A people build a house, and a house builds a people

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 21 May 2017
The 23 metre Waharoa is constructed from radiata pine.

The 23 metre Waharoa is constructed from radiata pine. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Ka hanga whare te tangata, ka hanga tangata te whare.

When it comes to creating a large structure with little impact to the environment Te Kura Whare in Taneatua is the leading example in the Southern Hemisphere.

It’s been three years since the building was completed and today it is the workspace to 33 staff of Te Uru Taumatua, the authority that is charged with the strategic direction of the Tūhoe Iwi.  

Described as The Living Building, it is easy to spot when entering Tūhoe street in Taneatua, the 23m waharoa depicts Te Mana Motuhake o Tūhoe, the self-governance of Ngai Tūhoe.

Taneatua is known as The Gateway to Te Urewera, the eponymous ancestor who was the younger and apparently mischievous brother of Toroa who captained the Mataatua waka.

Te Ahi Kaa takes a tour of the space with Maea Rurehe (Nō Ngāti Ruapani, Te Uruwera) .

Maea Rurehe works as Te Kura Whare - Te Uru Taumatua.

Maea Rurehe works as Te Kura Whare - Te Uru Taumatua. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Freshly brewed coffee wafts through the entrance way from Moumou Kai café aptly named after the whakatauaki Tūhoe Potiki Moumou Kai, Moumou tāonga, Moumou tāngata ki te po, which speaks to the generosity of the iwi.  The café table tops are all river matai and sourced locally, the work involved to fell and process the trees,  and to make the thousands of earth bricks provided jobs for many of the locals. There are maara kai (gardens) and fruit trees grown on site, all used in the café.

Maea Rurehe works at Te Kura Whare and from time to time shows people around.

“The Living building challenge aligns very well with Tūhoe values and Tūhoe principals when you look at land, the environment, nature and the level of respect it has or consideration to land.”

What’s in a flower?

Renowned architect Ivan Mercep (1930 – 2014) and his firm Jasmax designed Te Kura Whare built in March 2013, the same year of the signing of the Tūhoe Deed of Settlement. In March 2014 the building was completed. Maea Rurehe says it was Ivan who took the idea of building a self-sustainable building sourcing environment friendly materials and constructing it with little impact on the environment. The Living Building Challenge concept is from The International Living Future Institute in Canada.

To be in the challenge there are strict standards, or petals based on the life of a flower. 

The seven petals are equity, site, water, energy, health, materials and beauty.

The Key is community

The amphitheatre is home to community events, it can seat up to 3000 people. Maia says the space could be a possible venue for the Te Hui Ahurei a Tūhoe, the kapahaka competition held in the region. Te Whare Pori is the repository where photos and tāonga are stored. Allan Baldwin’s estate donated his photo collection of Tūhoe Kuia who wore the Moko Kauae. The uku or earth bricks used as part of the build means that the humidity levels and room temperature are maintained.

The Colin McCahon Triptych is on display inside the Tribal Chambers area, a space that can seat up to 500 people.

On the windows at the front entrance way there are list of achievements written in white to show the goals achieved by Te Uru Taumatua.

Maia Rurehe at the front entranceway of Te Kura Whare, Taneatua.

Maia Rurehe at the front entranceway of Te Kura Whare, Taneatua. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Thousands of dollars in education grants, the purchase of Tūhoe land and forestry and broadband in Ruatahuna are a few milestones.


Te Uru Taumatua oversee the Tūhoe Blueprint, a living document that was forged from the discussions held with descendants in 2010, the document set’s out the iwi’s strategic direction for the next 40 years.

Ko au te kakano, te taumuke o te hue o tenei tangata o ngai Tūhoe.

I am the seed of the gourd of this man of Ngai Tūhoe.

“This (whakatauaki) speaks about the growth of the plant, from that seed you’ve got the branches the leaves that go all their own different ways but no matter what way they go,  they connect back to that seed. ...it is still in play because we’re still trying to bring the people together which is a really strong statement here.” - Maea Rurehe

Art adorns the foyer inside Te Kura Whare, Maraea Timutimu is one of the featured artists.

Art adorns the foyer inside Te Kura Whare, Maraea Timutimu is one of the featured artists. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Archival material supplied by Ngā Tāonga Sound and Vision.

Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.

Nga Taonga Sound and Vision. Photo: Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.