SUPER-PACIFIC-CITY - The Lomipeau Speculation

Hero Image Norman Wei
Research of Pacific Precedents

Mike Austin discovered that Pacific architecture is being practically dismissed in today’s utilitarian society. Its architectural quality is often witnessed in theme parks, holiday reserves and cultural facilities, but is not well adapted to contemporary needs. From an architectural perspective, the essence of Pacific architecture is characterised by a strong contrasting tectonic language. Pacific architecture has traditionally accommodated movements in its structures. In this way its construction tends to form flexible rather than rigid joints; it is also characteristically renewable, thereby challenging the monumentality of much continental architecture. Potentially, architectonics and construction systems from the Pacific could be more practically developed, and utilised to accommodate a ‘contemporary Pacific way of living’, that is alternative to the existing post-colonial environment.

For demonstrating and testing such potential, this thesis researched the practical potential of Pacific architectonics in the contemporary Pacific scenario, through developing an urban scale tectonic speculation of Pacific architecture based on the legends of Lomipeau, a mythical giant Tongan double-hulled canoe built in the 16th Century. This thesis is an architectural experiment in which Pacific tectonics are researched and translated into an urban scale assemblage. The transformation of scale also attempts to indicate transformation of material and technology at a tectonic level, integrating with critical contemporary conditions while maintaining the quintessential quality of Pacific architecture.

The thesis is divided into two parts to complete the formation of the research based speculation. The first part researches the fundamentals of Pacific tectonics. It also carries out translations from the historical and existing archetypes to a series of newly formed prototypes, through the process of physical model making and testing. The second part studies how the collection of new prototypes will be formed in relation to a specific site condition, integrated with typologies, functions and programmes. The thesis is presented as a researched-based speculation in a dramatic narrative, in order to demonstrate the newly developed Pacific way of urban living that’s highly mobile, flexible and responsive to change.

Lomipeau is a legend of the Pacific. According to oral traditions, Lomipeau was a giant double-hulled Tongan canoe that was built in the 16th Century. It was capable of carrying four thousand men and many tons of rocks. It was so large that the volcanic islands of Kao and Tofua could pass between the two hulls. Although Lomipeau’s main function was to transport limestone from Uvea to Tonga for the purpose of tomb building, its significance was beyond that of a functional vessel, as it also demonstrated Tongan capability and authority over islands both within and beyond its imperial borders.

The oral history of Lomipeau might not constitute a conventionally authoritative historical source. This is especially so, as the story lacks detailed descriptions of how the giant canoe was constructed and how it was sailed. However, the legend of this gigantic vessel provokes and legitimates speculations of architectural formations at a scale never realised before in the Pacific. In this context Lomipeau can be seen as the genesis of a Pacific tectonic complex that is capable of constructing urbanism.

This thesis looked to expand the potential of architectural operations identified in Lomipeau and other oceanic sources into experimental architectural research. This research aims to challenge the common perception that Pacific tectonics are only relevant for the construction of temporary huts, shelters and small canoes - artifacts seen as only appropriate for museum display. It aims to project the confining and commodified imagery of Pacific tectonics to an extreme new future, launching an urban scale speculation of Pacific tectonics.

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Proto-Architecture Making
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Proto-Architecture Making


This thesis makes use of Austin’s syntax translations as a ‘process-mechanism’. Analysis of historical precedents as ‘original archetypes’ initiate a translation process through making that maintain the persistent syntax while demonstrating new architectural conditions. This process involves:

— The identification of historical Pacific archetypes that best represent Pacific tectonic systems. Significant features are extracted and identified as syntactical elements.

— Syntax is used as the tectonic driver for the regulation of subsequent making processes. The aim is to create new models which maintain the syntax in new conditions while forming new components of a wider explorative development.

— The outcomes from the making process are termed ‘prototypes’. These are a collection of folly-like proto-architecture that are potentially architecturally operative. They are not to scale and functionless, but can later be transformed into buildings or building components, in order to accommodate specific programmes.

The tectonic experiments eventually generated a palette of prototypes that test the translation process. These prototypes do not specifically acquire direct formal and symbolic expression, they develop syntactic propositions that are to be used for the designing of tectonic structures that have not existed before.


Finished Product

The completed project takes the form of a speculated city which demonstrates Pacific architectonics being translated into an urban scale. The author speculates a scenario in which an autonomous district, the Pacific autonomous district of Lomipeau at Aotearoa’s Rangitaiki Plain, is reserved for a research-based city. In this district, experimental making is engaged to develop a tectonic system that is responsive to the challenging future of the Pacific, threatened by natural disasters and climate change, by utilising traditional Pacific architectural syntax.

The  Pacific autonomous district of Lomipeau (or Lomipeau City, Pacific City) is initially proposed to accept the displaced citizens across the Pacific. It will also provide a strong motivation for the Pacific’s future developments, by  reconstructing the mythical Lomipeau based on a contemporary motivation, and incorporating Pacific tectonics to practise ‘canoe making’ as the genesis of a new Pacific civilisation. Eventually, the city will challenge the static notion of cities which are completely passive to the active oceanic environment.

The city provides a series of programmes including housing, infrastructure, manufacturing and community facilities. Lomipeau is itself a giant waka-like structure, reimagined from Tongan mythology, which is also the mobile part of the city. The mobility of Lomipeau demonstrates that a new form of voyages can be invented. It allows the fabrication facility to reach into the sea, completing new tasks in the vast ocean. This activity is called the grand voyager and is completely different from the past meanings of voyages. It functions as a moving ‘making-ground’ that recreates a tectonic system across the Pacific, reconnecting the ocean as a holistic entity.


Critic's Text

What makes Norman Wei's 'Pacific City' such a formidable project is the author's ability to meld story from both faux historical context and faux technological reality, and present it as vast dramatic tableaux. 

The thesis as a construct requires that we suspend disbelief and transcend a spectrum of epochs. Creating a historical context from the myth of Lomipeau, Wei develops an architectonic language based on an ontological and technical analysis of 'a Pacific architecture' ( in reality a multi-layered phenomenon) and creates a narrative which presents and tests these elements. 

This is a cinematic proposal and a Janusian gateway into a future promulgated from insight of how the past can transform and manifest itself forward. Wei's vehicle for this investigation and expression, 'The Pacific Autonomous District of Lomipeau', set on the edge of the Canterbury Plains in the South Island of New Zealand, is a speculated research city founded on the principle of the the grand voyagers of the Pacific. It is the platform, both figurative and literal, for the recovery, development and creation of new resilient architecture to be disseminated throughout the Pacific region being transformed by extreme climate and sea level rise.

The rigour, completeness and consistency of Wei’s vision may be read off the visually stunning presentation which offers us a beacon of what can be: a door opening onto possibility. 

— Jeremy Treadwell, supervisor