Unitec wharenui opens

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Carly Tawhiao

A NEW wharenui at Unitec’s Mt Al­bert cam­pus of­fi­cially opens to­day, de­spite the marae com­plex be­ing in­com­plete.

The multi-mil­lion dol­lar meet­ing house was blessed at a dawn cer­e­mony by lo­cal kau­matua, even though bath­room and din­ing fa­cil­i­ties have yet to be built and land­scap­ing com­pleted.

Unitec chief ex­ec­u­tive Rick Ede says while the meet­ing house is only stage one of the marae de­vel­op­ment, it’s un­clear when stage two of the project will get un­der way.

“It is cer­tainly op­er­a­tional now but we can’t say when it will be fin­ished un­til we know how we will raise the funds to fin­ish it.”

Mr Ede says every­one in­volved in the project has been work­ing to­wards to­day’s open­ing.

“It’s been 10 years since the con­cept of a Unitec marae was floated and I’m de­lighted it has been brought into fruition,” he says.

Unitec’s stu­dent as­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Greg Pow­ell says construction is many years and dol­lars past what was bud­geted but wait­ing for stage two to be com­pleted be­fore open­ing the wharenui is not an op­tion.

“To have a beau­ti­ful build­ing sit­ting there do­ing noth­ing would be the big­gest crime we could do. We want to cre­ate a liv­ing build­ing, even if the fa­cil­i­ties are makeshift, we will be cre­at­ing the life that is the marae.”

Unitec’s stu­dent as­so­ci­a­tion’s web­site puts the project cost so far at $4.5 mil­lion.

Al­though the wharenui is booked out by cam­pus staff and stu­dents for the next 10 months, land­scap­ing that in­cludes build­ing a walk­ing bridge over Wairaka Stream for vis­i­tors to ac­cess the meet­ing house, and im­proved bath­room and din­ing room fa­cil­i­ties is what’s still needed, says Unitec’s bi­cul­tural ad­viser Hare Pan­iora.

The 25-me­tre-long meet­ing house is named Ngakau Ma­haki, mean­ing re­spect, and is part of the marae com­plex called Te Noho Ko­tahi­tanga, or re­side in unity.

“It’s a first for Unitec now it’s been handed over by mas­ter carver Ly­onel Grant,” says Mr Pan­iora.

Mr Grant, of Ngati Pikiao de­scent, was com­mis­sioned to build the wharenui in 2002.

“He didn’t just want to dec­o­rate a box. The carv­ings of the house are also its struc­ture,” says Mr Pan­iora.

Com­bin­ing tra­di­tional build­ing meth­ods with Unitec’s time frame and bud­get con­straints was a chal­lenge but Mr Pan­iora says every­one was com­mit­ted to bring­ing the project to life and to retell the story of Auck­land.

“The rear wall sig­ni­fies all those who have gone be­fore us, the cen­tre pil­lar, or pou, is con­structed of bronze and rep­re­sents ev­ery­thing up to 1840. The front of the house rep­re­sents mod­ern day Auck­land.”

Among guests at to­day’s cer­e­mony are the an­ces­tors of Wairaka, whom Owairaka is named af­ter.

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