Te Wānanga is an audacious public space that extends over the sparkling Waitematā harbour to create space for people, flora and fauna to flourish at the interface of city and sea. Stitching together the land and the harbour, Te Wānanga is conceived as an elevated tidal shelf for human and coastal ecologies.
Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) is Aotearoa (New Zealand’s) largest city. As its multi-cultural community, built on a bi-cultural foundation, grows in confidence, the city is re-connecting with the ocean on which Māori paddled their waka (canoes) across the Pacific over 800 years ago, followed by European settlers in the 19th century.

Designed in partnership with mana whenua (the people of the land) Te Wānanga—the name means ‘to learn’—welcomes visitors from the water with respect, generosity, and care, providing a place to pause, to breathe and feel the breath, the hā, of Tangaroa (the god of the ocean). A co-design process was undertaken with ideas developed through concept to detailed design. Active and iterative collaboration allowed mana whenua values and Māori design to be brought into the project in an authentic, meaningful and purposeful way.

Located at the nexus of Auckland’s varied public transport provisions, Te Wānanga is Auckland’s busiest and most significant stretch of waterfront. Until now it has been a place of movement rather than habitation, constrained by traffic movements on land and water. Te Wānanga is now a place to move through as well as to rest—an oasis inspired by our coastal and cultural environment.
The design is distinctly ‘of the sea’. Conceived as a tidal shelf for human and coastal ecologies, it is a space for people, flora and fauna to flourish. Articulation of the outer edge, and apertures within encourage users to lean over, look in and reconnect with the ocean in an otherwise crowded civic context.

The natural sandstone shelves of the Waitematā Harbour—revealed when the tide recedes and holding treasures of the sea—are explored and extrapolated to inform the site. The resulting organic form and amplified edges deliver a constructed landscape for people and for the indigenous flora and fauna once abundant there.

Here ‘space’ has been used as a material, with apertures cut out of the deck to reveal the harbour below. The collection of apertures creates a variety of habitats and affords unique interactions with the surrounding ecologies.

Robust steel balustrades are softened by perforations that echo marine geometries, revealing a glimpse of sparkling Waitemetā beneath. Across the site, textured and layered surfaces—shell-encrusted and sandblasted concrete, generous forms of timber seating and indigenous coastal planting—invite touch, curiosity and exploration. Focus is shifted from the urban environment to the character of the natural world.

Suspended along the outer edge and aperture edges, anchored waka kūtai (floats) move with the tide and provide habitat for mussels, kelps and a wider ecology of marine life. They continue the advocacy for ocean health and wellbeing, functioning to filter the contaminants discharged from the city’s stormwater system beneath the tidal shelf surface. Time and tide are made visible as the floats rise and fall. The active interplay between land, sea and ecology imagines a future that sees the Waitematā return to a harbour of health and abundance.

Suspended in one of the apertures is a woven ‘raranga kōrimurimu’. Traditional Māori weaving is made larger than life using hi-tech materials and construction. Telling the story of rimurimu—a native seaweed in decline—the net offers a soft surface on which to rest, play and feel the breath of the ocean beneath.
The light balustrade tracing the length of the outer edge recalls the tideline of sticks and seaweeds washed ashore. Informed by traditional Māori construction methods, the gentle bind of the balusters casts striking shadows across the space. Along the timber leaner is a whakairo (carving) by one of the collaborating Māori artists, an expression of the immutable bond between land and sea. Another Māori artist Tessa Harris has woven the handrails with natural fibre with a unique binding design—an expression of toki (adze) and reflects waka (seafaring canoes) which were traditionally crafted by toki.
Te Wānanga is a place to reflect, learn and reconnect with the sea. It achieves this through rich an authentic design that layers space, form and craft to generate a tactile, experiential, and memorable space that honours history and advocates for a regenerative future.

Location: Quay Street, Auckland. New Zealand.

Design year: 2018-2020

Year Completed: 2021


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