A hill comes alive with the song of the wind


Te Reo o te Hau (Voice of the Kōkōhau) at Brick Bay. (Photo credit: Sam Hartnett)

Venu Menon
Wellington, August 3,2023

Perched on a hilltop with a commanding view of the rolling countryside stands a tall wigwam-shaped structure, its wooden pinnacles reaching upward, like palms joined in obeisance to the sky.

Draping the structure like a cloak are countless wooden “feathers,” whispering in the breath of Mangatawhiri – the wind that sweeps across the bay from the sea.

This is a place where the human voice is still, where only the Kokohau (wind) speaks.

This is where a team of Victoria University of Wellington School of Architecture graduates imbibed matauranga Māori from local iwi and blended architectural expertise with purakau [indigenous mythology] to construct Te Reo O Te Hau [Voice of the Kokohau], which emerged the winner of the Brick Bay Folly competition 2023.

The annual Brick Bay Folly competition, launched in 2016, invites architecture students and recent graduates of architecture to design and build a folly at Brick Bay, a family-owned 150-acre farm situated on the coast in the Matakana wine region. It provides an opportunity for emerging architects “to test their ideas on a real-life project, manage construction, solve contingencies and participate in a physical construction.”

Entries at the competition are judged by a panel of industry experts who then mentor the teams through the process.

From the start, Mathew Green, Seth Trocio, Chris Gandhi and William Creighton, the team that designed and built the winning folly, were united by a shared vision.

Folly competition winners at the opening event, from left to right: William Creighton, Seth Trocio, Mathew Green, Chris Gandhi. (Photo credit: Tom Klockseth)

It was a vision steeped in Māori tradition, myth and folklore. They learnt from local iwi Ngati Manuhiri that the wind holds many stories as it sweeps through, that it speaks of the health and wellbeing of the people, the moana, and the whenua.

They realised “without the wind, we would be breathless, birds would not fly, seeds would not spread, oceans would be lifeless, and our people would not be prosperous.”

The team understood the project’s mission was to “listen to the voice of the wind” and fathom the conversation or korero it has with the surrounding milieu.

Once they had attained their tutelage in matauranga and te ao Māori from their iwi mentors, the team set about the task of building the folly.

Voice of Kokohau relies on 989 timber shingles, strategically suspended from an 8-metre-high frame, whose gentle clink articulates the wind’s presence.

Team member William Creighton explains the cultural significance of the folly: “As you enter, it’s like a cloak of manaaki. It’s ephemeral but also grounded in the cultural narrative of the site. Nearby Te Hauturu-o-Toi [Little Barrier] is the final resting place of the God of Winds, and a cloud rests over it, almost like a crown.”

The folly was built using mostly recycled timber. The result was as revealing as it was rewarding.

Mathew Green recalls: “All the variations and the different ages show through when you’re standing up close to the folly- it’s gone through a lot of hands, and that’s what makes it cool.”

Construction sites were sourced for material to make the shingles, which then travelled inter-city before reaching the project site at Brick Bay.

Pip Cheshire, architect and chair of the Brick Bay competition, has the last word:

“The Folly project challenges teams to take their glossy competition renders and work through the big issues of supply, structural integrity and cost control: a process that  invariably ends in the minutiae of counting screws and metres of rope before the graft of fabrication and assembly.”

Cheshire notes none of that hard work and attention to detail matters “unless the end result stirs our imagination.”

The winning folly succeeded in stirring the imagination.

“This year’s folly has a strong idea founded on the cultural history of the site, a complex logistical exercise involving a team strung out over the lower half of the country and a do-or-die goal of harnessing the wind,” Cheshire observes.

He applauds the winning team for bringing “the folly to life.”

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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