PROJECT STAGE Completed detailed design & construction documentation 2008-12

JOINT VENTURE Charissa Snijders Architect + Crosson Clarke Carnachan Architects


2011 AAA Cavilier Bremworth Unbuilt Architecture Awards

Otuataua Stonefields Heritage Centre. Finalist

More projects


A Sense of Place

“Our relationship to the land and our ability to listen to its story – one infinitely larger than our own - are defining choices in who we will become”

- Peter Forbes -    



The Heritage Centre presents an opportunity to celebrate and preserve heritage, culture and the environment and to build community pride and identity. Drawing from a deep repository of history the Centre will help tell the stories of the land, the people, and their relationship with it over time.

The Heritage Centre is strategically important on an international, national, regional and local level. The Centre will include exhibiting taonga of the local Iwi, a place for telling the stories, a learning space, a gift shop and a whare kai. Working with the local Iwi it is envisaged that the Centre will develop a range of educational programmes and visitor experiences for international and domestic visitors that will continuously evolve to reflect the seasons and festivals of the area.

The Heritage Centre will help local Iwi strengthen their sense of mana and re-engagement with their cultural foundations, so that they in turn can offer manaakitangi and kaitiakitanga to the people visiting Otuataua in a meaningful, engaging and relevant way. In this respect the project aligns directly with the New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2015 and the Auckland Regional Visitor Plan: Bringing the World to Auckland.

The Heritage Centre is an anchor project of the Mangere Gateway Heritage Strategy. The project will bring additional GDP to Mangere and the wider Manukau area. It will create employment opportunities and presents a platform to celebrate culture and preserve heritage and the environment. And in the process, build community pride and identity.



The Heritage Centre is situated at the Otuataua Stonefields, an internationally significant heritage reserve within the Mangere Heritage Gateway Area. Rich in history, the land was formed 20,000 years ago, is one of the few places left in Auckland that one can witness uninterrupted the volcanic cones and flow of lava down to the sea. Within the 100 ha Reserve lie pockets of remnant forest steeped in botanical treasures. This land and its surrounding area has been occupied and cultivated since at least the 12th century, as told in the oral history of the local iwi (Te Wai o Hua); supported by archaeological and radiocarbon data. Te Wai o Hua (the descendants of Nga Oho people) have the oldest genealogy in Auckland including the ancestral line of Mataoho. The local Maori are also descendents of Hape who came here prior to the arrival of the Tainui waka. Hape journeyed from Hawaiki on the back of a stingray and to this day, the stingray, or Kaiwhare, is the guardian of the Manukau Harbour.  

The Stonefields also tell stories of first European settlement from 1836, the Missionary arrival, early European farming, holiday baches in 1920’s and 30’s and then in the 1960’s the impact of Auckland Airport, Wastewater Treatment Plant through to the quarrying of the Stonefields up until the mid 1980’s until it became a Reserve in 2001 under the partnership of Manukau City Council, Auckland Regional Council and Department of Conservation.  

The establishment of the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve was seen by many as being the beginning of a new era of protection. The building of the Centre will continue towards actively helping provide a legacy, and the preservation of the land and its stories.


The chosen site presents a number of positive attributes, from its easily accessible approach to the aspect beyond. It is sheltered from the predominant South-Westerly wind and opens out to the North. It is in close proximity to two archaeological sites which will play an important part to shaping the visitors experience. The geology, botany and cultural history of both Maori and Paheka occupation have an immediate relationship with this location. The site is part of an old quarry, and from an archaeological perspective a ‘disturbed’ site.  

The Centre is located so that it purposely stays hidden from the visitor’s approach until turning round a corner a small portion of the building is revealed within an old quarry. The built forms are of the site and not on the site. It is a low-key building with natural materials that work with the existing environment.  The building sensitively responds to the topography, climate conditions and movement of the sun. It sets up a dialogue with surrounding views and is contained by the old quarry rim, the boulder field and the Karaka and Ngaio trees.



The building form is also shaped by the stories of the land as it draws from the origins of the volcanic nature of the land and of the arrival of Hape on the Kaiwhare (stingray) one of the guardians of the local Iwi. Steeped in many layers of meaning and adopting the traditional Maori concept of the three baskets of knowledge – te kete aronui, te kete tuatea,and te kete tuauri the building reveals itself the more one experiences it.  

Key to embracing the three baskets of knowledge is that as you move through the building you move from a state of darkness to one of light, i.e. from positions of limited knowledge to that of things learned. The entry to the Centre is under a cantilevered canopy, Te Whakatau, where visitors are welcomed and sheltered. This opens to the Atea, a large display/gathering space that connects the various rooms within the Centre and provides a background for telling the stories of the geology and botany, Maori and European, ancient and present.  

The Akoranga room is at the beginning of the journey of knowledge - it is dark and the surroundings become secondary to what is being said. This is a space where one absorbs new knowledge. On gaining this knowledge the visitor is prepared for a more in-depth learning and an opportunity to participate in traditional crafts and knowledge in the Wananga/Technology room.  

On receiving this, the visitor is prepared for the Whare Kaitiaki Kei Tua o Te Arai. The architecture sets up and helps ritualize this experience. The visitor becomes aware that they are entering a sacred space through the use of the materials, change in level of light and of the ramp down which follows the tradition of local Maori keeping Taonga within caves. Water will also be present as part of the ritual as will the act of removing one’s shoes prior to entering through the lowered portal to the space beyond.  

The Whare Kaitiaki Kei Tua o Te Arai will have lower levels of light and evoke cave-like associations - a silent place to honour the ancestors of the land. Subtle rays of light illuminate the treasures. Not immediately obvious to the visitor will be an opening leading out to glazed space in contrast to the dark earthen interior. The Paparewa, faces West and hovers over the valley, exposed to the elements and looks out to the Manukau Harbour and beyond.  

The Whare kai is at the north-west corner of the building and is set to bring people together to help celebrate our diversity and at the same time, our unity. The intimate Whare kai will serve local produce and showcase local craft. This space opens onto terraces to the north which are sunny and sheltered with aspects to the Manukau Harbour, City and volcanic cones of Mangere Mountain (Te Pae o Mataoho), Mt Wellington (Naungarei) and Mount Eden (Maungawhau – also known as Te Ipu o Mataoho). The terraces, Nga Rangi Tu a Ngahuru continue the journey and link to the walking paths through this magnificent site.