Māori urban design expert joins the council

Phil Wihongi shares his thoughts

Publish Date : 08 Apr 2016
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This week Auckland Council welcomed new staff member Phil Wihongi. Phil joins the council as the Māori Design Leader for the Auckland Design Office.

Phil's role will include working with the Auckland Design Office, council-controlled organisation collagues, mana whenua and Māori design industry professionals to incorporate Māori design into the heart of the organisation and the fabric of Auckland.

OurAuckland caught up with Phil to find out about his background and what the role entails.

Hi Phil, could you please fill us in a bit on your background?
Phil: For the past three and half years, I’ve been working as a senior environmental advisor for the Raukawa Charitable Trust, based out of Tokoroa in the south Waikato.

Within that role I’ve been involved in a wide range of project work, strategy work and relationship work – all strongly iwi focused, but consciously set within a broader community context. Before that I worked for an environmental consultancy in Auckland. I’m a landscape architect and planner by qualification and a roof tiler by trade.

Did you ever think you would work for Auckland Council?
Phil: I choose to work in the Māori space, and have previously worked in consultancy and in iwi-based roles, so working in the public sector is the bit that’s missing. This role is a great opportunity for me to come back to Auckland.

So are you originally from Auckland?
Phil: Yes, born, bred and intensely parochial – Tāmaki Makaurau is a fantastic place to live.

Have you noticed much change in the city since coming back from a design point of view?
Phil: Wynyard Quarter is a standout location and has matured nicely whilst I’ve been away. It’s a different design direction for Auckland which encourages users to physically interact with the harbour. It’s a wonderful opportunity that hasn’t been easily available in the past.

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Why do you think it’s important to have someone like you in the design space at Auckland Council?
Phil: This role has been advocated for quite some time by mana whenua and the Māori
design community. Having someone in this role will provide a face and contact within Auckland Council for these groups and will establish a Māori design champion within the Auckland Design Office.

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What’s a stand-out design element that you think has made Auckland special in the past that is still around?
Phil: I do have a favourite Auckland urban ‘moment’. When you leave the grit of K’ Road and enter into St Kevin’s Arcade and the quirk and vibe that goes on in that space, before being squeezed down the stairs to erupt into the green space that is Myers Park.

We are incredibly blessed with the maunga and harbours in Auckland providing a natural spatial frame.

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Do you think New Zealand does a good job of representing Māori design in cities?
Phil: One of the Māori design groups I belong to recently held our annual hui, and we were lucky to have a number of indigenous and first nation designers from the Americas, Australia and Africa join us.

All were very vocal about how well we (New Zealand) are doing in terms of indigenous design and how we are leading the way globally. We do have a long way to go to make our cities better reflect our unique place in the world, but fortunately we have current momentum and time on our side to do so.

This role is the first of its kind in this country, and is an exciting moment for Māori.

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