A Review on ‘Shaping Our Places’: The NZIA manifesto for New Zealand’s built environment

After leaving the launch for the New Zealand Institute of Architects manifesto for New Zealand’s built environment ‘Shaping Our Places’, which took place on 2nd September at Parliament’s Grand Hall, I had a surprisingly positive feeling about the newly formed document mostly because of the fact that such a document exists now, more so than the actual content itself. However during the walk home I began pondering some of the wider questions at hand, which I will attempt to further elucidate.

In an overall sense the manifesto provides a positive platform for discussion and debate into specific areas of concern by outlining a series of five key ‘concepts’ community, sustainable, affordable, heritage and urban places. However, it is apparent that there is much work to do in order to constructively flesh out the issues at hand.

Whilst these areas of concern are pressing and need to be carefully considered, they are by no means ‘concepts’, but rather ‘archetypes’. This may seem pedantic in a way, but I think it is important to make this distinction intellectually, because they form the fundamental basis for the manifesto as well as the trajectory for developing further strategies for an overall vision into New Zealand’s built environment.

My suggestion of using ‘archetypes’ stems from the fact that the idea of what a ‘community place’ is has actually been around for centuries. They are not anything new, nor are they ideas originally conceived by the NZIA.

The importance for this distinction arises when it comes to evaluating and understanding our built environment in comparison to other (and in many circumstances much older) towns and cities of various cultures and societies overseas, as these ‘archetypes’ (such as community and urban places) have been with some of these cultures for a very long time. New Zealand has as much of a responsibility to ‘look outwards’ (as well as ‘looking inwards’) in order to be a part of a wider global society in terms of its built environment.

By conceiving these places as ‘archetypes’ we open ourselves up to a whole world’s worth of precedents and ideas to use as a basis for understanding and realising the vision for our built environment, instead of feeling like we have to reinvent the wheel. Using ‘archetypes’ may also help in furthering the definitions already set up with each of the five cases for when they cross-pollinate, i.e. further defining what a ‘Community/Urban/Affordable’ place is for example. The title ‘as a manifesto for New Zealand’s built environment’ bodes well with me as by using ‘built environment‘ suggests that it’s not just an individual profession’s responsibility (e.g. architecture or infrastructure) but rather everyone who is concerned with New Zealand’s built environment.

The last part of the manifesto deals with the identification of five policy priorities, which are seen as drivers for realising the aforementioned ‘concepts’ (or archetypes). In some ways, it is hard to refute that progress with improving the quality of our built environment cannot happen without political will at a higher level and in saying this I’m curious about the proposal for a Government Architect(s) as this will need to be carefully considered and discussed within the New Zealand context and again the issue of precedents/archetypes arise. Geoffrey London’s outline on the responsibilities of CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) in the UK provides an interesting insight into this and one would presumably conclude that the formation of any Urban Design Advisory panel would have to be carefully co-ordinated with the role and responsibilities of any Government Architect(s). A criticism I have with the ‘policy priorities’ is a lack of direction/strategy for a future vision when it comes to New Zealand’s architectural education and the roles of students and academics alike. One key archetype that I feel has been left out are ‘Educational Places’ (i.e. not specifically limited architecture schools) as this is important as a long-term vision for the future of our built environment. The manifesto could be seen as more of a platform to integrate the educational and professional worlds, because they essentially work in tandem and provide mutual feedback when it comes to progressing knowledge and inquiry into our built environment. May I suggest that any policy priority the NZIA plans to implement should also involve the integration of a program to build on the existing relationships with architectural student/educational networks to progress the values of the built environment as a holistic discipline.

I ultimately think that this is very important because our students, academics and thinkers also have a role in ‘Shaping our Places’ as well as practitioners.

D. Fincham


15 responses to “A Review on ‘Shaping Our Places’: The NZIA manifesto for New Zealand’s built environment”

  1. For sure, a document that should always have existed, and a positive move for the nzia in declaring its role in (and for) the discipline/community/nation.
    Ambiguity in their philosophic grounding (and trajectory) has left previous actions of the nzia wide-open for any number of attacks (and there were many -public or otherwise), which were ironically disempowered exactly because of their amorphous positioning (like shooting plastic fish in a barrel: it’s easy to hit the target, but it doesn’t make any difference).

    I am excited that this ‘stake in the ground’ can locate the group, and give the nzia not only a context for action, but a fortification for defence, should they need it.

