Tama Whiting brings Māori world view to landscape design in New York City

By Matiu Hamuera

Māori landscape architect Tama Whiting's fascination with indigenous, black and minority culture extends well into his career.

Now he's taken that to the Big Apple, landing a job at a major firm that encourages his passion for injecting minority cultures into landscape projects valued in multimillion dollars.

“Being from a small population in New Zealand and coming here and trying to influence some of the indigenous groups that are here I try to share some of my knowledge and understanding - New Zealanders are very forward thinkers in the way we approach landscape architecture in terms of the world,” Whiting says.

Asked if he gets to input any Māori design into the work he does in the US, Whiting said it’s something he’s not interested in doing because “that's kind of what the Western world has been doing, just plonking their narrative on other landscapes.”

He says he would rather share knowledge on Māori guiding documents, values, and principles that have been established in New Zealand with First Nations people or communities of colour.

“(To) work with them to establish their own set of guiding principles that will help guide, design, that’s specific to them in this country,”

“The first thing to get right is listening, and walking the land and having a feel for some of the local narratives and stories and really trying to become integrated into the communities, and less about making your mark in terms of design and trying to stamp yourself everywhere,” Whiting says.

It's in the blood

As a grandson of the late Māori artist, Cliff Whiting, Tama says both his koro and his father played a huge influence on his own design journey.

“Watching them like carve away and do all sorts of traditional Māori weaving and really being a part of the communities as they travelled up and down the country, the local stories from different iwi and hapū  just became ingrained in me and I guess that whole creative flair came along with that too.”

One thing that Whiting says he has come to appreciate while living in New York is the denser living and he says New Zealand can learn a lot from this.

“People have been living in New York City in apartments for 100 years now, or more. Just seeing the way in which people interact with public parks and shared spaces is quite rewarding and it definitely serves my profession well because that's the types of spaces we design,”

“That's definitely something that I think New Zealand could learn from, maybe having a look at some of the best practice precedents for denser living,” Whiting says.