Hirini Matunga

A Discourse on the Nature of Indigenous Design

At a workshop in 2000, entitled ‘Urban Biodiversity and Ecology as a Basis for Holistic Planning and Design” I presented a paper entitled “Urban Ecology, Tangata Whenua and the Colonial City”. The paper lamented the fact that “New Zealand cities still display, cherish, nurture and even reproduce unmistakeable signs of their colonial past, not only in architecture and monuments but urban design modelled on British examples, public parks modelled on English landscape design, gardens, imported trees and vegetation and imperial urban landscapes - while at the same time negating their pre-colonial Māori origins.” The paper used `Colonial Christchurch’ – as the preeminent ‘case in point’ and ‘last antipodean bastion of empire’ – punting on the Avon, Cathedral Square, marble odes to Queen Victoria and Captain Cook et al. Fast forward to the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, and the colonial city and its citizens have had to confront their own loss of materiality and memory. Tragedy has created a historic opportunity to ‘rethink’ the colonial city and potentially transition to the post-colonial city -, from England to Aotearoa.  

Architecture, urban design, landscape architecture and planning have always been used as colonial tools every bit as effective as military conquest, land confiscation, imposition of private property etc. – in erasing the materiality, memory and humanity of indigenous communities. Ōtautahi/Christchurch, Aotearoa/New Zealand is no exception. 

In this presentation, I talk ‘around’ these issues and in particular the need to theorise indigeneity back into architecture, planning and urban design – which by the way, had never left but had simply been paved and boarded over during the colonial project.


Professor of Māori and Indigenous Planning at Lincoln University. Prior to that he was Deputy Vice Chancellor Communities, Assistant Vice Chancellor - Māori, Director of the Centre for Māori and Indigenous Planning and Development at Lincoln University and Senior Lecturer in Planning at the University of Auckland. He graduated in Town Planning in 1983 and practised as a planner – specialising in Māori issues with Napier City Council, Auckland Regional Council and the Ministry of Works and Development. He has been actively engaged in practice, then teaching and research in Māori planning, resource management, policy and design and indigenous heritage management for over 30 years. In 2015, the Minister for Māori Development presented him with the New Zealand Planning Institutes – Papa Pounamu Award for Outstanding Service to Māori Environmental Planning and Resource Management.