Māori housing design steps forward

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By - , Build 184

New design initiatives and long-awaited law changes could make 2021 a turnaround year in housing for Māori.

THE STATISTICS around Māori housing can make for grim reading. While 70% of Māori households were owner-occupiers in the 1930s, just 47% owned their homes in 2018. The 2018 Census found around a third of Māori houses were always or sometimes damp.

There are good reasons to believe there is a sea change under way, however. New housing initiatives are taking a fresh approach. Laws that in the past made developing the 1.4 million hectares of Māori freehold land almost impossible have been overhauled. Behind this is a strong and growing Māori economy, with an asset base estimated at around $69 billion.

Māori Modular Housing

An initiative from TOA Architects, Māori Modular Housing (MMH) fills a yawning gap for affordable quality housing that is based on Māori kaupapa – values and principles – and informed by tikanga – customs and protocols. TOA, a New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) award winner, is currently working with iwi around the country, including the Chatham Islands. One iwi already has funding earmarked to buy 12 MMH homes, and others are looking at shared equity models between the owners and the iwi.

MMH will use state-of-the-art construction methods – including off-site construction using CLT panels – that allow relatively fast on-site assembly. The first homes will be assembled by a core team, but eventually assembly will be carried out by local whānau who go through a training/accreditation process.

TOA Architects founder and director Nicholas Dalton says design work has been completed and building consent for the first home already obtained. The medium-term plan is to gain a national building consent for the homes, which means that, for each home, only the site-specific issues such as infrastructure will need to be addressed.

TOA is currently working with Te Puia New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute in Rotorua on 3-bedroom houses and units for kaumātua – elders. There will be standard and more upmarket homes available, both incorporating local iwi designs, with the upmarket versions including custom carving.

Pride and mana

‘This is a passion project for us. There is a great deal of pride in these, real design mana there,’ Nicholas Dalton says. These aren’t just standard houses with some ornamentation bolted on after the fact. A wide range of considerations go into them, including how they will fit in to their environment, their orientation on site and how they reflect the values and stories of the iwi they will house. ‘It is a joy every day to be trusted with these stories and to translate them into the built environment.’

Nicholas Dalton, who grew up on the outskirts of Rotorua, is well aware of the need for affordable housing – those who work at two or three jobs but don’t own their own home. ‘We know people want this. We have a database of 500 names of people who would love one.’

TOA Architects has also designed individual homes, apartment blocks and other projects.

Bringing Māori concepts to architecture

TOA isn’t alone in bringing Māori concepts to architecture. Many Māori are making significant contributions to architecture and design in New Zealand, including Rau Hoskins at designTRIBE and Tere Insley, New Zealand’s first Māori woman registered architect, at Kauri Architects.

Māori input into mainstream architecture is not new. John Scott (1924–1992, Te Arawa and Taranaki iwi ancestry) incorporated Māori concepts in his work. The Futuna Chapel in Wellington, awarded the first 25-year Award of the NZIA, incorporates a central pole and low eaves with ribs of rafters – key elements of traditional Māori buildings.

Wiremu (Bill) Royal is thought to be the first Māori architecture graduate in New Zealand, founding his own practice in 1968. His son Perry Royal also became an architect.

Rewi Thompson (1953–2016, Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Raukawa) set up his own practice in 1983 and became Adjunct Professor of Architecture in 2002.

Writing about Thompson, Dr Deidre Brown (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu), head of school at the University of Auckland School of Architecture, said he saw architecture ‘as being fundamentally concerned with land and people … that architecture could return identity and wellbeing to people suffering from cultural estrangement’.

This year is also significant for Dr Brown herself who was inducted as a Fellow of the Academy of the Royal Society Te Apārangi – the only Honorary Fellow with an architecture and art history background.


Law frees up Māori land for development

The comparatively limited development of Māori land has frustrated Māori – and mystified non-Māori – for decades. The law made it almost impossible to raise mortgages for housebuilding, many legal processes were clumsy and expensive and rating problems and debts sometimes passed from one generation to the next. The roadblocks to development had been in place for many years – the law around rating had scarcely altered in 100 years.


On Waitangi Day, amendments to Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993 came into force, transforming the law governing the 1.4 million hectares of Māori freehold land. Previously, an occupation licence could only be granted for up to 14 years, with no right of renewal, making mortgage finance for housing effectively impossible to get. The amendment removed this restriction. It will now be easier for Māori landowners to build and raise finance for papakainga housing (a group of houses on Māori land that function as a community). A lot of other processes applying to Māori land were streamlined.

In April, the government removed some of the rating obstacles to development with the Local Government (Rating of Whenua Māori ) Amendment Act 2021. The changes give local authorities rating powers that could make it easier for Māori to develop their land and build housing. Historical rates arrears that provided a barrier to development are gone (some owners inherited debts from deceased owners). Owners can apply for rates remission while Māori land is under development. Once developed, the owners begin paying rates. Local authorities have greater freedom to consider the benefits of development not just to the landowners but also to the local community.

The government estimates that fully utilising and developing Māori land could stimulate regional development by $1.4–$2 billion over 40 years. The opportunities for the construction sector are obvious.

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