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Recognising New Zealand needed a stronger Māori voice in architecture and design, multi-disciplinary design practice Jasmax encouraged four young graduates to guide the organisation’s bicultural design direction.

In 2015, a group of four young Māori architectural graduates founded Waka Māia a Māori cultural design and advisory team to provide an authentically Māori design voice within Jasmax.

photo of Jasmax staff attending a weaving workshop

Principal Architect and Head of Knowledge and Innovation Sue Marshall says Waka Māia’s rōpū provides skills, integrity and expertise in Māori design and engagement processes that benefit projects across Jasmax. Waka Māia is integral to the education and development of cultural capability and understanding of te ao Māori within Jasmax, and builds on a history of involvement with culturally significant projects.


Since its inception, Waka Māia has worked closely with many iwi and hapū from around Aotearoa, and has a proven track record and expertise in cultural design, consultation and facilitation. One recent key project is The University of Waikato Tauranga Campus, completed in 2019, a campus unique for its bicultural focus on tertiary education.

Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor Alister Jones says, “Jasmax demonstrated a strong understanding of the importance of robust and genuine engagement. Jasmax brought genuine experience and commitment to working with iwi, communicating with a high degree of fluency to ensure the design of the building honoured and reflected the University’s commitment to the iwi of Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty.”

Waka Māia has operated as an incubation unit for Māori architecture graduates, enabling Jasmax to nurture the design skills of Māori architects and future leaders. Last year, it partnered with the University of Auckland to offer a scholarship for Māori and Pacific students for up to five years of support for their Bachelor of Architecture studies.

Photo of Aotea Station Threshold design

Waka Māia has the full support of the senior leadership team. In 2019 the organisation launched a bicultural manifesto, reaffirming its bicultural design direction with Waka Māia embedded at the heart of the practice.

CEO Sjoerd Post says, “At Jasmax we believe that the Tiriti o Waitangi between mana whenua and tangata tiriti offers a powerful opportunity to create architecture and design that is unique to Aotearoa. Waka Māia are our kaihautū in that quest.”

Initiatives have been introduced to upskill staff in their knowledge of and understanding of tikanga and te reo Māori, including a bespoke Jasmax Te Ao Māori Guide, created to support staff using the language in their day-to-day work life. Cultural design workshops and lecture series with guest speakers are also offered.

Kaiurungi - Strategic Relationship Manager Apenti Tamanui-Fransen says these initiatives ensure the bicultural strategy sits at the core of the business as opposed to ‘a nice to have’.

Judging convener Kirstin Te Wao says Waka Māia is creating an industrial legacy through Jasmax, in its role amplifying Māori contribution in architecture. The mahi the team does collaborating with Mana Whenua, strengthening Māori participation within the company’s governance and creating a space where all employees can gain a better understanding of the importance of Māori culture, has been pivotal in its projects which have garnered national and international accolades.

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