  2. You raise an intriguing point wrt the concept/archetype pedantry: Perhaps the NZIA concepts (rather than archetypes) is an acknowledgement that there is some specificity to building in this time and place – which means that precedents have less relevance. I’m not necessarily subscribing to that notion myself, just putting it out there as a possibility, which, even if a subconscious slip on the part of the drafters, locates the manifesto within the precedent already set in NZ’s postwar architectural thinking, which, of course, forms the back bone of our understanding of our architectural past (that is to say that there is nothing new in calling for the new).

    However, I suspect that this level of thinking did not inform the manifesto.

    I’m also wary of such a thing as a “Government Architect”, which is way too loaded as a term – even if we ignore the professional arrogance of an architect being the best person to take such a position wrt the ‘built environment’. In this respect it would seem to speak of a desperate attempt to revalue the profession at the expense of other concerned professions. Maybe we need to acknowledge that the built environment is part of the overall NZ environment and restructure the MfE to acknowledge this duality – if it even must be seen as a duality). The Urban Group that was set up within MfE carried out some good groundwork initially, but this seems to have somewhat petered out – not sure what happened there (but it certainly wasn’t given the resources that those tasked with taking care of our (so-called) natural environment)…

    And I’d also be wary of another Commission in the NZ political context. Sure, CABE is something of a success in the UK, but here we have a tradition of using Commissions (and their Heads), as political footballs. We spend a lot of money initially in their set up, task them with giving their advice on this and that, and then promptly ignore all advice, and stick the boot in to the Commissioners. Families Commission anyone?

    Anyway, I fear that attacking the ‘big problem’ from top-down is not the way to go – there needs to be a widespread interest in such matters first. Social engineering is the way to go – NZIA would be better to petition for built environment issues to be included in educational curricula to the same degree as the other environment, whilst commissioning the design of suitable modules for teaching. We need to redefine ‘Environmentalism’ to be more holistic at a general population level (and the current buzz-theme of ‘sustainability’ offers a way in).

    Here’s a thought, perhaps the ArchCentre could devise such a model by working closely with a local primary school and college…??

  3. I should also point out that I have not actually caught up with the actual manifesto itself – my comments are simply a reading of the reading above…

  4. m-d A website has been set up, and the manifesto may be downloaded from:

    and just by way of comparison, the Arch Centre manifesto is here:

  5. Of which, the key “Five Priorities” are:

    Appointment of a Government Architect responsible for whole-of-government advice and leadership on design and located within a central co-ordinating agency.

    Input into the infrastructure programme to ensure that infrastructure projects are well integrated and consistent with best practice design principles.

    Amendment of the Resource Management Act to ensure that areas identified as being of national architectural significance are protected.

    Government level encouragement of the use of urban design advisory panels at the district plan level.

    Government recognition of the concept of modern heritage and protection to the same extent as historical heritage.

  6. As well as the “Five Positions”:

    Providing quality community places is no longer merely desirable, it is essential for a well-functioning modern society. These are places from which community culture arises – they are a crucible for culture.

    Sustainability’s value proposition is undeniable in both economic and moral terms. Sustainability not only involves a set of practices but a way of seeing the world.

    The challenge of creating affordable housing requires a mix of old and new concepts. Building low cost housing is only one aspect. Achieving long term affordability through good design is the ultimate goal.

    Heritage is a fundamental aspect of our developing sense of national identity. Preservation of the past and creation of the future must become a matter of deliberate design, not chance.

    Quality urban design is essential to building active, engaged comunities. The places we create should reflect our nation’s heritage, culture and aspirations .

  7. You guys seem to be doing some good work on the analysis of the NZIA Manifesto. How about going further? For instance, how about a line by line analysis of where the gaps are – what stacks up?

    D Fincham makes the valid point that the education of both the general public AND the profession is a necessary requirement. That doesn’t appear in either the Arch Centre or the NZIA manifesto.

    Other items are more simple to compare. Take Heritage – no, please. NZIA notes:
    Heritage is a fundamental aspect of our developing sense of national identity. Preservation of the past and creation of the future must become a matter of deliberate design, not chance.

    while Arch Centre notes:
    8) Architecture must be celebrated
    (New architecture is our future heritage)

    which is essentially the same thing, one more eloquent – the other more precise.

    But what about other points? There is no equivalent to items 7 and 9 of the Arch Centre’s Manifesto – what does that say about the NZIA’s willingness to engage?

