprising settlement. I went there with Rewi [Thompson] and we ran a studio project aimed at understanding the cultural landscape of the headland pā, of the flat areas, of the shoreline, the islands and the sea, which really opens your eyes to Māori landscape use. Te Pahi was erroneously blamed for the attack on the ship, the Boyd, in Whangaroa in 1809. Consequently, he was attacked, wounded and lost his life, along with a number of whānau. That was after a connection he’d made to the Reverend Samuel Marsden, who later established the first Mission to New Zealand, which was also the first organised Pākehā settlement in New Zealand at Rangihoua. It’s this magical landscape that I keep going back to and finding stories and narratives.

Jeremy: How do you feel about receiving this medal from the Institute and the way it makes you look at your life’s work to date? The award has usually gone to architects in recognition of their built work, but as you were talking I was thinking of your books as buildings in terms of the lessons they can impart.

I think that’s a good observation, that the writing, particularly the books, articles and exhibitions, are works in themselves: they are outcomes, and they are marking points, changes of direction, the opportunity to put something out there and influence others.

We do that through teaching, too. In architectural practice, you can change the world one building at a time; in teaching, you can change it through 100-plus architectural graduates a year. I learned from reading Ngata’s papers in the National Archives that an architectural movement relies on teaching and learning and inter-generational knowledge transfer. I strongly believe that students need to know about the architecture of their country and region and the stories, as difficult as some of them might be, of the whenua it is built on. That helped me as a student and it seems to be helping my students too, although we still have a long way to go in decolonising, indigenising and regionalising the curriculum. 

When I returned to Auckland I taught the New Zealand architecture history paper and a Pacific architecture elective, but I came to feel that Pacific architecture belongs to non-Māori Pacific architects to teach and to mentor. In the first year I was appointed to Auckland I had Karamia Müller, Lama Tone, Sēmisi Potauaine and Charmaine ‘Ilaiū as students, and I thought, ‘these people will be the future of Pacific architecture’. I persuaded them all to come back and do their master’s degrees, and then tried my best to get them all to come back and do PhDs, which two of them have completed now.

At Te Pare School of Architecture and Planning, there has been the opportunity to onboard Anthony Hoete as a professor. There was thinking, not necessarily here but in a lot of academic institutions, that there was only ever a need for one Māori staff member. I decided to change that, and for the Pacific staff, when I was head of the school. Having Māori and Pacific staff is a pathway to making important curriculum changes and better architects and architecture.

Jade: What are your aspirations, hopes and plans for the future?

I’m getting to the point in my career where I’ve done all the things that academics are supposed to do, so it’s not about my career anymore but about other people and what you can offer.

What does a contribution to architecture look like? Architecture is a thinking discipline and a design discipline and it’s about working directly with people and enhancing their hauora. All these paths have led me up to this point, which is establishing and co-directing, with Karamia Müller, MĀPIHI Māori and Pacific Housing Research Centre at the university, which is aimed at supporting Māori and Pacific whānau to live in healthy, affordable and sustainable homes.

As a collective, we’ve got something to offer. What is it that the profession needs to make good design decisions? What is it that the profession needs in the curriculum to support co-designed housing or support students developing an understanding, an awareness of tikanga Māori and tikanga Pacific as well? There are now 19 of us academics in the centre and we’re gaining traction in bringing students back to do PhDs, which can be the basis for something innovative later.

It’s not a process where we’re trying to create a small army of people who are just like ourselves – you have to let them be the people they are in their generation, because things are changing rapidly and they have their own ideas and lived experiences. It’s about enabling them to do what they feel is important in the same way that I was enabled to do that a long time ago.

Jade Kake and Jeremy Hansen are co-authors of Rewi (Massey University Press, 2023) a tribute to the late architect Rewi Thompson. Jade (Ngāpuhi – Ngāti Hau me Te Parawhau, Te Whakatōhea, Te Arawa) is an architectural designer, writer and papakāinga advocate. Jeremy Hansen is a respected writer, editor and commentator who covers architecture and urbanism in Aotearoa.

* Te Kāhui Whaihanga has published this interview, plus more perspectives on Deidre's work, in a 52 page book celebrating our Gold Medallist. Click here to purchase from our shop.