The Maori Village (Kainga)

One of the fundamental bases on which any society is organised is that of locality, since certain spatial relations are inherent in the very nature of every group, whether settled or migratory. And the great importance of association in common locality is that it represents not merely a physical fact, but also leads to the formation of a whole body of psychological bonds, due to the common interests of the members and their contact in everyday life. Among the Maori the local group, patent to the eye of every observer, is the village. (Raymond Firth, 1929 Economics of the New Zealand Maori, p91 See Link)

21st Century Kainga

Goal: To build a kainga


  • We cannot afford to build our homes
  • Securing financing is difficult
  • Building takes a long time, and we have to live somewhere


  • Look to how the ancestors lived... many small whare (wharepuni) for individual families around the marae atea and the wharenui
  • GCC now makes and offers a 21st century update on the wharepuni - warm, dry, self-contained, suitable for immediate settlement
  • For $220 per week, the GCC wharepuni can be delivered onto the land, hooked up to utilities and moved into in one day
  • They need not be permanent. Lease them for a few years as the kainga evolves, then when resources are available build permanent
  • Each wharepuni is self-contained (sleep, eat, bathe, enjoy). They are similar in size to the whare of the ancestors... about 20m², some larger
  • This way, the whanau can move in all at once without the cost of building a home. Everyone can afford the rent and there is no delay.
  • Then, focus on creating a local economy and slowly let the kainga form itself. Give it the time it needs to grow to take its final 21th century form.

To learn more, read on...


Development Pattern

As the painting above shows, Maori had a distinctive, pre-colonial development pattern. This pattern is becoming relevant today as housing becomes unaffordable and tangata whenua (and urban Maori) wish to live in developments that reflect their ancestral values.

The kainga development pattern is one in which small wharepuni provided private sleeping quarters in close proximity to each other. Social life tended not to be in the wharepuni, but either in the larger communal buildings - wharenui and wharekai - or outdoors on the central plaza (marae atea). While today, the distinctive Maori development pattern has been reduced to a fenced acre with the Wharenui and and Wharekai, the painting above shows a very different living experience - one that Maori (and Pacific Islanders) seek to re-create because it is aligned with their culture. And not just Pasifika peoples... the supportive social nature of the kainga is a way of life many yearn for. It's just that Pasifika peoples still remember it, where for others it is long-lost.

The role of the GCC pod in this design is to provide the wharepuni, the small, private space where families sleep. In modern day life, we call it SEBE (sleep, eat, bathe, enjoy) because many today need private space not only to sleep, but to shower, dress, cook meals in a kitchen and store their personal possessions. In the kainga development pattern, these wharepuni are part of a larger design. Whereas conventional housing relies on the big screen TV and various digital devices to provide isolated social interaction, in the kainga, interaction is mata-ki-te-mata (face to face) rather than Facebook. Accordingly the sleeping pods are placed in a similar way to the 19th century painting, above. The public space is both the plaza in the middle, as well as public buildings where the people may eat communially (a cafe), work in offices, shops and workshops, as well as share maintenance systems such as a laundromat and food store.

A key element of this development pattern is its 24/7 presence. Its people try to move their activities so they are not commuting away during the day - although like the hunters and gatherers of old times, some will have to drive away for jobs that cannot be done locally. The value of this is educational. Children learn by role models, and this requires they are in a multi-generational physical environment. Pasifika peoples are especially good at this, with the elders taking on a much stronger role with the young.

It is in this context that the GCC pod becomes a key element in the formation of 21st century Kainga.

Most importantly, the pod is not intended to be the permanent dwelling. Its role is to be the first dwelling as the new kainga forms. This is discussed further, below. 

Immediate and Urgent Need

The Ministry of Social Development is facing an immediate housing crisis for its clients. In Auckland it is renting motels on the North Shore to house clients from South Auckland... making it more difficult for everyone to get around and at excessive costs to the taxpayer. The alternative is people sleeping in cars, in garages and in outright homelessness.

Social Housing means Design that Supports Social Structures

A disproportionate number of these clients are Maori and Pacific Islander (Pasifikas). The crisis is such that the bar is set low... warm and dry shelter. It should be set higher, acknowledging that Pasifika cultures have different social structures and need a different form of social housing.

Pasifika culture is more collectively social. The Pakeha 3-bedroom, 1.5 bathroom, nuclear-family house does not fit well among Pasifika peoples. The pre-colonial model was the kainga with small sleeping huts (wharepuni) built around the communal wharenui and wharekai. People shared and they continue to do so today; with an emphasis on intergenerational living. Today, Pasifika architects and designers call for indigenous architecture to reflect their social norms and their tikanga.

The Wharepuni as a Social Building Block

The transportable pods offered by GCC fit this model well. For this particular land use, we call the pod a wharepuni. The wharepuni is not a building under the Building Act, yet it is a suitable form of Pasifika habitat, especially for an evolutionary kainga seeking to establish a robust, thriving community based on tikanga.

When the pod becomes a wharepuni, part of a Pasifika landscape design, its placement is slightly different than other applications. The kainga is formed by a clustering of small units (wharepuni) around iconic buildings beginning with the wharenui, which itself can begin as a temporary pole and tensioned fabric structure if funding is not available for a proper building.

The optimal size of of the kainga is about 250-750 people. In olden times, this would be an extended whanau or smaller hapu. Today, commonality would not necessarily consist of an extended family (except on ancestral hapu or whanau lands), but shared values... open to any who wish to live in such a formed community. The population size is a critical mass. Large enough to share resources and support, small enough that everyone knows everyone else. If the land is sufficient support more people, say 1,000, then subdivide into two side-by-side kainga with a clear boundary delineation for identity purposes.

