Te Hono, the New Plymouth Airport terminal, has been selected as a finalist in a prestigious international award which recognises architecture that strongly responds to cultural heritage.
Te Hono, which means "to connect", is one of six 2021 finalists in the airports category and is located on ancestral land confiscated from mana whenua in the 1960s.
Sixty years later, the architecture of the terminal puts mana whenua at its heart.
Since its creation in 2015 at Unesco headquarters in Paris, the Prix Versailles has sought to acknowledge architecture that fosters a better interaction between economy and culture.
The regional airport was designed by Beca's Design Practice, and is up against other finalists including the upgrade to New York's La Guardia, Berlin's Brandenburg Airport and international airports in Athens, Kazakhstan and the Philippines.
Integrating members of local hapū Puketapu into the design team was crucial to this process.
"This was not just a collaboration, it was a partnership," Beca architect Campbell Craig said.
"We sat alongside each other, shoulder to shoulder, at the design table in numerous, full-day workshops throughout the concept and preliminary design stages."
Papa Rererangi i Pukutapu New Plymouth Airport chief executive David Scott reinforced the courageous commitment from Puketapu, and the positive reception from the New Plymouth District Council to changing old design practices, that made the project special.
"The co-design process has resulted in a building not only of cultural significance, but one that works exceptionally from an operational perspective too. It demonstrates what can be achieved when we work together as true partners," he said.
The aim was to represent important ancestral stories in the fabric of the building.
Campbell said it was important to create a place that "resonated profoundly with its cultural context, and eschewed superficial adornment".
Six design narratives were chosen and, during a two-day wānanga, hapū member and cultural design lead Rangi Kipa proposed one as the principle thematic.
The Ascension from the Earth, Descending from the Sky, tells the story of Tamarau, a celestial being, who was so captivated by the earthly beauty of Rongo-ue-roa (terrestrial being) that he came down to meet her.
"This story aligns closely with the creation narrative of Te Ātiawa iwi," Kipa said.
The roofline of the terminal is inspired by this origin story. One form appears to step up from a landscaped mound (Rongo-ue-roa) to meet the second descending roof form (Tamarau).
Their symbolic and literal joining is materialised along the length of the public concourse by a brightly coloured tukutuku panel.
Orienting the spine of the building to reflect a journey from the mountain to the Waiongana River mouth was a further way to acknowledge history.
Indicative of the main ancestral walking track in this area, it's also a useful approach from a wayfinding perspective, creating a natural, easily negotiated connection from parking lot through departure area to the plane. On a clear day, Mt Taranaki can be seen from the concourse.
"The airport gives visitors to our region a Taranaki-specific experience and is an opportunity to start to reaffirm our narratives, idioms, ethics and norms – the cultural edifices that support us," Kipa said.
In this vein, manaakitanga – the Māori concept of hospitality – underpins practical aspects of the design.
Campbell says it was important for Puketapu to welcome and take care of guests in a place that is in many ways "the gateway to the region".
The faceted curved forms of the building at the entrance and airside "embrace" travellers, to shelter them from the elements.
The considered way in which narratives are woven into the make-up of the building means the layered experience can take time to explore. The design team was deliberate about not being too literal or obvious, using subtle gestures to tie into the sophistication of the architecture.
Kipa is proud that the airport has been recognised for a global award like the Prix Versailles, but the local achievement is far greater: "For the most part, we have been invisible in our own landscape for 160 years, so it's amazing to have the chance to influence, and give life to, some of the things that make us who we are."
The winners of the Prix Versailles Airports 2021 will be announced at Unesco headquarters in late November.