How Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei is tackling the Auckland housing crisis

Behind Bastion Point, in a suburb with a long and tumultuous history, a stronghold of 30 striking new houses occupies the ridgeline. Three storeys high, in dark-hued concrete and steel, they rise up on either side of Kupe Street like a fortress. Each terrace sits under a long, folded roof plane, a black steel cloak that dominates the skyline. This is bold architecture, built to endure. To stay put.
 
Kāinga Tuatahi – or first place – is a new housing development conceived and financed by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei to house its hapū members. Visually, and in other ways too, it signals a radical departure from the mid-century brick and weatherboard state houses that characterise the area.
 
“The state houses of the area were designed to be placed in any part of Auckland or New Zealand,” says Gary Lawson of Stevens Lawson Architects, who designed Kāinga Tuatahi to better reflect the surrounding landscape of dramatic volcanoes and ridgelines. A nod, too, to Arts & Crafts and traditional Māori architecture, especially in that roof plane, reminiscent of the eaves of a marae, or a kaitaka draped protectively over the homes. “We have tried to express something of unity, of togetherness in the forms.”
 
But however striking those forms, architecture isn’t really the story here. “The tradition of state houses being state-owned, and rented by families, is a very different model,” says Lawson. “The brilliance of the model Ngāti Whātua have created at KāingaTuatahi is that the homes are owned by the residents.”
 
Hapū members owning their own homes may not seem all that radical, until you consider the suburb’s history.