RTA Studio 19 Irving Smith Architects SCION Innovation Hub - Te Whare Nui o Tuteata

  • Ringatoi Matua / Design Directors
    Richard Naish (RTA), Jeremy Smith (ISA)
  • Ngā Kaimahi / Team Members
    Ben Dallimore, Adam Dwen, Natalie Stebben, Thomas Keeler, Andrew Irving, Blair Sigley, Gaby Van Der Boom
  • Client
Judge's comments:

Te Whare Nui o Tuteata is a stunning piece of Aotearoa architecture, not only for its dense storytelling and design excellence but more importantly, what it stands for and the engagement process it undertook with science and mana whenua. An exciting blend of our modern world and tikanga principles. From its carbon-stored timber bone structure, to its Matariki lighting features, it embodies what Toitanga is about and demonstrates by example how the buildings of tomorrow, need to be considered and shaped. He tuohu tēnei ki ngā kaihanga o Te Whare nui o Tuteata, ka mau te wehi


This project is a reinvention of the Rotorua headquarters of Scion, a Crown Research Institute that specialises in technology development for the forestry industry. Aptly located amongst the redwoods on the edge of Whakarewarewa Forest Park, the project brings the Scion workforce, previously siloed around a sprawling campus, into a central innovation hub. Named after Tuteata, an ancestor of the three local subtribes ‘Te Whare Nui o Tuteata’ is a cutting-edge showcase for engineered timber not only in terms of the aesthetic but what it contributes to a carbon-zero future.
Within the cultural context of Rotorua, the project benefitted greatly from collaboration with Ngā Hapū e Toru who hold mana over the whenua. This collaboration allowed meaningful connections between Scion and Mana Whenua and culminated with the building being gifted the prestigious name “Te Whare Nui o Tuteata”. This name acknowledges the mana of the tupuna Tuteata, from whom Ngā Hapū e Toru descend and the connection to the whenua, Titokorangi.
Upon arrival at the campus, the building’s extensive glazing achieves a visually striking aesthetic, which was inspired by traditional tukutuku weaving and in colours reflecting the changing colours of the surrounding forest canopy. The double-skin façade was developed in response to the local climate providing heat recovery in winter while regulating thermal gains in summer. Typical office heating and cooling needs are significantly reduced, while enhancing the connection to the forest.

A trio of ‘peaks’ in glulam timber, representative of the three hapu in the region, stand proud at the entrance. Visitors pass beneath these portals to a triple-height atrium where a curated exhibition of wood-fibre technology and a café welcomes the public with views to collaboration spaces above. Immediately present is the structural diagrid which rises three storeys to form the buildings skeleton. These structural elements are made of high-performing Laminated Veneer Lumber, and feature dovetail node joints which slot and glue together in an expression of craftmanship.

The triple-height atrium leads up to a spectacular wooden ceiling inspired by the structure of a radiata pine genome with lighting representing the Matariki night sky. Timber battens and plywood panels in subtle tones depict the barcoding effect from the plant DNA. The arrangement of atrium ceiling lights represents the Matariki star cluster, which is treasured and spoken of as mother Matariki and her six daughters. The reappearance of the Matariki stars signals the beginning of the Māori New Year.
Iwi contributed Māori patternwork derived from the kowhaiwhai of Mana Whenua Marae Hurunga Te Rangi for the arrival canopy and glazing manifestations through-out the building that assign meaning to both Scion and Mana Whenua. The shared design intent was to create a harmony between traditional and contemporary. This was achieved by digitising the traditional kowhaiwhai, allowing it to be physically carved into the canopy posts using a Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machine, the same technology used to create the timber structure of the building.
“Puhoro on the middle peak signifies the front of a canoe representing the journey ahead not only for Scion but also Mana Whenua. Mangopare on the outer peaks represents guardians guiding the journey of unchartered waters, which relates to the scientists being innovative with their work. Another form of Mangopare is positioned on the underside of the peaks as Heke boards which represents the various guardians who also guided our ancestors on their journey. The Heke also acts as a streamline of knowledge passed on to future generations”. Grant Marunui, collaborating artist and Iwi representative.
Te Whare Nui o Tuteata represents more than 10 years of advancement and sophistication in the way timber structural buildings are not just put together but conceptualised. The project is about benefitting futures and encouraging our participation with the environment. Thinking harder about what timber is good at and how timber buildings might be better prefabricated and pieced together has resulted in a globally significant scientific demonstration of how we might build tomorrow.