GHDWoodhead creativespaces 14 studio pasifika Whangārei Māori Land Court

  • Pou Auaha / Creative Directors
    Colette McCartney, Carin Wilson
  • Ringatoi Matua / Design Director
    Colette McCartney
  • Kaitautoko / Contributors
    Nick Herangi, David Hayes
  • Client
    Ministry of Justice

The Whangārei Māori Land Court is one of nine regional courtrooms of its kind throughout Aotearoa. Part of the Ministry of Justice, the Court provides a judicial forum for decisions relating to Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993 – the Act which recognises the significance of Māori land as a taonga tuku iho of special significance to the Māori people.
While the Court is primarily a place where matters relating to current and future Māori land use are addressed, it also plays a vital role in its community by providing tangata whenua with access to ancestry records.
In providing the brief, Ministry of Justice emphasised its desire for a place that would feel welcoming and calm while also respecting the cultural importance of the Court. The client had already consulted with Court staff and relayed a clear directive from them that Te Aranga Principles should be central to the design process.
While existing general principles for courthouse design exist, the client was also receptive to new ideas around how these might be reinterpreted to improve the function of the space.
The resulting design response included a strong emphasis on reflecting the Mana of the Court, as well as the Te Aranga principles of Mahi Toi and Ahi Kā. This was achieved through carefully considered integration of traditional Māori design elements, overlaid in a manner that was both beautiful and functional.
The principle of Whakapapa was incorporated in the form of naming of various spaces within the Court. Tohu was represented through a feature wall designed around the three local Maunga that form a vital part of the community’s history and identity.
Traditional Māori weaving patterns provided the inspiration for many of these design features which, together, created a richly layered experience.
One of the most stunning examples of the careful craftsmanship throughout the project was the carved korowai that rests upon the corner of the judges’ bench. Carved using Totara, this beautiful sculptural piece was an important acknowledgement of the Mana of the Court. Carefully laminated Rimu, Matai and Totara veneers were used to create the profiles of three significant Maunga represented on the wall behind the judges’ bench to acknowledge local tribal affiliations.
Intricately carved Southland Beech battens applied to columns within the space complement the design, and the ceiling featured an elegant timber beam and batten pattern that spanned from a central Southland Beech tahuhu.
In addition to the innovative use of timber, a few select elements were cast in bronze which further enriched the space. These elements included a set of feature carved handles, that adorn the doors at the entrance to the Court.
These handles represent a mythical figure based on stories around Manaia.
Tupuna of the Whangārei tribes, manaia is māori word for seahorse, and this form is represented in the handles design.
The entry soffit is finished with routered plywood panels, that are distinctly painted in two colours. The colours reflect traditional clay colours used as a pigment to decorate interior spaces.