There’s a special appeal for a family in having a chance to retreat from downtown or the suburbs, or even the backblocks, and settle into a marae community — and even more appeal if that’s a home designed for the whānau that yours has become. Designing and building papakāinga housing has been climbing up the priority list in recent years for a number of hapū and iwi, especially as architects, builders, and local body councils have been learning the moves they can make to help dreams turn into reality.
Jade Kake is making progress with papakāinga projects in Whangārei, as well as juggling other commitments in architecture and writing. And now she’s linked those two interests in a book called Rebuilding the Kāinga: Lessons from Te Ao Hurihuri.
Here she is talking with Dale about her work.
Kia ora, Jade. Your Kake whānau are known well beyond your Whangārei home, but you have some Aussie background too, don’t you?
I was actually born in Australia. My mum, Debra, connects here, to Pehiāweri Marae just past Otuihau, the Whangārei Falls. She and my dad, Berthold (Bo) Koene, who’s Dutch, met in Melbourne in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s. And they moved up to northern New South Wales, around Byron Bay and inland.
They were founding members of an eco-community called Billen Cliffs. That’s where I grew up. But I still had a close relationship with Mum’s family back here because my grandfather, Haki Kake, used to bring me home to Whangārei and I’d stay with his sister Ruiha.
I was really fortunate to always have that connection. But, even though I was living in Australia, there was always whānau around us because a lot of them had come across from New Zealand by then.
What can you tell us about those Aussie days — and how you got interested in housing design?
In that eco-community, people had a shared goal around regeneration. Being good kaitiaki. And looking after each other and living in a way that was attuned to the environment.
I grew up in a house that my dad built. It had solar panels and rainwater collection. We grew a lot of our own kai. My mum’s main thing, pretty much her whole life, has been looking after the earth. So, she’s into growing native trees, beekeeping, growing kai, and caring for the whenua.
I think she already had those values from her upbringing. So that had a huge influence on me and my thinking about community and how we might want to live.
Then you did some carpentry at TAFE (Technical and Further Education), up in Queensland.
Yes. I did a short course in carpentry there. I’d graduated from the University of Queensland with a degree in architectural design, but it was during the global financial crisis and there were no jobs. And I’d always been interested in building — I’d grown up with my dad building the house and constantly adding to it. So I did that carpentry course at TAFE. Then I worked for a building company in Brisbane. They were Māori Mormons and I really loved working with them. I learned a lot, too.
Unfortunately, they were a small company and weren’t able to take me on full-time, so I started looking for an apprenticeship. But I got lots of awful, sexist comments when I tried to apply for jobs. And it was so discouraging that I gave up.
Later, when I was back here, I worked full-time over the summer making outdoor furniture. That was cool. I got to work with timber in the workshop and I really enjoyed that mahi. I think it’s helped me become a better designer.
Did that Aussie eco-community have to adhere to council bylaws? For instance, when your dad was building his house, did he comply with the council’s rules?
No. Not at all. He sold it a few years ago. But he had to wait for somebody who had the cash to buy it outright. If you have an unconsented dwelling you can’t get finance on it, or insurance. He did investigate what was required to make it compliant, but he chose to wait until somebody came along and was happy to purchase it “as is”.
A lot of the homes in the community were like that, because it was remote and self-contained — and unlikely to have council inspections. None of the homes were visible from the road. A lot of them were owner-builders and they didn’t necessarily get all of the necessary consents.
So, you grew up with the hippies.
Yeah. My parents are hippies. I like to think of them as “early adopters”, now that their values have become more mainstream.
There’s been talk for years that our public buildings should reflect our Māori roots in this country. But that hasn’t been a high priority. What do you feel about the need to weave Māori design concepts into our houses, and into our public buildings and spaces.
I’m actually doing quite a lot of that work at the moment, in Whangārei. In fact, I’ve just been working on the façade of a new building for central Whangārei.
I started getting into this kind of work while I was still in Australia. And then my Aunty Eliza mentioned our whanaunga, Rau Hoskins, who was teaching at Unitec and running his practice, designTRIBE, in Auckland. She told me to contact him because he was already doing the work that I wanted to be doing. So I got in touch, and he said: “Come home.”
Which I did. And I worked with him for a number of years and, through him, I linked up with Ngā Aho, which is the network of Māori design professionals.
That meant I was able to see a lot of Māori architecture and design in Auckland and, to a lesser degree, Ōtautahi. And that inspired me about the potential for this kind of approach in Whangārei.
So it was a really good apprenticeship, which set me up to be able to work with, and for, our Māori communities as a designer.
And when I started my own practice a year ago, I was able to apply a lot of those learnings. I think it’s an idea whose time has come and it’s getting more and more mainstream support and understanding, because we’ve seen some high profile examples, particularly in Tāmaki.
I’d like to see it happening in all of our urban areas. Seeing our identity and stories in the environment is really beneficial, partly so that our young people can come to understand our stories — and have a sense of place. But it also benefits others, including our visitors.
It’s something where everybody wins — rather than having just this colonial landscape that nobody can connect with and that keeps reminding us of New Zealand’s colonial history, when maybe we don’t want only those reminders.
I’m familiar with Rau. He’s been a champion of Māori design, and I recall talking with him, way back, about having his Unitec students looking at the innovations that could be made in houses so that they could accommodate integrated and extended families. Even down to stovetops that could be swung outside and used more as a kāuta. They had some neat ideas.
There’s a lot of ways that Māori design can be woven into a building. But I think the essential thing is that whoever holds mana whenua in that area is engaged in the process. You can have a nice design, but if you do it without mana whenua, it doesn’t mean anything.
