Who comes first?

Tamati Kruger, Tuhoe negotiator and chair of the Te Urewera Board asks his own question in response to a question from Radio New Zealand about the architectural worth of John Scott’s Te Urewera National Park Visitor Centre at Aniwaniwa at Lake Waikaremoana:

I wouldn’t argue against it. I’m not an architect myself, but we acknowledge the heritage value of the old VC [visitors centre] building and all of the accolades that the New Zealand Architects Institute have put on it – that’s really not in dispute, what we have to consider is who comes first: Tuhoe interests or architectural interests?

It is a challenging question.  He and others from Tuhoe maintain that the building has no place anymore, that the new Wharehou o Waikaremoana visitor’s centre which is currently being built, co-designed by Tuhoe and architecture firm Tennant Brown, is rising to take its place, and will be a statement of Tuhoe’s reclamation of their lake.  It is in their rohe, and they don’t want it, so why should it stay?  Kruger also told a journalist ‘Tuhoe was not at all in play in the design of the original visitor centre built in 1974. We were not even invited to the opening. Tuhoe’s part was to supply the food.’

And yet, according to the excellent Heritage New Zealand report on the building, when the working plans were completed in 1973, R. Nikora of the Tuhoe Trust Board ‘expressed their (Tuhoe’s) pleasure that the concept and design of the building embodied so much of the spirit of the Urewera and of the history of Maori occupation of the area.’

Likewise, Scott’s son Jacob  has said that his father considered Tuhoe to be his client when designing the building, that it was ‘built for Tuhoe as an extension of the Tuhoe story … It communicates that without any words being said; the story is just apparent’.  He says that the removal of the building is an attempt by Tuhoe at a ‘cultural purge’, and towards a ‘decolonisation’ of their land.

This is my experience working on other heritage buildings that are unhappily situated on land being returned to iwi as part of treaty settlements – the iwi wants the land – it was taken from them, this is their settlement, and of course only a very partial settlement for what they have lost.  But on top of the land is a building that they don’t want, and who’s going to pay for it, or to make them keep something they don’t want?

There is a further complication – the demolition, Jacob Scott says, will also be an attempt by Tuhoe to undermine Ngati Ruapani’s claim to the building, and by extension the lake itself. Ngati Ruapani and Tuhoe have long had disputed ownership of the lake.  The Heritage New Zealand listing report says Ngati Ruapani has explicitly asked in the past for the significance of the building to be recognised, and to discuss their future ownership of the building as part of their Treaty settlement processes. Another local hapu, Ngati Hinekura, have expressed their interest in using the building as cultural tourism venture.

So, on the one hand, the local argument – although not all locals agree.  And on the other side, the national argument.  The New Zealand Institute of Architects, the Futuna Chapel Trust and many other architects are making the national value argument: ‘Aniwaniwa is a unique building designed by a unique architect for a unique place.  It strongly expresses some of the defining characteristics of John Scott’s architecture: concern for the land, a sensitive approach to site, and an innovative fusion of modern architecture and Maori building and design traditions’. Likewise, the Heritage New Zealand listing report said of the building ‘Its very special aesthetic, architectural, cultural, historical and social significance make this a historic place of outstanding heritage value to New Zealand, important for the accomplishment of its culturally sensitive and innovative design by acclaimed architect John Scott, which responds to its location within Te Urewera’.  It was classified by that organisation as a Category 1 historic place in 2012.

So which trumps which?   And another abiding question – why has the Department of Conservation not maintained the building in the way that they ought to have – there are existing instructions to government departments that require them to maintain and care for heritage buildings in their care.  Why was this not been done in this case?

At the time of writing apparently the demolition has begun, although a group of architects, artists and others are apparently on site to try and stop it.

 

 

Check out the updated coverage in Toby Manhire’s interview with Gregory O’Brien, at The Spinoff at http://thespinoff.co.nz/media/04-09-2016/the-building-is-going-to-get-scalped-tomorrow-architects-head-to-urewera-in-attempt-to-save-john-scott-classic/

Other sources: Gisborne Herald, ‘Visitor centre start of a new relationship between DoC, Tuhoe’, 24 August 2016; Hawkes Bay Today, ‘Building demolition ‘colonial purge’, 25 August 2016; Heritage New Zealand listing: http://www.heritage.org.nz/the-list/details/9553

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