Designed for Project Island Song (comprising DoC, Ngati Kuta and Patukeha hapu, and the Guardians of the Bay of Islands), Ngā Reo o Te Whenua responds to the brief of an educational visitor centre ‘focal point’ for Urupukapuka Island. The project delivers the brief through a literal interpretation of the ‘focal point’: it draws on the phrase’s definition as “the point from which diverging waves or rays appear to proceed”. The concept of the scheme is simple: it offers a journey of discovery beginning with the focal point ‘The Compass’ at Otehei Bay, and proceeding around three interventions, The Horizon, The Outpost, and The Observatory. The scheme is based on navigation and storytelling – the former as an enabler of the latter. Ideally, through their experience in The Compass visitors are encouraged to journey to each intervention, which function like chapters in a book: each one revealing more of the story of Urupukapuka and Project Island Song through its architecture, information display, and location.

The architectural language of the scheme is based on cartography: at its simplest, it’s a series of points and lines. The Compass is a focal point from which bearing lines are drawn to locations of interest: the interventions are the other ‘points’. All the buildings are based on a 6m diameter circle (“point”) in plan – The Compass has a 3m wall thickness outside that, into which the gallery rooms are cut. The smaller interventions are simply formed within the 6m circle. The scheme’s tectonic is simple, and materials are chosen sensitively: local Greywacke stone walls meet Accoya timber floors (ideal for exposure to variable conditions). Blackened steel roofs complete the assembly – a nod to the vernacular tin roofs prevalent in the existing architecture on the island.

Conceptually, The Compass is inspired by the experience of lining up a point on the land with the window of a hand bearing compass. In the building this experience is replicated: on each gallery outer wall is a carving of the destination landscape, cut by a slit in the direction of that place – the bearing line architecturalised. The floorboards are cut radially from the centre of the building, and a subtle brass accent leads through the wall slit, further expressing the bearing line. At the end of each bearing line is the ‘point’ (one of the three smaller interventions) and a Greywacke monolith, which is the positive materialisation of the negative slit in The Compass outer wall (a reinforcement of the relationship between the two points).

Together, the structures work to tell the story of Project Island Song – its work, people, and place. This full experience is suited to visitors with the time and ability to complete the whole walk, while the summative nature of The Compass suits those who visit fleetingly or are less physically able.
In this way, the scheme succeeds on multiple levels: it facilitates education both in the buildings and in the journeys it encourages visitors to embark on.

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