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Whare Timu leads by example

Warren and Mahoney principal, Whare Timu, is a man of our time, working to instigate cultural change and mindful that connection to people and place are the key to better design. Jan Henderson introduces us to this visionary designer and INDE.Awards juror.

Whare Timu leads by example

Pictured right, Whare Timu.

There are wonderful stories out there of people who climb mountains in Tibet or sail across the oceans and their feats amaze and impress. However, close to home or perhaps just next door, there are those who, against the odds, achieve and succeed to surprise and inspire us. Case in point is Whare Timu of Warren and Mahoney. A man who has made a place for himself in the realms of design, stayed true to culture and place and just happens to be a talented architect and advocate.

Born in Aotearoa New Zealand, Whare spent his early years on the East side of the North Island in the town of Hastings, where a connection to landscape and his tribe was born and nurtured. As a child he loved to draw, re-painting the interior of his family home. His parents were supportive in his endeavours and the artistic side of Whare was no doubt influenced by his father who was a carver of artefacts.

Whare Timu

At an early age there was no particular formed idea of a career, however in high school he was introduced to the work of renowned New Zealand Māori architect, John Scott, celebrated for his unique architecture that incorporated ideas from Māori culture. This left an indelible and lasting impression that ignited the love of architecture later in his life.

Whare’s intellectual prowess was recognised when he was named top academic student of his school and was awarded a full tertiary scholarship but still there wasn’t an obvious professional path to follow.

At 17, the young Whare and his partner had a child and so further thoughts of tertiary study seemed out of reach. No-one in his family had ever attended university. Caring for a family, studying at this level and heading out into a completely new place and environment seemed an insurmountable challenge. A school counsellor recognised Whare’s potential and steered him toward studying architecture at the Victoria University of Wellington. Attending an open day at the university changed Whare’s life and he decided that all things were possible. He then set about making them happen.

Whare Timu with others

Whare enrolled in architecture, a five-year course at that stage, and managed to pass the impossibly difficult first year – from 300 students only 80 passed to second year, and Whare was the only Māori student to continue onwards.

With multiple scholarships, Whare could just make everything work, support his family and himself living away from home, as well as study. However, as the only Māori architecture student on campus with no Māori staff at the university to support and guide him, it was isolating. That’s not to say that there weren’t those who helped but it was a challenging time.

Luckily, there was opportunity to mix with other Māori teachers at Auckland University, and so between Victoria University in Wellington, and traveling to Auckland there was a chance to find roots and understanding.

At the end of his course, Whare graduated with Honours, as the last group of architecture students to complete a five-year Bachelor’s degree. Today it is a three-year Bachelor of Architectural Studies with the option to follow on with a two-year Masters Professional degree.

After leaving university, Whare commenced work at Studio Pacific Architecture where he remained for some 10 years. There were large-scale projects and government work but Whare also began to grow a relatively new area within the practice, that of a cultural design manager. Using his knowledge, regard and presence in Māori culture, there was the opportunity to help integrate ways of working and collaborating for best practice that aligned with indigenous thought and concepts within design, advantaged the client and provided understanding to the architecture studio.

He Tohu Interior
He Tohu Exhibition, National Library of New Zealand.

Two years ago, Whare was approached to join one of New Zealand’s leading architecture practices, Warren and Mahoney, and he accepted. This was a chance to further the ideas of connection and communication, and as cultural advisor and senior design lead, he could absolutely invest in the studio to make change.

Today, Whare is principal at the practice and leads a focus group of 20 people, both Māori and non-Māori in the Advanced Indigenous Design Unit, or Te Matakīrea, dedicated to empowering indigenous architecture in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and the wider Pacific Rim.

He Tohu Exhibition Piece
He Tohu Exhibition, National Library of New Zealand.

In his position at Warren and Mahoney, designing and implementing cultural change is happening through co-design, that creates a sense of joint ownership for all stakeholders. Through co-design, indigenous voices can positively impact and influence design, cultural competency can be built and art and architecture can be integrated with culture. Co-Design is best design and helps promote understanding, gives a framework of relevance, addresses climate issues, ensures equity in the built environment and, put simply, makes a difference.

While Warren and Mahoney is a forward thinking practice, it is open to change, supporting Whare and the many other staff with different cultures to achieve better design and outcomes.

With Whare’s understanding of tikanga Māori (customs and protocol), his prowess with whaikōrero (oratory) and kapa haka (performance) he is integral to the future of the practice. Developing understanding and cultural impact, Whare can help create architecture that has mutually beneficial outcomes for everyone involved.

Whare is a member of the 2022 INDE.Awards Jury. Discover the other jury members here

Warren and Mahoney

Courtesy of Whare Timu

Entries to the 2022 INDE.Awards close on 31/03/2022 at 23:59 AEDT. Entries can be started, submitted and modified here and should be entered according to the Awards’ category criteria.

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