Te Puia Hero

Redevelopment of Te Puia, the former Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, Rotorua

 

The Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (M.A.C.I.) in Rotorua is an iconic part of New Zealand's tourism heritage. Originally opened in 1967, M.A.C.I. set about to preserve and develop the skills of Maori craftsmanship and artistry through training of students in traditional disciplines such as carving and weaving. Set within the stunning geothermal backdrop of the Whakarewarewa Valley, it developed into a world-leading tourism attraction in its own right.

Hawkins was the main contractor in the redevelopment of this tourism icon, which saw the creation of additional facilities for students as well as enhancing the visitor experience by transforming and modernising the treasured heritage of its site, people and stories.

Re-named "Te Puia" (after the name of the hill behind the famous Pohutu geyser) the redevelopment included a new weaving school and retail facilities (830m2), carving school (470m2) and interpretive display gallery (315m2) in keeping with the existing marae and geothermal valley. Administration facilities were created by refurbishing existing school and retail buildings.

To create a more welcoming feel, the extensive areas of existing palisade fencing along the street frontage were replaced with patterned precast concrete walls. The formal visitor entrance features carved timber columns of varying heights that represent the twelve heavens of Te Arawa cosmology. These are arranged to form a focal point with a significant spiritual feel, where visitors are formally greeted by their guide before beginning the journey through Te Puia.

Construction challenges included extremely poor ground conditions that required significant geotechnical stabilising work and specific foundation design. Areas of the geothermal site had ground temperatures of over 100°C, which required electrical service routes to be reticulated above ground. In one key area the use of specialist pyrotechnic cable was the best solution, accepting that its expected life would be limited to less than one year.

A clear priority for the client was to ensure the site development did not adversely affect their ongoing business, and at all times the site was kept open to the public (500,000 visitors per year). To achieve this, the construction had to be split over multiple stages, allowing the decanting of various operations in and out of existing and new buildings as work progressed.

The careful planning and management of this ensured all client operations continued throughout the construction phases and had minimal impact on revenue generation and visitors' experiences.

As it is a significant cultural site, establishing a quick response procedure to the discovery of archaeological finds was also an essential risk mitigation process. This ensured that when historical hangi pits were discovered in the excavation, they were investigated and removed without affecting the construction programme.

Despite extreme weather conditions at the start of the project, the project was successfully completed in June 2007 ahead of programme and under budget.