    7) Bad building must be eliminated
    (Wellington is too important for soulless buildings; buildings designed heartlessly for profit are not architecture)


    9) Architecture has an obligation to challenge
    (Controversy has a positive role in architecture)

  8. chris moller Avatar
    chris moller

    there is a very big difference between these two organisations, the nzia is an institute for architects, while the arch centre is a club for people interested in Wellington’s architecture – hence items 7&9 become more important to the arch centre’s manifesto. The arch centre has also always been a vehicle to engage with the city, and has had many different people involved from all walks of life, who care passionately about it. Often prepared to take direct action, and have been known to stand in front of bulldozers or go to court to stop reckless demolition of the city – for example the fight for the ‘mission’s to seamen’ building. The nzia has never played this kind of role.

  9. chris moller Avatar
    chris moller

    …. hmmm, item 4 (arch centre manifesto) needs re-thinking. ie “urban environments must be planned (not only by urban planners)”. The words tell all…. ie that urban planning and its tools are currently defined and controlled in ‘Plan’. No wonder there are so many problems…. and yes, the anglo saxon tradition of urban planning is two dimensional (this includes the UK, Australia, Canada, USA…) its time to talk about the critical importance of the section to bring this debate into the 3rd dimension – if this were done then the unfortunate ‘either/or’ debate re the wellington waterfront – either for public ammenities, or for private development, could be shifted to a ‘both/and’ debate which could be resolved through creative use of thinking in section. Then we could end up with many new public amenities, together with a mix of private development and pay for the necessary upgrade of wharf piles etc simultaneously. This could be done through public private partnerships.

    The fourth dimension of time is also a great tool not well understood or used, namely that both public and private events or organisations can make use of the same space at different moments in time. A fantastic example is the use of half of the main road along the Rio waterfront on Sundays for promenading by cyclists, skateboarders, pedestrians etc.. the cars are limited to the city half of the road – this could be done along Jervois Qy. Any takers ???

  10. I’ll get my leg warmers on… wouldn’t mind a skate along the Quay.

    aaah, Chris, you should have been here when we were debating the 9 points of the Manifesto. We actually had a long and fruitful debate from quite a few members, distilling our words down into short and succinct phrases. But I like what you’re saying about the waterfront.

  11. Hmmm… I’m interested in the distinction that Chris Moller has demarcated between the NZIA and the architectural centre. I understand that the NZIA is traditionally a body dedicated to profession of architects whereas the architectural centre is more concerned with Wellington’s built environment.
    However we need to get beyond such distinctions as I feel that both organisations – aside from the differences, do share simililarities in that both are dedicated to progressing New Zealand’s built environment in some manner… so for New Zealand’s built environment’s sake, Chris/Guy, could there ever be a joint NZIA/Arch Centre manifesto where both organisations can work closely together?

  12. No. Both these organisations need to maintain a ‘status quo’ rhetoric of distinction and in this case mild-tasting polemic, it defines them by differentiating them. At the moment, the most exciting difference is that the NZIA has never been so clear that it wants (Member) Architects to be empowered, and therefore have greater effect on “progressing New Zealand’s built environment”, whereas the Architectural Centre is more liberated by being concerned/(inter)active directly with “progressing New Zealand’s built environment”. In this way, the NZIA is located as a mediator between ‘progress’ and the discipline, and suffers in its ineffectualness for being so.

  13. The titles of both organisations are also significant and revealing in regard to this notion.
    The New Zealand Institute of Architects have maintained for some time (in their rules and rhetoric) that they are committed to ‘architecture’, but their Manifesto has clarified their prioritising of the (Member) Architect.
    The Architectural Centre is a curious title, because it suggests rather than mediating or being a mediator (see above post), they are a medium themselves, they are architectuRAL, and maybe a tangible ‘meat-space’ of ‘architecture’. Although this is (“merely”) a theoretical reading, it has fascinating implications for the role and design of the Architectural Centre as a political and social project.

  14. chris moller Avatar
    chris moller

    interesting reflections… history also tells quite alot about the two organisations. The NZIA rejected european but not british immigrants who were registered in their home countries for example german, dutch, hungarian, polish etc. The Architecture Center was set up with a very strong contingent of these people such as Ernst Plishche, Helmet Einhorn and consequently set up its own architecture school, and network of salon/cafe discussion forums to deal with this. So it has a very genuine alternative history to the NZIA, and consequently a much more open structure.

  15. … but is this openness of membership still true re: the arch centre? yes historically more ethnicity, more women, more non-architects, more parties … – but who is the main constituency now? The nostalgia-dripping stories of yonder years evoke philosophers, musicians, art historians, artists, political radicals (read Ministry of Works employees?) as core to the membership – but it seems to me (as jolly as the architectural centre is) it’s getting narrower rather than broader in its membership involvement …

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