Refine By: Clear All

Project Type

Design Subject

Site Type


  • Toi O Tāmaki


    Toi o Tāmaki (Auckland Art Gallery) demonstrates how Mana Whenua engagement across a project’s life can directly lead to unique, meaningful and beautiful design outcomes that stem from the whenua (land) and narratives of Tāmaki Makaurau.

    This building contributes to our understanding and appreciation of our place Tāmaki Makaurau. Toi o Tāmaki was recognised internationally in 2013 for its contribution to world architecture (

    Project Summary

    The renovation of the Auckland Art Gallery offered a unique opportunity to reveal and interpret histories and narratives of the site whilst revitalising one of Auckland’s major cultural facilities.

    A core kaupapa for the Project Team was that the design and function of the building reflect and enable important Māori values, including whakautu (reciprocity) and manaaki (hospitality/generosity).

    The Project brief required that the renovation respond to the site, it’s landscape context, and also to narratives provided by Mana Whenua to create a unique building.

    A key part of the project involved commissioning senior Māori artists. They were engaged to explore mātauranga Māori (knowledge) relating to the site and translate these ideas into design elements and artworks. Their works elegantly affirm and articulate the building’s connection to the Mana Whenua landscape.

    Mana Whenua Engagement

    A number of Mana Whenua groups within Tāmaki Makaurau were formally notified and invited to be involved in the project at the outset. Initial responses were received from Ngāti Paoa, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, Ngai Tai and Ngaati Te Ata.

    During the design phase Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei representatives worked with the commissioned artists to interpret their traditional understanding of the site and context, which has carried through
    into the built form of the building.

    Broad trunk-like columns and timber canopies above the main entry interpret the traditional narrative of Tāne Mahuta as deity of the forests and his domain of extensive forest areas that cloaked much of Tāmaki Makaurau prior to establishment of the city.

    Other design features such as structural stone walls and the presence of water and material finishes were also investigated by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and the Project Team as opportunities to support the overarching kaupapa.

    Engagement with Mana Whenua continued throughout construction. This included having nominated Cultural Monitors being on-site during construction to ensure cultural safety was maintained and that any artefacts that may have been uncovered were managed appropriately.

    Mana Whenua Landscape Key Features

    The Mana Whenua landscape is a rich and defining element of the heritage and culture in Tāmaki Makaurau. The broad valley now marked by Queen Street has been a settlement area for a number of the Mana Whenua groups of Tāmaki Makaurau, and is a key component of the Mana Whenua landscape.

    The site of Toi o Tāmaki forms part of the natural ridge known as Rangipuke, which includes Albert Park and Symonds Street. Rangipuke was historically papakāinga (area of settlement), which also included Te Horotiu, a defensive pā to the north-east.

    Te Wai Horotiu is the name of the stream that flowed down the Queen Street Valley from the Karangahape Road ridge, its waters still flow beneath Queen Street today. Te Wai Horotiu was an important resource for Mana Whenua for food, bathing, ceremony and cleansing, and papakāinga were located along its length over the centuries.

    Wai Ariki, the ‘spring of chiefly waters’ was a puna (spring) that formerly flowed near the present day High Court, approximately 1km from Toi o Tāmaki. Wai Ariki was a key source of water for those who occupied papakāinga in this area.

    Ingoa Mā ori Names and Naming

    The building’s official name Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tāmaki includes both reo Māori and English to recognise both of the founding cultures of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

    Toi o Tāmaki can be literally translated as Art of Auckland - Toi being art, and Tāmaki in this usage being an abbreviation of Tāmaki Makaurau, one of the original Mana Whenua names for Auckland.

    The name Tāmaki Makaurau is often translated as Tāmaki, the place desired by many. This translation references the desirability of this area for settlement and also alludes to the many battles that have occurred over the millennia between groups seeking control over the abundant natural resources of the area.

    Toi o Tāmaki can equally be applied to the building itself as an outstanding, highly contemporary artwork, emblematic of Tāmaki Makaurau as a historic and contemporary meeting point of cultures and histories, and still very much a place desired by many.

