Te Wānanga

Te Wānanga is a new public space extending over the harbour on Auckland’s coastal edge—creating space for people, flora and fauna to flourish at the interface of city and sea.



Practice Area


Auckland Transport, Auckland Council


The Challenge

Early in the design process for Te Wānanga and the wider Downtown Infrastructure Development Programme, Mana Whenua developed a set of principles specific to the programme. These principles set a design process and outcome challenge to the design team. Manaakitanga—hosting with generosity, respect and care, Mīharo—Extraordinary, and Auckland to Tāmaki Makaurau. Te Wānanga is recognised by mana whenua and through industry awards as delivering on the challenge set by these principles, through design in partnership, the integration of mahi toi (arts) and taiao (environment) initiatives. The resulting built outcome offers a constructed tidal shelf for human and coastal ecologies informed by Matauranga Māori, at the meeting point of city and harbour, whenua and moana.

Project Vision

Te Wānanga advocates for the health and wellbeing of the harbour and ocean. By being consciously ‘of the sea’ and drawing attention to the water space through design, and through water quality initiatives of directing stormwater for filtration prior to exiting to the harbour and through the creation of habitats for mussels and kelps to filter the water of contaminants. A small project in the scale of the harbour, one that builds on a whakapapa of projects by mana whenua and ocean advocacy groups. Delivering a living connection between land and sea.

Design principles developed in partnership with Mana Whenua (the people of the land) underpin the space. Active collaboration ensured values and design were integrated in an authentic and meaningful way.

David St George, Isthmus Group

The design is distinctly ‘of the sea’. Articulation of the outer edge, and apertures opening up within,
encourage users to lean over, look in and reconnect with the ocean below.

David St George, Isthmus Group

Design + Execution

Located within Auckland’s Ferry Basin, and funded by the sale of QEII square, Te Wānanga was delivered as part of the wider Downtown Infrastructure Development Programme. The brief asked for a memorable public space of equivalent size to QEII Square that reconnected people to the harbour edge and environment.

Isthmus were part of a collective of Tāmaki-based design studios (the City Centre Design Collective) selected by Auckland Council’s Auckland Design Office (ADO) as client lead to enter a competition to develop concept designs. Isthmus were chosen to design the space, subsequently gifted the name Te Wānanga by mana whenua.

Early in the process was a programme of growing the collectives cultural competency, guided by Māori Design Leads at the ADO. Guiding principles Manaakitanga, Mīharo, Auckland to Tāmaki Makaurau were set by Mana Whenua representatives. The design process was carried out kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face), pokohiwi ki te pokohiwi (shoulder to shoulder) with mana whenua representatives around a shared table within a dedicated project space. During the design process the Kāhui Kaiarataki was established, a specialist group of Māori artists and environmental specialists, each endorsed to deliver component parts of the project through co-design process. Including the raranga (weaving) Korimurimu (Tessa Harris, Ngāi Tai Ki Tāmaki) suspended within one of the open apertures; the whakairo (carving) Te Wairere (Reuben Kirkwood, Ngāi Tai Ki Tāmaki) and the traditional bindings (Tessa Harris) located along the outer balustrade; the coastal plantings (Richelle Kahui-McConnell, Mealofa Ltd), Charmaine Bailie (Te Uri o Hau—Ngāti Whātua ki Kaipara); and the waka kūtai (Jarrod Walker, Tātaki Ltd) suspended below the shelf surface providing habitat for kelps and kūtai (mussels).

Te Wānanga was constructed using wharf construction techniques, during the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic period. It was opened to the public in (date) with a moving dawn ceremony led by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.

The collection of surface apertures create a variety of habitats, and afford unique interactions with the surrounding ecologies.

David St George, Isthmus Group

Concept plan. The porous form of the tidal shelf was inspired by the geometries of nature; local sponges and shellfish.

David St George, Isthmus Group

Across the site, textured and layered surfaces—shell-encrusted and sandblasted concrete, generous forms of timber seating and native coastal planting—invite touch, curiosity and exploration.

David St George, Isthmus Group

Raranga kōrimurimu—a collaboration with Tessa Harris and Bridon Cookes—hangs from one of the apertures. Meaning ‘covered in seaweed’, the tactile space tells the story of native seaweed once abundant here.

David St George, Isthmus Group

Traditional Māori weaving meets hi-tech materials to create a soft surface on which to rest, play and feel the breath of the ocean beneath.

David St George, Isthmus Group

Project Details
An authentic expression of design that reweaves our connection to place, considering both natural ecologies and human cultures.
Juror 1
This is what I want to point my students to look at— this is where we are going with experience design. It’s culturally inclusive, deeply researched, celebrates the ecology, and transforms our behavior through participation and materiality.
Juror 2
This installation beautifully melds history, indigenous culture, and modern cityscape and reconnects with nature into an artful narrative that improves the everyday life of all community members.
Juror 3
Inviting and comfortable public spaces have a powerful positive impact on our everyday lives. The maritime park project "Te Wananga" is a beautiful intervention that integrates indigenous and ecological narratives into a finely executed design for all users.
Juror 4
Design Team

Isthmus Group in partnership with Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau Kaitiaki Working Group representatives and endorsed Kahui Kaiarataki members.

Isthmus Group
David Irwin
Sarah Bishop
Nada Stanish
Alex Foxon
Sophie Fisher
Travis Wooller

Nga Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau
Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei
Ngāti Whātua ki Kaipara
Ngāti Whātua Runanga
Ngāti Te Ata Waiohua
Te Ahiwaru
Ngaati Whanaunga
Ngāi Tai
Ki Tamaki
Ngāti Maru
Te Ākitai Waiohua
Ngāti Tamaoho


Eric van Essen, Auckland Transport (client)
Oliver Smith, Auckland Council (client)
Tattico (planning)
Downer HEB (main contractor)
JFC (sub contractor, streetscape)
Bridon Cookes (korimurimu, contractor)

Kāhui Kaiarataki:
Jarrod Walker, Tātaki Ltd (marine ecology consultant)
Richelle Kahui-McConnell, Mealofa Ltd, (ecology consultant)
Charmaine Bailie (Te Uri o Hau—Ngāti Whātua ki Kaipara)
Uru Whakaarom, Tessa Harris (Ngāi Tai Ki Tāmaki), Mana Whenua (selected artist/weaver)
Reuben Kirkwood (Ngāi Tai Ki Tāmaki)
Mana Whenua (selected artist/carver)
Tonkin + Taylor (structural engineering, marine ecology consultants)
Flow (traffic engineering consultants)
Aireys (Korimurimu, specialist structural engineering consultants)

Photo Credits

David St George, Isthmus Group (photography), Petra Leary (videography)

Open Date

July 2021