Living the nomad artist life, self-proclaimed 'hut nerds' Kemi Whitwell and Niko Leyden's latest project is an interactive, nature-based project of hand-crafted structures awaiting discovery.

Inspired by huts of rural and alpine Aotearoa, the husband and wife duo known as Kemi Niko & Co. have co-designed and built five bespoke mini-huts within the Kāpiti community using salvaged materials that tell stories rich with history.

A sixth pop-up hut on a trailer will be roaming the Wellington region enticing people to check out the other huts.

The project, called Urban Hut Club, has been commissioned by the New Zealand Festival of Arts, as part of guest curator, comedian Bret McKenzie's events.


Kemi and Niko say their whole project is about interactively connecting with nature.

"All the huts throughout the region have interactive working bits with a logbook and a new short story commissioned by the festival," Niko said.

Stepping off the beaten track, the huts are for discovering with logbooks to share your thoughts and experience with other explorers.

Adding to the unique project, writers Mandy Hager, Apirana Taylor, Chris Maclean, Bernard Beckett and Renée have each gifted a hut with its own short story.

"Each hut is designed taking cues from the materials, location and authors at each site, playing with architectural forms typically found in the back country," Kemi said.

"We've been working with the reserve groups at the sites, talking with them about what values they have for their area and referencing different huts such as tramping huts, beach huts out of driftwood, bush huts that you'd make if you were lost in the bush, or just kids play spaces.

"The hut is a more broad term than just a tramping hut."

Living as nomads, Kemi and Niko created their first hut project seven years ago while living in Wellington.


Attracting the attention of Bret McKenzie who discovered the huts with his children back in 2014, a chance meeting set up the opportunity for Kemi Niko & Co. to create the Urban Hut Club.

"Bret McKenzie went to all the huts with his kids seven years ago when we did our first hut project and really loved it.

"The festival asked him to be the curator this year and he thought of our project and wanted to contact us but didn't know how."

Last year the couple happened to run into him and being big fans, gave him a book of their project and showed him some of their artwork.

"He looked at the book and said 'I've been looking for you'."

The rest is history with the couple getting an email from festival organisers a week later.

Having been based in Wellington for the last 10 years, the couple were about to move to the West Coast with their daughter.

So they moved down for winter, built their roaming hut from salvaged materials around the West Coast, and then moved back up to Kāpiti last November to work on the project.

Now working from their workshop in Raumati South, the couple has produced six huts for the festival project under the name of Urban Hut Club.

"It's been a challenge especially as all the materials are salvaged, but what started as an experiment has now become art," Kemi said.

The huts can be found at the Paekākāriki community gardens, Whareroa Farm, Kaitawa Reserve, Hemi Matenga, the north end of the Ōtaki dunes and a roaming hut will be moving around Wellington and the Hutt Valley on a trailer.

A map will be available on the festival website in February with more specific locations and you can find more details by visiting @urbanhutclub on Instagram.

The New Zealand Festival of the Arts is on from February 21 to March 15.