Sometimes designers forget that — because they think all they have to do is draw some really nice designs on paper and translate that into a building. So we’re forever having to discourage some of our designers from having a go without Māori input.
That’s one thing. But the other part is that design can take a variety of forms —including the orientation of buildings, site lines, the relationship between spaces, and integration with the landscape. And there’s furniture and planting and pavements and facades and other elements. There’s also the arrangement of spaces within buildings to facilitate certain cultural protocols and behaviours.
Or it could be the use of particular materials that remind you of what was there in the past. Or designs that are significant to that hapū.
So, there’s a lot of different ways that those narratives and stories can be integrated.
Let’s talk about papakāinga housing. There seems to be a growing desire in many of our urban-based people to return to the papakāinga. For many, that may be just a dream. But perhaps in your situation, it’s an achievable reality.
For our whānau, we’re very fortunate that we still have land and that our land is close to a regional urban centre. So we’re not far away from jobs and schools and shops. We’ve maintained some of this whenua and we’re still able to do something with it, even though, for a long time, it was very hard to do anything.
Papakāinga housing has been a long cherished dream for our whānau, and now we have funding and we’re progressing with planning and concept design. It took a long time to get to the starting blocks and we’re still early in the process.
But we’re steadily moving and working towards a future where we have homes on our whenua, and homes that are culturally appropriate for us, that are responsive to the site and to our whānau dynamics, and that are eco-friendly.
I’m a bit anti the compliance expectations on our own land, not imposed by us, but from the Crown, the colonisers, call it what you will — society at large. Is this something that you have to factor in as well, the need to be compliant, as well as being Māori and as well as being affordable. Because the former can very much influence the latter.
That’s true. But what we now have in Whangārei, as of February last year, is a papakāinga plan change which means we don’t have to get a resource consent for our papakāinga. We just need to lodge a papakāinga development plan which contains similar information to a resource consent application, but it’s non-notified and there are no fees.
So that’s what we’re working towards with the two projects we’re looking to launch early next year. We’ve been meeting regularly with the council. This is new for them. They don’t quite know how it’s going to roll but they’ve committed to meeting with us regularly. And I think that’s a good first step for Whangārei.
Ka pai. Are you able to tell us a bit about the papakāinga developments that you and your peeps are working on?
Yeah, sure. There’s two. One is Te Rewarewa papakāinga and it’s on the Whangārei Harbour. It’s on Rewarewa Road. It’s 64 hectares, right on the harbour. Toetoe on one side, the port on the other. That was the land where my grandfather was born and raised with his siblings. Our whānau were among the last to live there.
Nobody has lived there for about 50 years. First it went into trees and then it came out of forestry in 2012. And our whānau said: “What next?” So we worked on a vision for the future and, out of that, has come a number of projects. One of those is the papakāinga and we’re now looking at a master plan for 50 homes. There’s 10 in the first stage and that’s a mixture of two-by-two duplexes, five-bed homes, and three-bed homes.
The thinking at the moment is to make those homes flexible so people can move around the papakāinga as their needs change. We’re also looking at our tenure options because we recognise that conventional freehold home ownership is not necessarily a natural fit with papakāinga.
In our master plan as well, is a new marae, which is something that our whānau, our shareholders, have long had as an aspiration, along with other communal facilities.
Like māra kai (food gardens) which is really important. That’s the one thing we’ve got going on the whenua at the moment. A cousin of mine is running an organic māra kai garden, which is really wonderful. We’ll be looking to shift that into a more permanent home as the papakāinga progresses — and reinstating some of our connections to the harbour and to the wider environment.
The other papakāinga project is at Pehiāweri, on the hills behind our marae. This project is special because it was championed by our uncle Les Wakefield, who passed away recently. That’s left a huge hole in our lives, and I think we’re all just trying to figure out how we fill those spaces that he occupied, and how we uphold his legacy and carry forward the things that he started.
It’s clear that you have a talent for articulating your plans and your views. Not just in discussions but in writing, too. And you’re now known as an author. How do you feel about that role?
I really enjoy writing, and people seem to be interested in what I have to say. I don’t think it’s healthy when architects define themselves just by their profession, but I see myself as a hapū and a whānau member first. And then comes architecture, advocacy, and writing. The writing is a way to introduce ideas accessibly and maybe influence and support others with what they’re wanting to do.
It’s not as if you’re short of things to do, but I see you’re also a Northland director with Habitat for Humanity which is helping people here and all around the world to have a decent home.
Well, I knew about the Habitat model and its work in empowering people to solve their own housing needs. I could see that its values were aligned with ours. And I wanted to support the Habitat organisation in being a partner for our Māori communities in the north — perhaps in playing a role in brokering access to finances. So it’s felt like a natural alliance.
Another challenge for you now is the business you’ve set up. How’s that going?
It’s been a really good experience. I guess I just took a gamble. I just said: “Well, I’ve got these two projects with my whānau and I can see that other things are needed. Maybe I can contribute. So let’s have a go and see how it works out.”
And now I’ve survived the first year in business and there are clients wanting to work on various projects. I’ve employed my first kaimahi who started just over a month ago, and it’s been really cool. Really exciting. And I hope that we can keep going because there’s heaps of work to be done.
Finally, let’s turn from your work to whatever may be another source of pride and pleasure. What comes to mind?
Well, I really hope to make it as a fiction writer. I’ve just started getting into that sort of writing. I like telling stories. And I think I’ve got some other stories to tell that haven’t been told before. So, I have been working on a story about indigeneity and the diaspora which draws on my experiences in Australia and feelings about home and identity.
I’ve been working through that for a little while now and, if it’s good enough, hopefully it’ll see the light of day and can be shared.
I’m looking forward to that already, Jade. Good luck with your work, your whānau and your writing.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
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