Material Agency, Embodied Dialogue, & Whakapapa: a Case for more Sensitive Engagement with our Material Histories

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There is a missed opportunity in the way in which architectural practitioners engage with materials in Aotearoa and Te Moana nui a Kiwa. While many architectural designers, makers, and scholars have taken an interest in material as the object on which we impose our craft, few have discussed its agency, capacity for action, and immense embodied value — particularly within an Indigenous-Māori and Pacific context.

Within each instance of stone, timber, or mineral extracted from the whenua is held human and material history, whakapapa, agental force, and mauri. This thesis seeks to bring these metaphysical truths and the narratives they resound to the foreground of architectural discourse. Beginning with a metaphysical stance which sits between Western New Materialist and Indigenous Māori-Pacific ontologies, this piece examines the complex inter-influence of these complementary theoretical worldviews and argues that together they set up a unique approach to architectural practice.

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This parallel theoretical approach, exemplified in the architectural philosophy and practice of the author, is explored through several series of material investigations. Largely sculptural in nature, these works operate in pursuit of architectonic gestures which celebrate, elevate, and privilege materials of significance which have been sourced from around Aotearoa as well as from the island of Mauke; an ancestral homeland of the author. The author’s iterative process of hands-on making serves as a demonstration of an architectural practice that highlights the interaction between maker and material, which come together in a dialogue of architectural generation. In this way, the thesis pushes for reinvigoration of the relationship between designer and matter, and critiques the dominant role that prescriptive drawing holds in conventional architectural practice.

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Furthermore, the materially-sensitive architectural philosophy and methodology for which this thesis argues equates to meaningful political action. To embrace the whole value of these materials becomes an act of liberation; the acknowledgement of inherent mauri, agency, and essence present within matter often undervalued by Western empiricist and modernist perspectives. In this way, the thesis is an argument about value systems, challenging dominant worldviews in Aotearoa and Te Moana nui a Kiwa and the way in which they undermine vital aspects of indigenous material.

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