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What imbues a place with meaning, making it ‘iconic’? Can labels such as ‘icon’ fit alongside Māori concepts of place, and if so how?
This paper considers these ideas through the lens of two Māori buildings in downtown Wellington: the architecturally designed Te Raukura, which opened in 2011 and is used as café, function centre and tourism base, and the remains of a whare (Māori house) from Te Aro pā, a site inhabited until the 1880s then rediscovered during excavations in 2005 and now visible to the public. While neither was intended as an icon, both have deep and historic significance for Wellington city’s iwi (tribe). These values and meanings are not necessarily visible to other Wellington residents or to the tourists who visit both places, but visitors may also take meanings from, and attribute value to, the buildings and their surroundings.
Drawing on the researchers’ ‘insider’ position as members of Wellington iwi, the research explores the layers of meaning that Te Raukura and the Te Aro whare are acquiring for members of the iwi, and others involved with the building and excavation, identifying three key themes: layers, visibility and footprints. The paper also considers the public expression of some manuhiri (visitor) narratives. We conclude that for iwi, both buildings represent tūrangawaewae (a place to stand). They have the potential to become in some sense ‘icons’, over time. The extent to which such meanings can develop alongside non-Māori ones is still to be tested.