Jesse Ewart

Te Waka Huia

FIRST PLACE: NZIA Wellington Central
Library Design Competition 

RUNNER-UP: Open Conceptual Category 
AAA Visionary Architecture Awards 2020


collaborated with Jason Tan, Tyler Harlen and poet Michelle Curnow

Exhibited during the New Zealand Institute of Architects Festival of Architecture at Te Auaha Wellington. 
Featured in Issue 3 of the NZIA publication Tāpoto, the brief within Architecture New Zealand, November 2019 (issue 6)

Te Waka Huia: The treasure box.

Te Waka Huia looks at Wellington Central Library as a collection of memories within the city, rather than just a collection of books. This collective memory of the city is represented through designed and collected forms and objects. These objects denote the past present and future histories, both Māori and Pākehā, of Wellington city and its library. Each memory is made to be shared by the people of Wellington city and those who come to use the library.

Greg O’Brien, Robin Simpson & Stuart Gardyne

While neither a particularly complete nor coherent architectural plan, ‘Te Waka Huia’ - The treasure box’ offers a deep and nuanced sense of what a library is at heart: a transformative, imaginative space. The proposal is an eloquent playing out of Rem Koolhaa’s notion that architecture should extend beyond the construction of ‘built solutions’.

‘Te Waka Huia’ honors the present library building by incoporating elements (mostly notably the nikau palms) into its design. The opening image in the presentation lays out the present library within a matrix of architectural forms (with some imaginary forms added, for good measure). In some ways, the design can be seen as an accurate depiction of the library as it has functioned since its construction, rather than as a plan for its replacement. The opening image, in particular, acknowledges the library as a foundational and integral presence in the life of the city.

The proposal reminds us that a library has many undercurrents and understories, pictorialised here as a labyrinth beneath the visible structure. The library is shown as a metaphysical space (or series of linked spaces) animated by myths and histories, by the words and images gathered therein. It is a place of the past, present and the future.

The design asserts that the library is a powerhouse; yet it is also an enigma - a place of hidden meanings and mystery. Just as everyone’s reading is different, so everyone’s mind-map of a library is different. The design suggests as much, while at the same time hinting at the institution’s role as a repository of communal and (cross-) cultural links.

At the heart of the ‘Te Waka Huia’ is the book (a form which the drawing echos). Channelling the works of Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Elizabeth Knox and Margaret Mahy, the design is at once alien and familiar. As well as having Gothic overtones, there is a baroque quality - jewel-like and precious. This is the version/vision of the library we construct inside our minds and hearts - architecture as memory, dream and poetry.

i. Te Ika-a-Māui

the head of the fish
a commodity taken

and rebuilt

                    and again
and                               then

convulsion                 cloven
fallible change

and rebuilt

                   and again

exposed through
fractures                     fissures

revealed      in cracks
in mortar

and brick

in timber

the city
                     perseveres, but


ii. Te Ngākau

if not for the keepers,
defenders of words

the past, across
an inaudible

                 - it may have been

here always
say tamariki underneath the nikau

as darkness comes
make their way

inside the one from before

iii. Waka Huia

the mountain’s cleft

remember, she says

fables and
upon her back

briskly, now
descending stairs

and passing
                    the past
immortalised in stone

the fronds, she says

                    that day in the square
sunny and
ponga and people

under the portico
she disappears

through a swathe of glass

iv. Rākau

two statues
                   their stories, and
their histories


lattice panels, now
decorative                   only

history proves
a cautionary

to the respite

of the quiet                 the weary
the curious minds

copper trunks stand
aside the littlest

making their debuts

they find their way

palms adorn

v. Te Ngākau/Civic Square section

and now
                  verging upon
a cusp

stories yet
to be heard, or
be               lived

the past
demands dismantling of

ideas         ingrained