Third-year students under the tutelage of Darren Ward (Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki) have put the finishing touches on a wharenui (Māori meeting house), made to scale, as part of their Bachelor of Creativity programme at WelTec.

“It’s a different way of thinking” Darren says, “I believe the past and the future can cohabit the same space.”

“These designs tell a narrative and provide students with an opportunity to share their personal connections to land, ancestors and the spiritual world.”

Through this approach students are introduced to Māori culture and explore their own backgrounds, all while learning how to use the latest technologies in creative design. This includes laser cutting and design software.

Each student produces three designs for the wharenui: tukutuku, kōwhaiwhai and pou.

Darren (left) takes all of his students to Te Papa Tongarewa to visit the wharenui there first. He sees this trip as important to understanding the meaning of the project.

“We sit down and I explain the context of everything around them so they can understand that Wharenui is more than just a building. Wharenui is also wananga (a place of learning), and I like to make them feel that our classroom here at Te Auaha is wananga,” explains Darren.

Lisa van Hulst is one of the students and has loved the personal aspect of the project. “It’s been rewarding to explore my identity, and this project has provided a framework to do that,” Lisa says.

“Being of Dutch heritage I have found some surprising similarities between Māori and Dutch designs, particularly focusing on the stars and how my ancestors navigated their way to New Zealand.”

Darren’s mentorship has been important to Lisa, and she cites the trip to the wharenui as an important cultural experience.

As well as the rewarding cultural aspect of the project, Lisa has also found her design skills have benefited greatly and that she has been able to improve her online skills to be more proficient in using design software, something that previously daunted her.

Graduates from Darren’s programme have gone on to work at Weta Workshop, start their own creative businesses or have become graphic or game designers all over the world. The wharenui is their final assessment of trimester one.

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