    Mahi Toi Creative Features

    Te Putaiao Tūroa is one of the traditional terms used when describing the native forest environment. This natural realm once completely blanketed Tāmaki Makaurau, however only remains in a small number of places today. According to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei traditions, the native forest environment is a major source of creative spirit, which can inspire and inform art and craftsmanship. The mauri (life force) and wairua (spiritual essence) that occur naturally within the native forest are concepts that were to be expressed in the building’s

    He Aha Te Wa – Moments in Time is the dramatic artwork designed by senior Māori artist Arnold Manaaki Wilson (Ngāi Tuhoe, Ngāti Tarawahi) and Anthony Wilson (Ngāi Tuhoe, Ngāti Tarawahi, Ngāpuhi).

    The three large columns at the main entrance represent the Māori atua (deities) Ranginui (Sky Father), Papatūānuku (Earth Mother) and Tāne Mahuta (atua of the forest who was responsible for the separation of his parents Ranginui and Papatūānuku).

    Pakati (dog-tooth) patterning is used on these columns to reference Ruru (the Morepork or native owl) as kaitiaki (guardian) of the building. The columns also acknowledge the Kauri tree, one of the Rakau Rangatira (great trees of the forest) endemic to Tāmaki Makaurau which have largely been cleared from this area as a result of Auckland’s early economic reliance upon extractive industries.

    The main entry off Kitchener Street has been designed to allow pōwhiri (formal ceremony of acknowledgement and greeting) to occur. The forecourt associated with this entry is the gathering point for manuhiri (visitors) taking part in pōwhiri to assemble.

    This forecourt features Te Waka Toi o Tāmaki, an artwork by Fred Graham (Ngaati Koroki Kahukura, Ngāti Raukawa), a senior Māori artist who resides in Waiuku within Tāmaki Makaurau.

    Graham’s artwork references the building as a waka huia (a traditional richly carved vessel for safe-keeping of one’s most precious possessions), symbolising the Gallery's role as keeper of Auckland's taonga toi (art treasures).

    The triangles reference Rangipuke, the natural ridge which forms the eastern watershed for the Queen Street valley, which includes Albert Park and Symonds Street. The wave-like forms reference the wai (waters) of Te Wai o Horotiu and also Wai Ariki.

    On each floor within Toi o Tāmaki is a series of four waharoa (threshold markers) works by senior Māori artist Lonnie Hutchinson (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kuri Ki Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Hamoa) called Honoa ki te Hono Tawhiti (To be connected to an ancient past). These four waharoa are individually Kia Ita, Tupu Te Maramatanga, Te Taumata and Nau Ka Toro, Ka Toro.

    These four waharoa recognise the importance of thresholds in Māori culture and traditional architecture as markers of transition between spaces, between states and between realms. In this instance, these waharoa signal entry into spaces where traditional and contemporary artworks exist mutually. The waharoa also provide delineation of the gallery space (in this instance recognising the tapu or sacred nature of the artworks within) from the noa (ordinary or profane) nature of day to day life of the modern city occurring outside the building.

    The works are based on kōwhaiwhai patterns (traditional designs found most often on wharenui (meeting house) heke (rafters)), which draw their patterning from elements within the natural world. These designs have been laser cut into plywood panels and reflect an upward journey from the ground to the canopy of the building. The artist drew inspiration from the self-organising systems that exist in both nature and art as a foundation for nurturing and supporting connections between tangata (people), whenua (land) and toi.

    A Living Presence

    A core kaupapa for the Project Team was that the design and function of the building reflect and enable important Mana Whenua values and practices, including whakautu and manaaki. One of the most important ceremonies which encapsulates these values is pōwhiri.

    The forecourt to the north of the main entry from Kitchener Street has been designed specifically to enable pōwhiri to occur. The design incorporates space for the traditional elements and roles of pōwhiri to occur when required, but equally functions as a well-designed public space at all other times. This includes a place for the kaikaranga (the woman (or women) who has the role of making the primary ceremonial call of welcome/exchange to manuhiri (visitors) at the start of pōwhiri), and also an area for manuhiri to gather before being called as part of pōwhiri.

    Lessons Learnt

    Some concerns have been raised by Mana Whenua regarding the location of the public cafe on level one with regards to pōwhiri.

    These concerns relate to tikanga (customs) associated with food (considered to be noa) being above the head (as the most tapu part of the body) when one approaches the building.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7