Te Tatau Kaitiaki, Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

This significant threshold into Te Ao Mārama combines traditional techniques with digital innovation to create a beautiful expression of mana whenua identity and place.


Project Details

Client Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
Sector Culture & Community
Location Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Discipline Architecture
Status Completed 2020
Design Collborator(s) Graham Tipene with FJMT and designTRIBE
Fabrication Finework Studio

A gateway that re-establishes mana whenua presence on Pukekawa and acknowledges its wider cultural landscape

Te Tatau Katitiaki (The Guardian’s Gateway) is the ceremonial threshold that formally welcomes visitors to Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira and into the newly refurbished Te Ao Mārama, South Atrium. The artwork is bestowed to the museum by mana whenua artist Graham Tipene (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Manu, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Haua). The pair of doors sets the tone for the atrium and the rest of the museum as a bicultural space. Together the architecture and artwork express and uplift the identity of mana whenua and enable tikanga protocols.

When open, the digital carvings on the doors embellish the entry threshold for pōwhiri and daily visitors, and when closed, the female kaitiaki (guardians) come together to hongi (exchange breath). This integrated artwork is one of a number of artworks commissioned as part of the Te Ao Mārama project to give voice to mana whenua and is intended to reinforce the mana and dignity of the space and all who enter it.


Local inspiration that acknowledges the people, the building, and its purpose

In the words of Graham Tipene, the artist pictured above and below with his tama (son), ‘this piece represents the first voice of welcome. It represents the mana (prestige) of women. It is guidance and learning. It is the land, the ocean, the people and the stars. It is guardianship through deities. It is a visual representation of all we seek to keep us connected to our past. This piece acknowledges this building as a kaitiaki (guardian) of taonga (precious Māori collections). This piece acknowledges change. This piece acknowledges the whakapapa (genealogy) of all who keep taonga safe.’

Graham featured multiple representations in the design stating that ‘The wāhine (women) are the karanga (cultural call of welcome) into the space. The kaitiaki represents guardianship past, present and future. The whakarare design in the rear speaks to change and growth. When the doors are closed, the piece is mirrored and represents old and new. The guardians are kaitiaki from the two Moana (harbours) on either side of the Auckland Isthmus.’

A meticulous combination of traditional and innovative methodologies

The wing-like twin doors of Te Tatau Kaitiaki are lined in battens sourced from an 800 year old Totāra tree, felled a century ago. Totāra is a New Zealand native timber renowned for its resilience and use in whakairo (māori carving) which resonates with symbolic value in the context of the museum. 

Jasmax devised the timber batten system to enable the two-dimensional artwork to flow over the complex curved faces of the ceremonial doors. The engraved design combines indigenous carving techniques with digital CNC fabrication processes, and the finished result followed extensive testing of materials and fabrication methodologies undertaken in close collaboration with the artist and the fabricator.



2021 AGDA Design Awards - Spatial/Permanent Installations - Merit
2021 Best Awards - Environmental Graphics - Gold
2021 Best Awards - Exhibition and Temporary Structures - Gold
2021 Best Awards - Toitanga - Bronze