Could a giant pou whenua be just the thing Auckland's waterfront needs?

World Views

Here’s an idea for Auckland: a 50-metre carved pou whenua that celebrates the city’s tangata whenua and welcomes everyone to join in. The bonus: bringing Aotearoa’s carving traditions to one of the city’s most prominent points.

Auckland has long had an absence of Māori  sculpture and carving presence that matters. Carver, chef and story teller Rewi Spraggon and his friend and colleague Andrew Melville want to change that with their proposal for a giant pou whenua on the Auckland landscape. The two have been working in partnership with architects, designers and planners on carvings for public buildings. Here, they explain how their Te Pou o Te Ao project has developed, and their hopes for getting it built.

Bob Harvey: Rewi, where did the idea for this pou come from?

Rewi Spraggon: I suppose Auckland is like any other city in the world – it has a harbour bridge, it has a tower, but what’s missing is the indigenous landscape. This harbour was full of waka. The shores were lined with waka, there were whare along the shores. Where are they now? That really led us to a passion and a drive to look at how we can actually change the landscape of Auckland and actually put a thumbprint, an ID, a DNA that everyone can actually relate to. The pou was borne out of that idea.

You’re talking of a massive project that can be seen from the land and the sea, something that is clearly of Aotearoa New Zealand, a gateway statement.

RS: It [would be] 50 metres in height. It will have a shield over the top, which might be 75 metres [tall], but the point is it doesn’t matter how tall the tower is, it’s built by the people and by Aucklanders, every culture, every race.

Andrew, your contribution to this is in storytelling, and this pou tells the story of not only Māori but of all the cultures, like a cathedral.

Andrew Melville: It’s like a cathedral.

I guess we felt it needed to be universal. People are very inspired by this country, about the Māori as tangata whenua, and the relationships that have been built in partnership. We’re a poster child in some parts of the world. We know there’s a lot of work to do to get things right in this country, [but] people are inspired by what we do and this could be a symbol of that. The Statue of Liberty was a great symbol in the United States of freedom, of people arriving from all over the world to the promised land. We can be a symbol of unity and inclusion, and so we have been thinking about how we can invite carvers with traditions from all over the world to have pieces in this structure, so that it would be a story and a base from te ao Māori, but upon that we would see the universal themes of all the carving traditions around the world.

Rewi, you’re talking of something that may be carved over 10, 20, 30 years?

RS: We’ve sort of looked at a seven-year carving for the carvers, with around 20 or so carvers working on the structure. It becomes a living project where the carvers are carving parts of it out in the schools, talking to the schools, teaching the kids about the story.

You’re talking of a wooden structure?

RS: The engineers will be able to answer that question, but I think the outside will be kauri but not only kauri, kauri die-back [affected trees]. In Waitākere, we have had the iwi support us in offering the kauri die-back for this pou. These are trees that are up to a thousand years old that have a disease. We can bring them back to life in the pou. Why not have the oldest residents in Auckland tell the story? Otherwise they rot, they fall in the bush. This is a way where we can bring them back to life.

Where would you like to see this?

RS: Right where we are now, in Wynyard Quarter – we’d like to see it on the tank farms. This would be the ideal place, and we’ve got the drawings here.

Rewi, you rediscovered carving in Auckland by walking through the Avondale Markets.

RS: I was going through the Avondale Markets, and at the end of the market I saw this amazing steel adze on the table. A man in his late 70s or early 80s was selling his wares in tears. I looked at him and I knew who he was: a master carver, a great carver who was selling his adze because he couldn’t find any work anymore. I thought, ‘our carvers can’t find work and they’re the storytellers of Auckland’.

AM: I got a call from Rewi saying we’ve got to save the carvers of Auckland. That led us to put together a trust and do some thinking and workshopping around what the vision would be for that group, and [the realisation that] there was nothing going on at scale.

So the concept of a huge freestanding pou whenua telling the story and legends of Auckland came and grew from that concept. Any idea of the cost?

RS: We would say roughly $70 million to $90 million. This is a legacy. It’s a gathering place. It’s an icon, and it would also integrate with other public activities very nicely down on the waterfront.