Johnson Witehira is co-founder of Indigenous Design & Innovation Aotearoa and a lecturer in communication design at AUT.
As a designer, Johnson says he’s pleased by the integration of Māori design into Auckland’s environment, with most new infrastructure or council facilities projects incorporating input from mana whenua and Māori designers.
“I think Auckland is doing a great job of getting Māori design into Auckland. Processes around mana whenua engagement can always be tightened up but Auckland's probably doing better than everywhere else.
“What’s exciting is the incorporation of Māori design elements throughout many public and private buildings. This demonstrates, quite literally, the value of Māori culture to us.”
He’s buoyed by the change he’s witnessing where Māori design is integrated from the start of a project rather than Māori elements being added as building decorations at the end. A current project of Johnson’s, a new bridge and playground in Henderson, is an example of this.
“The bridge and its shape are based on Māori narratives, while the playground will be informed by customary Māori games and forms of play. We're at the front of the process, creating things no one has ever seen before.”
He believes that going beyond just public spaces to get more examples of Māori work in homes and businesses will help people connect to it and see it’s value.
“We need to design culture back into our lives”.
And if he were given the power to redesign Tāmaki Makaurau from the ground up?
“It would be informed by Māori and Pākehā approaches to building, thinking about space and being in the world. Commercial and cultural spaces would be more integrated. We’d have less of a separation between work and family.
“Integrating family life more closely with everything. It's kind of sad that we don't get to our loved ones for most of the days. Then when we do we're tired and often it’s not quality time. I'd design to try and fix this.”