Provide for Evolutionary Growth rather than dictate a fixed, pre-formed Master Plan

In practical terms, the GCC wharepuni is a transitional form of habitat. It is not intended to be the final form of habitat, but the first. As such, it is instantly transportable onto the land. It provides a pop-up kainga that provides the time and flexibility to evolve into a self-supporting, socially and culturally enriched community without containing the constrictions that come with permanent buildings. In time, say five to ten years, as the local economy grows and the identity of the forming community becomes clear, it has the ability to evolve into form-fitted landscape architecture, replacing the pods with buildings and permanent infrastructure. By then the social balance of public and private, and the economic infrastructure to thrive as a self-supporting community will have evolved. Because the pods are rented, not sold; this enables the people to move in without the need for a 20% down payment and credit to qualify for a mortgage. Over time, they can then build toward home ownership when the pods are removed and replaced.

Integral Landscape Plan

The wharepuni is an integral part of a landscape plan. The initial plan may also include erection of buildings, including wharenui, wharekai, whare whaihanga (work places to create a self-supporting local economy) and other permanent buildings, as well as layout of the open space (the central plazas or marae ātea). The urban core should be car-free. Park the cars on the periphery, so the kainga is a walking zone, safe for children, quiet and unpolluted by vehicles.

Because the GCC wharepuni are transportable pods, kickstarting the kainga is less complicated than building a new village with conventional buildings:

  • Bury pipes and conduit to service the temporary units including water, sewer, storm water, power and fibre-optic
  • Pave the footpaths and roads - if funds available use paver bricks that can be lifted, allowing easy relocation of roads and paths
  • Provide low wattage, knee level LED night lighting to make safe, but enable the people to enjoy a dark sky
  • Set out the site for car parking as well as initial first buildings requiring consent (mostly commons buildings)
  • Finish sustainable landscaping - plants, grass, trees as well as food gardens, water features, etc.

Wharepuni Design

Initially, the pods are relatively simple with familiar cladding, lining and roof lines. The parameters include:

  • Single story with size limited by LTSA delivery rules (3.1 m wide, Category One Oversized).
  • flaxLining can have recesses to decorate inside walls with traditional woven flax panels; the doorway can support removable carvings.
  • In some cases, the whanau may prefer to have traditional sleeping pods with no kitchens, and instead to have communal dining in a whare kai.
  • Some pods may serve commercial purposes - a barbershop/salon, a workplace, a classroom, a cafe-type kitchen and seating under a tensioned fabric cover.
  • GCC's Phase Two will include design of a larger unit made of two pods joined by slider walls to gain an extra, lower-cost 50% gross floor area.
  • Some pods may be especially designed for kaumatua housing - easier access, more visible, so that elders may remain independent longer.

How to Proceed

If you are a government agency, contact us to discuss potential sites and solutions

If you are a Maori Trust, contact us to discuss your land, vision and resources

To keep it simple, it is proposed that the trust or agency sign a multi-year lease of the units, rent payable weekly. A base unit of 7.2 x 2.8 with kitchen, bath and bedroom is $200 a week, plus delivery and bond on 12-month contracts, or $10,000 per annum paid at the beginning of the lease. Larger and smaller units are available, and for a large order, some variations are possible, although this is limited to not disrupt production.


Treaty of Waitangi No2
Often discussion of land and housing by Maori turns to the Treaty of Waitangi. The central focus is found in the 2nd part, in which the Queen made certain promises and guarantees:

Ko te Kuini o Ingarani ka wakarite ka wakaae ki nga Rangatira ki nga hapu - ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani te tino rangatiratanga o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa.

The Treaty promises to the people of NZ, three elements that make up local living:

  • Wenua: The Land on which they may live
  • Kainga: The Village in which they may create and maintain their community
  • Taonga: The capability to create and hold wealth so that their village may provide for its own economic, social & cultural wellbeing

The words wenua (whenua), kainga and taonga, essentially mean this. It is a prescription for a self-supporting community within the larger context of a large island. Before the Treaty, those principles operated in a decentralised (and sometimes warlike) manner. Thus, for Maori, a core purpose of the Treaty was to provide a national overlay (Kawanatanga) to bring about peace, because the Pakeha introduction of firearms had made intertribal conflicts more fatal. For the Crown, it was a way to introduce an orderly transfer of land through purchase and title, made possible because European farming techniques reduced the need for hunting & gathering land, thus freeing up the territorial requirements of pre-colonial Maori.

This would be nothing more than a historic artifact, had it not been incorporated in what today is regarded as the founding document of the nation. While the debate on the Treaty meaning often seems to focus on tino rangatiratanga, which is about who holds what power and authority (and involves big money), the whole sentence is much more all-encompassing. As NZ becomes a more urban-dense nation, due to population growth, the rural archetype is giving way to clustered, social living where people live and operate in groups. In essence, they sleep near each other in detached suburbs that give way to terraced housing and eventually apartment blocks. However, this development model is flawed in that it requires that people sleep in one place, but then have to travel great distances (more than a km) using a very expensive and ultimately polluting infrastructure of cars, roads, trains, rail, etc. This produces its own social and environmental damage, and is a poor use of resources as our present-day civilisation mortgages future generations.

Thus, the Development Pattern enshrined in the Treaty, in which everything is local... sleep, eat, work, play, learn, grow and worship (whakapono), becomes a useful model not only for Maori, but all the people of New Zealand... and if you read Te Reo Maori, you will see in the above Treaty quote, that the Crown anticipated that in 1840... the words are there... ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani.


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