Te Hononga Community Hub racks up another first
By the time it is completed Kawakawa’s Te Hononga Community Hub will boast all sorts of firsts, but that is happening already.
The first female building apprentice taken on by a major Northland construction firm is among those at work on the $6.4 million rammed earth structure, which is now taking shape behind the town’s famous Hundertwasser toilets, which will include a public library, the town’s Far North District Council service centre, a gallery, workshop, showers and toilets for freedom campers, and an interpretative centre exploring the relationship between Kawakawa and Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
The project also includes coach and car parking to ease Kawakawa’s summertime traffic woes, and a town square, which will be created by demolishing the old Post Office and library, linking the main street and the hub.
Last week 20 previously unemployed local people, who will gain qualifications while helping to build the earth walls, were welcomed on to the site, joining a workforce that already included 19-year-old Michiko Cooper, of Nga¯ ti Hine descent, who moved north from Christchurch earlier in the year to pursue her passion for carpentry.
The first female apprentice employed by Whanga¯ rei firm Harnett Builders, the project’s lead contractor, she originally had her sights set on an architecture degree, but changed tack after completing a pre-trade qualification in carpentry last year.
She had no luck finding an apprenticeship in Christchurch, so at her father’s suggestion she moved to Motatau and contacted Northland building firms.
Petite and not as strong as some of her male workmates, Michiko said she wasn’t being treated any differently. And she was enjoying being involved in every step of the project from the foundations up.
“If I was working for a showhome company we’d pretty much just be standing up frames every day. Here we’re doing something different every day, plus the project is quite unique because everything’s made of curves, there are no straight lines. It’s been a really good experience, and I’ve learnt a lot,” she said.
Site foreman Sam Fielden said Michiko was the firm’s first female apprentice, and the first woman he’d worked with in 18 years on building sites.
“It’s about time the building industry caught up with the times. It takes a lot of courage to do what Michiko has done. I was pretty intimidated when I started as a guy, and she’s moved up from Christchurch as well,” he said.
Meanwhile 22-year-old Poai Niha, also from Motatau, started work on Te Hononga last week under Ahipara rammed earth expert Rueben Taipari.
“It’s very interesting to work alongside the experts and listen to their ko¯ rero. The future of Nga¯ ti Hine will only grow with this, which is beautiful,” he said.
Te Hononga is believed to be the first commercial rammed earth building in New Zealand, and the first to use Sirewall, a high-strength rammed earth building method developed in Canada. Unlike traditional rammed earth, it is strong enough to support more than one storey.
While Sirewall has Canadian consultants on site for the next month it is otherwise a wholly Northland project, from architect Pip Bolton, of Avail Pacific, to the Whanga¯ rei building and earth wall contractors and the Kerikeri company that built a ‘floating ribraft’ as an alternative to driving piles into the swampy soil.
The project is a partnership between Kawakawa Hundertwasser Park Charitable Trust and local iwi Nga¯ ti Hine. It is funded by the Provincial Growth Fund, Lotteries, Foundation North, Far North Holdings, and the Far North District and Northland Regional councils. It is due to open in April next year.
Building apprentices Michiko Cooper and Kyle Parsons at work on Kawakawa’s Te Hononga community hub.