A “Living Building” Reflects Indigenous Values in New Zealand

On a small island off New Zealand’s mainland is a building known as Te Kura Whare, which is designated as a “living building.” New Zealand law now recognizes the local terrain as a living entity, with legal rights of personhood. The Living Buildings framework, as set out by the International Living Future Institute, awards the title of “living building” to regenerative dwellings that not only limit negative impacts upon the biosphere but mitigate these impacts altogether. There are a growing number of such buildings around the world. Te Kura Whare serves as a tribal headquarters and as a community center and cultural hub.

Te Kura Whare is “an architectural representation of the Tūhoe people—their beliefs, traditions, culture, and history.” In order to realize this vision, Tūhoe, in collaboration with New Zealand architect Ivan Mercep followed the Living Building framework. Te Kura Whare is as much about community building, and hope as it is about guardianship of the environment.

Constructed in 2014, Te Kura Whare has strong biophilic design elements and is comprised of offices and meeting rooms, a Tribal Chamber, an amphitheater, a café that specializes in local cuisine, as well as a library and archive dedicated to the preservation of Tūhoe history.

Its structure is built from local, sustainably harvested timber, earth bricks (which provide the thermal mass that regulates air temperature and humidity inside the building) consist of clay sourced from local areas and constructed by-hand. Logs throughout the building act as posts, trusses, and beams in a way that mirrors the structure of a living forest. Distribution of natural light throughout the building is intended to create an experience that emulates sun rays and shadows. Te Kura Whare can be seen as the living life-force of the Tūhoe, and represents a rebirth and restoration of pre-colonial times.

Tūhoe stories are conveyed through artwork and design featured throughout Te Kura Whare. The construction of an arch at the entrance of the building’s Tribal Chamber simulates the flight path of the sun across the sky and represents potential.The building has 352 solar panels, enabling life to occur off-grid. There is a Tūhoe saying: “people build a building, but a building raises a people.” Hundreds of Tūhoe members (of diverse ages and backgrounds) pitched in to support the building’s construction. Their contributions took multiple forms, ranging from the felling of trees to the clearing of fences on site, milling wood, making earth bricks by hand, hammering floors, building walls, painting ceilings, preparing food for the workers, installing systems, planting trees and gardens, paving driveways, and more. A number of Tūhoe members secured full time employment as part of the process. The full extent of the building’s transformative impacts is yet to be seen and will continue to unfold over the generations to come.  A brighter future is not only possible, but already unfolding. A central part of the process involves the deliberate “unlearning” and “re-learning” of what it means to be human and to live in a way that reflects Tūhoe values and worldviews, grounded in nature. Te Kura Whare, and all that it stands for, is an integral part of that process.

You can read the original article at www.e-flux.com

1 thought on “A “Living Building” Reflects Indigenous Values in New Zealand”

  1. So awesome you are featuring this wonderful building, Kelly! We were involved in the production of the earth bricks together with the Tuhoe community – they made upwards of 5000 adobe bricks from local soils! There is an amazing feature-length movie about the building process from conception to inauguration. It is called Ever the Land. Maybe it is worth linking to that – it is a really beautiful movie that conveys the indigenous values and the huge vision and effort that has gone into this project. https://evertheland.com/
    Just a little correction: The building is in Taneatua, which is on the North Island of NZ (not a small island off the mainland).
    I hope this finds you well.
    Warm regards


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