Sky's the limit for Te Hono Airport

By Will Trafford

Te Hono might not be the name thousands of tourists (pre-Covid) heard when first touching down in Aotearoa, but despite that, New Plymouth’s regional airport is making a name for itself internationally.

Te Hono (to connect) has been nominated for the United Nations (Unesco) Prix Versailles Architecture award for its ability to decolonize architecture and tell the love story of Tamarau and Rongoueroa in its design.

The nomination is one of several the airport's clocked up since opening in March 2020. In November it was awarded gold at the Designers Institute of New Zealand’s Best Design (Toitango) Awards.

Tukutuku panels bridge Tamarau and Rongoueroa within the airport terminal.

Tukutuku panels bridge Tamarau and Rongoueroa within the airport terminal.

The latest commendation celebrates the designers departing from western, colonial-era practices and embracing a Te Ao Māori lens with history, tikanga and mātauranga.

Produced by Te Ātiawa and architecture firm Beca, Te Hono sits on the coast and is oriented to embrace the Maunga and Awa of Hapū, Puketapu.

The roof features a panelled wing design representing the feathers of Tamarau, with tukutuku panels telling the stories of Te Ātiawa bridge Tamarau and Rongoueroa.

Te Hono’s shortlisting places it among heavyweight finalists like New York’s LaGuardia, which sees some 30 million passengers pass through its gates each year.

The Te Hono whenua was confiscated from Puketapu in the 1960s under the Public Works Act.

The confiscation occurred despite the presence of urupā on the site. Puketapu representative Rangi Kipa says the new airport is just the beginning of addressing that wrong.

Te Hono / New Plymouth Regional Airport was developed by architects BECA alongside Te Ātiawa Hapū Puketapu

Te Hono / New Plymouth Regional Airport was developed by Te Ātiawa Hapū Puketapu alongside architects BECA

“The design and construction of the terminal acknowledges our troubled social and political past by speaking aspirationally into the future. It integrates and reflects our unique Taranaki identity.” Kipa said.

Campbell Craig, architect on the project said Te Hono provides a blueprint for partnership and how architecture needs to embrace Te Ao Māori in the future. He said the collaboration would be embedded into all of Beca’s projects going forward.

Earlier this month the airport was given a ‘highly commended’ for cultural well-being at the NZ Local Government Excellence Awards.

The winners of the Prix Versailles 2021 awards will be announced at Unesco headquarters in Paris, France in  November.

Above: The cultural significance of the Puketapu hapū’s contribution to Te Hono is explained in a film commissioned by the airport.