How do differing world views influence the practice of landscape architecture?

Second year landscape architecture students at Unitec in Auckland have been investigating how differing world views influence the practice of landscape architecture in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Twenty year old Amber Bray grew up in South Auckland, and has observed first hand how it has evolved and developed - both positively and negatively. Here’s what she wrote.

I would like to begin my article with my pepeha, a Māori introduction;

Kia ora tātou

Ko Taranaki te maunga

Ko Waikato te moana

Nō Tāmaki ahau

Ko Bray tōku whānau

Ko Amber tōku ingoa

The debate between benefits of western world views vs benefits of indigenous world views has been a long one. There are multitudes of supporters on either side, arguing that their way of viewing the world outweighs the other for various reasons. But why is this important for landscape architecture? Well, how we view the world determines the way we act. It determines the way we design, who and what we are designing for. Landscape architecture puts our perspectives on the world into practice, and it is important for us all to be aware of how our world views may positively or negatively influence our own designs. Acknowledging and being aware of differing world views helps create a well-rounded outlook and approach to all things in life, including the way we approach landscape architecture.

Amber Bray

Amber Bray

After bouncing around a few different universities studying a multitude of subjects, I finally decided that Landscape Architecture was the degree that I was interested in and wanted to pursue. My grandfather was heavily involved in horticulture all his life, and this inspired me to apply to study. I imagined Landscape Architecture being a profession where you learned extensively about horticulture, and designed aesthetically pleasing gardens for residential homes. My knowledge has branched out much further than back yards. I am continually developing my own world view while learning about how others affect our environment and this degree. 

I was lucky enough to be raised in a privileged pakeha family, who taught me the importance of enhancing an existing space, not completely modifying an area to suit your particular needs. When my family bought 3 ½ acres of land in South Auckland whilst my siblings and I were growing up, we took it upon ourselves to alter as little of the land as possible. My parents fell in love with the steep hills, the small forests, and the stream running through. They fell in love with the natural untouched beauty of the site. We integrated our house with the natural contours, and planted native trees to create our own paradise. We designed our space around our world views.

Our home stayed isolated for a long time. Our closest neighbour was over a kilometre away, and our views of rolling hills sat unobstructed. Ten years after building our home, ‘for sale’ signs began enclosing our land. We watched helplessly as acre after acre was sold to property developers, wanting to recreate what we had. Loud construction dimmed the sounds of tui and wax-eye. Trucks and diggers flattened the flora that resided there long before a foot was set on the ground. Our land was changing before our eyes, stories and memories were trampled.

Tui were the soundtrack to Amber’s youth.

Tui were the soundtrack to Amber’s youth.

Land around us was viewed as an opportunity. It was viewed as a money maker. This reflects a very western world view, in which humans are seen as dominant over nature, and feels natural resources should be used for the benefit of humanity. 

Land is seen as a resource which can be transformed into profit, like the land around our home being turned into housing. A western world view does not work in harmony with the environment by any means. There is a complete lack of balance, where finite resources are not replenished, they are taken. Land development is only one example of this lack of balance, and it is heavily practiced all around the world. 

Western world views hold humans above all other things, the environment included. It focuses on the individual, how they can one-up their peers, particularly through exploiting the environment, and other people. Self-interest is a driving force in the western world’s economy, as money equals power in the minds of people with western world views. A competition is created between people, and it creates so much negativity and hopelessness. People purchase land not with the thought of what it has been, the driving force is the potential it can create financially. What size house can I build on this? Can I subdivide and sell? There is very little, if any, thought to the actual environment that is surrounding them.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, are indigenous world views. I will be focusing on Māori world views, as they correlate directly to Aotearoa. The overarching theme of a Māori world view is the simple thought that human beings are not the most important in the world, which I personally strongly agree with. Society works through relatedness. The natural world forms a cosmic family. Everyone and everything are related, sun and moon, fish and trees, and identity comes from connections. 

Māori are Tangata Whenua- people of the land, where knowledge is shared by ancestors. This knowledge passed down through generations by word of mouth. There is a deep trust and appreciation of ancestral knowledge. This creates a group of people who base their learning off intuition. Knowledge systems are value-laden, and there is tapu knowledge which is only known to those who are considered worthy.

Māori respect and value the environment and its creatures.

Māori respect and value the environment and its creatures.

Pepeha is a very important part of Māori culture, it tells a story of who you are by sharing your connections with people and places that are important to you. Whakapapa places Māori in a wider context, linking common ancestors, ancestral land, waterways, and tribal groupings. Tūrangawaewae means a place to stand, where a person feels most at home. A strong sense of belonging and a deep spiritual connection to a particular place is imperative to Māori identity and culture. Land is deeply respected and admired, there is a relationship with land and people, as important as the relationship with people and people. Papatūānuku is the land in Māori tradition. A mother earth figure who gives birth to all things. People, trees, birds, are born from the land, which then nourishes them. Everything is returned to the land, through birth (burying placenta) and death (burying people). 

Over the span of my learnings in my degree, I continue to come back to the idea of the importance of grounding. Grounding can mean different things to different people. It can mean meditation and remembering where you are in the world. It can mean connecting with nature and the physical feeling of the earth underneath you. When I think of grounding, I think of where I came from, and where I feel safe. My home town, my grandfathers garden, places I relate to. Grounding reminds me of Māori pepeha, knowing where you come from in order to know where you are going. 

The appreciation for the land everywhere they go creates a completely different view compared to western. Land holds history, land holds stories. Land nourished ancestors, and continues to physically, spiritually and culturally nourish Māori today. A deep connection to the land, compared to the lack of connection from people holding western world views. 

Landscape architecture benefits a lot from adopting a Māori world view, where land is not a financial gain, instead it is deeply respected and admired. I have heard this Māori quote a few times throughout my learnings, and it has stuck with me. 

“Whatu ngarongaro te tangata, toitū te whenua – people will perish, but the land is permanent”.

The land was here long before us, and it will be here long after us. This quote always reminds me to appreciate and value the land beneath us. As landscape architects I believe we need to care as much about what is beneath us as what will be placed on top. Taking the time to learn the history of the land, to learn who and how it has served the past, is imperative in creating designs that enhance what was already there. It creates balance with land, and balance within us. 

While I have been studying this degree, I have learnt so much about Māori culture and values, and how as a society Aotearoa has continually shut these down. I believe it is our time now as landscape architects to create an environment where Māori views can flourish, they are so in tune with what I believe someone trying to look out for the environment would think and do. We should be practising these things anyway, researching and respecting the land, and creating spaces where the land and environment is appreciated.

Landscape architecture in Aotearoa is ever changing. The projects that are assigned to firms are broad and vast in their subjects. Whether it is a new park, a housing development, or a small civic space, it is important to remember not to focus purely on financial gain, as demonstrated by western world views. 

Landscape architecture is an environmentally focused job, it is about protecting and enhancing spaces. We have a key role to changing how people view landscapes, we can change people’s perspective on spaces through our designs. I believe we need to adapt our own personal world views to incorporate Māori views, in order to create spaces and designs that pay tribute to the environment. 

We need to spend time researching the history of land, in order to gain more appreciation of the land we are working with. We need to have a symbiotic and reciprocal approach to land, and we need to be able to reflect that through our chosen careers. We need to shift from the idea of owners of the land, to people of the land, and as landscape architects, we are able to lead the way in thinking.