May 16, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

An Introduction to Architecture + Building Traditions: lessons from ethnoarchitects

3 min read

This paper offers an introduction and overview of the papers presented to the ADDITIONS conference under the theme Architecture + Building Traditions.

These papers are specifically oriented toward scholars of Pacific rim Indigenous cultures and their vernacular building traditions, in order that a debate might arise regarding the human values of these traditions and what they represent by way of contrast to Western constructs of architecture. A general sub-theme running through this collection of papers is how a theoretical framework of architecture might be configured, which would serve as a cross-cultural tool to understanding the nature of constructed and composed environments used as human habitats across all cultural contexts. An extension of this question would be why the Western concept of architecture has so far not achieved such a unifying position, at times excluding non-Western and Indigenous building traditions.

This new construct of architecture cannot be dominated by period aesthetics or popular Eurocentric philosophies, but must be useful for both theoretical and practical application to the settlements of the non- European and Indigenous cultures of the world, as well as to Western environments.


McKay writes on appropriation, but in his case the appropriation is by colonists of selected Indigenous architectural stereotypes. He examines the stereotyping of Maori architecture by Anglo-New Zealanders through the media of politics, museums and texts into a single genotype, that of the Meeting House or Whare. Any post-contact architectural acculturation was seen by the colonists to represent a loss of Indigenous identity and to be somehow non-authentic.

This paper discusses the perception of Maori architecture as it has been seen in the mainstream narrative of New Zealand architectural history. It offers a critical overview of buildings by Maori from the perspective of their portrayal in New Zealand architectural histories. It is not so much about the buildings themselves, but rather the processes of selection and representation and how this has reflected the political and cultural concerns of the times.

McKay provides examples of the mixing of Pakeha (European) and Maori motifs by Maori builder-architects as a distinctly New Zealand form of bi-cultural expression, and certainly not as an outcome of assimilation.

Deidre Brown, in her paper, extends McKays analysis by projecting forwards from the era of Western museum-controlled depictions and stereotypes of Maori Meeting Houses to contemporary depictions and constructions of the same building completed by tertiarytrained Maori artists and curators. The latter examples are for art gallery settings where the artists and curators are empowered to express Maori cultural values on their own terms. Brown also mentions the recent repatriation of a Meeting House back to the Maori Group from which it was originally commissioned, once again demonstrating a cycle of the transformation and dissemination of an architectural construct between two groups.

The combination of these three papers provides an interesting overview of the transformation of architectural constructs over several hundred years within a Polynesian context of colonial encounter….

Click here to view the full document.

  • ADDITIONS to architectural history. XIXth conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, Brisbane: SAHANZ, 2002PAUL MEMMOTT Aboriginal Environments Research Centre The University of Queensland

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