Taranaki Whānui, Te Āti Awa held a special ceremony at dawn to begin the construction of Aotearoa's most significant public building, a new state-of-the-art Archives facility in Wellington, to conserve and protect the nation's treasures, history and heritage.
It was a spiritual ceremony to honour the past, present, and future of the structure that will hold some of the country's most valuable taonga.
Te Tai Awatea is the name of the development project that will produce a campus that will house Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga, Archives New Zealand, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision and Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, plus The National Library of New Zealand.
The government has enlisted top architects, design agencies, and construction firms to create this cutting-edge structure but, most crucially, the people of Te Āti Awa and Taranaki whānui.
Te Āti Awa spokesperson Kura Moeahu recalls a waiata of his ancestors who sang about the land where Archives New Zealand will now stand and where his ancestors lived at Pipitea Pā, before being forced off the land by the Crown more than 160 years ago.
“We have been silent for 175 years. The council has never ever participated or invited us to participate in any discussions about matters of importance to us, so our returning back here is reaffirming we've always been here,” he says.
“Names have actually been lost such as at Lambton Quay and Thornton Quay. Its original name was The One-i-hau Kawakawa so we want to share the original names that once were suppressed and nearly close to extinction.”
Working with architects
To help bring forth the designs of the local iwi, Te Āti Awa and Taranaki Whānui have chosen one of their own.
Although renowned artist Rangi Kipa is primarily known as a carver and sculptor, he says his primary expertise as a designer is to contribute to not just shaping the architecture but also the culture of the institutions.
“When we look at significant cultural institutions like Archives it has the ability to speak back into the hearts and minds of the country,” he says.
“Our narrative in the way in which we drive the design process is driven in the relationship of the building to the land it sits upon.”
“We have dreams and aspirations that were borne a long long time ago by our tūpuna and we're just part of the continuation of trying to realise some of those dreams that our ancestors had.”
The government has allocated $290 million to this project and Māori project advisor Hinerangi Himiona, of Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Toarangatira, says the protection of the taonga has also been considered in the build.
“This is a highly spec'd building and I'm not an architect or engineer but what we do know is that it is going to be one of the most stable, secure buildings in terms of earthquake proofing, protection from the outside elements,” she says.
“Basically the walls are solid and there aren't a lot of windows that allow the sunlight into this huge repository that cares for our nation's documentary heritage.”
The exhibition; He Tohu currently holds and cares for, He Whakaputanga, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and the Women’s Suffrage Petition which was opened in 2017.
It is hoped that 'He Tohu' will become the heart of the new heritage campus.
The new Archives building will be connected with the National Library by a link bridge for easy transfers between buildings for staff, visitors, and documents, bringing Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, National Library, and Archives NZ closer together.
The new Archives building is expected to be open to the public in early 2026.