Moller Architects Hihiaua Cultural Centre

Toitanga 2021 Credits
  • Creative Director
    Craig Moller
  • Design Director
    Craig Moller
  • Team Members
    Alisha Patel, Gordon Moller, Terry St George
  • Client
    Hihiaua Cultural Centre Trust

The Hihiaua Cultural Centre is the first stage in a multi-phase development for the trust with a very clear vision to deliver a centre of excellence where Māori identity and culture would be reclaimed,restored and renewed. The trust has been working collaboratively with the various communities of Te Tai Tokerau, whanau, hapu and iwi, sharing a set of values and the core kaupapa of nurturing Māori culture.

The design team was guided by the trust and kaumātua to establish and adhere to an agreed design intent and vision. The trust’s ambition, to be a world class centre of excellence to preserve, create, display & promote Māori arts and culture for the people of Whangārei, Te Tai Tokerau, and across
Aotearoa was clear. As the architects, our first task was to work closely with the trust to develop the brief. This process was crucial to the project and its realisation and has resulted in a building that the trust describes as providing a space to be who they are.

The core purpose of Stage One was as a whakairo and arts space. Since completion, the Hihiaua Cultural Centre has rapidly become a venue of choice for a myriad of other uses and continuously booked as an exhibition space showing some of Aotearoa’s best creatives.

It incorporates and reuses the existing industrial boatshed, fondly known as The Shed, on the site and transforms it into the Whare Toi. A new mezzanine is inserted, including a kitchen facility and a meeting space. A raised deck, contiguous with the walkway outside, accommodates the public and visiting groups to engage with the activities without interfering with the carving and cutting areas of the workshop.

Alongside sits the new Whare Waka, designed to house, protect and display waka as well as provide space for carving new waka. Its open sides allow viewing 24/7 through slatted timber screens. The form of the Whare Waka follows the precedent set by the existing shed and incorporates an electric gantry for launching directly into the Waiarohia Stream which feeds directly into Whangarei Harbour.

An expansive canopy walkway connects the two buildings and provides a generous sheltered space for a range of activities. Moving, slatted screens provide shade and privacy from the public, green space.

The project uses a mix of raw and finished materials to respect the existing boatshed, allow for new activities as well as relating to a New Zealand vernacular. The building is purposely left unfinished in some areas to reflect its heritage and history as well as its ongoing use as a working building. Budget for the project was solely reliant on fundraising and grants from the Whangārei District Council, Government, and charity organisations.

Hihiaua Cultural Centre is a fusing together of architecture, the architect and client and various communities working together to provide a multi-purpose facility that has had positive results well beyond its relatively modest budget to demonstrate that architecture can have a far-reaching impact.