Te Kura Whare

Completion date
Cultural & Civic

Te Kura Whare is the centre of governance and meeting place for the Ngāi Tūhoe in Taneatua, near Whakatane. The 15th certified Living Building in the world, it is New Zealand’s most advanced sustainable building.

For many years, Tūhoe have been working toward the restoration of their mana whenua with a focus on their heartland, the Te Urewera National Park, their vision to strengthen and reaffirm Tūhoe communities and re-develop their infrastructure. Tūhoe identified a requirement for a new meeting place that supported the iwi’s large community and their regular gatherings and festivals. The iwi were adamant this new development fully aligns to their inherent connection to the land - mana tangata.

As a culturally and environmentally rich project with a strong social drive, a ‘three way conversation’ between the iwi, Jasmax and contractors Arrow International, continued throughout. With sustainability a key driver of the concept, it was decided that the building design would comply to the Living Building Challenge criteria. The most stringent and challenging of the green building guidelines available to date, the ‘Challenge’ demands net-zero energy and water, as well as zero waste and toxicity from completed projects. As a result, instead of doing ‘less harm’ these buildings actively address their impacts of energy and land use, and restoratively give back to society and the environment.

Constructed on a 2200m2 site, Te Kura Whare's design is dominated by a strong timber arch, referencing the cultural significance of Tūhoetanga o te ra; the moment the sun reaches its zenith. The building has two major functional elements, connected by an entrance lobby housing a reception area and small café. The tribal chamber to the north accommodates a large Hui space opening out to an ātea area and stage, a library, and the Tūhoe Iwi taonga archive, as well as a commercial kitchen and utilities. To the south the Reception area gives access to meeting rooms and open plan offices over two levels.

To accommodate larger social and cultural events that the iwi may host, the tribal chamber is designed with a deep north facing reveal, providing a sheltered stage for performances and ceremonial entry. The ātea is formed as an amphitheatre, using earth mounds with bleechers giving a strong form to the space and an acoustic barrier from the nearby roadway.

The building structure and finishes are primarily timber, 95% of which was sourced from local forests with FSC certification. Structural engineers MLB developed an innovative and award winning seismic resistant timber structure to stabilise the building; especially imperative due to its proximity to a fault-line. The building operates as Tūhoe’s Civil Defence centre after a natural disaster event.

The building incorporates the largest solar electric array in NZ, with 390 photovoltaic panels installed across the project, the complex generates all its own energy needs. Stormwater retention mechanisms and rain water collection manage water flows on site and a purpose-designed botanical waste-water system complete a regenerative water-loop system.

Innovations of the project’s design were driven by the strict constraints of the Challenge. The project team researched more than 760 building materials to ensure none contained any worst in class Red List chemicals, whilst geographical sourcing accounted for minimising the whole building and construction carbon footprint. Local earth, formed into earth bricks by 150 local volunteers, line walls internally operating as passive thermal mass and humidity control, for the regulation of the internal climate.

This resource of LBC and Green Star compliant products has been integrated into standard specification selections for all projects.

The project was the focus of a documentary crew, who released the highly successful feature length film 'Ever the Land' in 2015. Check out the official trailer here.


  • 2014 Best Awards - Purple Pin - Ngā Aho
  • 2014 Property Council NZ Special Purpose Property Award, Best in Category
  • 2014 Property Council NZ Green Building Property Award, Best in Category
Hamish Boyd Principal Auckland
Phone+64 9 366 9625 Mobile+64 21 799 303 Save Contact
Ong Ching Kang Senior Architectural Technician - Associate Auckland
James Foote Registered Architect Auckland
Michelle Johansson Registered Architect - Associate Auckland
Phone09 366 9626 Save Contact
Sam Lau Senior Architectural Technician - Associate Auckland
Ivan Mercep Registered Architect Auckland
Phone09 366 9626 Save Contact
Lars von Minden Senior Architectural Graduate - Senior Associate Auckland
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