Unitec wharenui opens
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.”
While no one would confirm what the project has cost so far, Unitec’s student association’s website puts the figure 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,” says Mr Paniora.
Among the guests at today’s ceremony are the ancestors of Wairaka, whom Owairaka is named after.
This morning’s powhiri to welcome government officials, sponsors and more dignitaries was televised out to the open space rise near the meeting house for students.