Research and Design Team

Dr Maibritt PEDERSEN ZARI

Primary Research Investigator and Project Coordinator
Te Wānanga Aronui O Tāmaki Makau Rau, Auckland University of Technology, Aotearoa New Zealand

Tēnā koutou, I was born in and grew up in Kirikiriroa Hamilton and moved to Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington to first study at, then work at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University, at the Wellington School of Architecture for many years. I am now based in Ranui in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and am an Associate Professor at AUT at Huri Te Ao Hoahoanga, the School of Future Environments. My family base is in Whaingaroa Raglan. My ancestry is a mixture of Danish on my paternal side and Scottish on my maternal side. My earliest ancestor to arrive in Aotearoa in 1882, was my Great Great Grandmother. She came from the Scottish highlands and was of the Clan Murray. My Danish grandparents are from Jutland and immigrated (separately) to New Zealand just before and after the Second World War. I am a mother of four. My children are Amdo Tibetans.

I have been lucky to travel a lot as an adult and have spent time living in parts of Asia, in particular India and Tibet. Living outside my own cultural context for periods has shaped my understanding of the world and helped me to appreciate that there are many ways to understand, experience, and value different aspects of life. In my youth I was involved in native forest activism in Aotearoa. This ignited a passion for ecological justice. As I learnt more about the relationship between colonisation and ecology I came to understand that ecological justice cannot be separated from social justice, at least in the part of the world I live in. In my early twenties I began the lifelong journey of learning about and attempting to practice decolonisation in Aotearoa and am grateful to mentors, teachers, and friends for setting me on this pathway of learning.

I am motivated by wanting to make our cities healthier and more just for people as well as the living ecologies we are a part of. My goal is to make sure that climate change adaptation (in the realm of the built environment) is approached not just through a technical lens, but also through a socio-cultural-ecological point of view, and that climate change adaptation does not perpetuate or become a new form of colonisation.

My research seeks to redefine sustainable architecture and urban design through emulating how ecosystems work, changing the goals from sustainable to regenerative development, and integrating complex social factors into living architectural and urban design. My current research explores how nature based solutions can be used to define ecological design in the urban built environment with particular regard to how climate change and continued loss of global biodiversity affects architecture and communities. My expertise include: design for urban biodiversity, urban ecosystem services, biophilic design, and biomimicry. My research team and I have recently been awarded a Marsden grant for the research project ‘NUWAO – Nature-based Urban design for Wellbeing and Adaptation in Oceania’. This builds upon previous work for SPREP in Vanuatu, and ‘Ocean Cities’ work for UNESCAP. I am author or co-author/editor of several books including Regenerative Urban Design and Ecosystem Biomimicry (2018), and Ecologies Design: Transforming Architecture, Landscape, and Urbanism (2020). More about my publications (and free access) can be found here: www.mpedersenzari.webs.com.

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Mercia ABBOTT

Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāi Tahu
Primary Research Investigator
Massey University and Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand

Ngā mihi ki a koutou, my name is Mercia Abbott (nee Tawhiri-Kerr). I was born in Ōtautahi but grew up in Te Whanganui-a-Tara where I now live and work with my husband and two beautiful boys. I am of Māori descent with iwi and hapū affiliations to Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāi Tahu. I have been fortunate enough to have traveled around Europe, Asia and North America. I also lived in Italy for a year where I studied art and spent 4 months working in an orphanage in Nepal. Understanding different cultures, ways of life and environments has always fascinated me. I am a creative being that lives and breathes design so a natural fit for study came in the form of Spatial Design. Spatial design incorporates aspects of interior design, architecture, urban design, landscape design, art and visual technologies. Providing a diverse toolkit enabling the ability to make, imagine, alter, shape, visualise and communicate peoples experience, stories and lives.

I have been working in the design industry for 10+ years, firstly as a senior design tutor at Massey University, Toi whakaari and most recently as a teaching fellow at Victoria University. I have also worked in a professional capacity as an exhibition designer for Gibson Group, kitchen designer for Kitchen Studio and as an Interior Designer for my own practice M Darling Design. Recently I have gone back to complete my Masters which looks at weaving climate change science, ecologies and Mātauranga Māori through spatial constructs. This has been embedded into a project with the Deep South National Science Challenge to improve the resilience of the coastal environment of the Ōhau – Kuku – Waikawa coastline in Horowhenua, to the impacts of climate change, and to assist Māori in adapting to the rising seas, increased flooding and salinification. Investigating action orientated climate change transitions to water based land uses that enhance taonga species, namely tuna and inanga. Being involved in this mahi in all its forms continues my passion for working with people for people.

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Dr Paul BLASCHKE

Primary Research Investigator
Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand

I was born and raised in Wellington, the son of German refugee parents, and have lived here much of my adult life. I have lived happily in other North Island cities, in Tonga and Germany, and travelled quite widely in the Pacific Islands and Europe, but Wellington, where I have always lived with a view of Te Whanganui-a-Tara, will always be my home. I live here with my partner Susan and we have two adult sons living in Aotearoa.

I’ve always been drawn to the natural world.  This led me from school to study botany, ecology and one of NZ’s first environmental studies papers at Auckland University, and later in landscape ecology and earth sciences for my PhD at Victoria University of Wellington.  Before my postgraduate studies, my first job was in land resource assessment for the former Water and Soil Conservation Organisation, which gave me a formative appreciation of catchments and working landscapes, as well as environmental protection needs. Later work brought knowledge in urban ecology, biodiversity conservation, sustainability and development issues.

I like taking the big picture view. Submissions on the development of the “old” Resource Management Act for the NZ Ecological Society, several years at the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, and then contracting to the Department of Conservation on biodiversity and conservation policy, all developed my big picture, environmental systems view.  I have tried to bring this view to my private consulting work as well as to contract university teaching. Over the last 20 years I have worked as a wide-ranging independent environmental consultant and lectured in Environmental Studies and Environmental Health at VUW and Otago University, Wellington. I am now an Honorary Research Fellow at both universities. I regard myself as a “specialist generalist”, something akin to being an environmental General Practitioner.

Beginning with a formative year as a very young Volunteer Service Abroad teacher in Tonga, I’ve had the occasional opportunity to work and travel around Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, the great Pacific Ocean. I’ve consulted on flood and landslide assessment in the Solomon Islands, advised on erosion and land management in Fiji and Solomon Islands, documented Pacific Island deforestation, and published an international review of mass movement impacts on land productivity. Since 2017 I’ve been involved with teams working on nature-based adaptation projects specifically in Vanuatu and more generally around Oceania, leading to current work on the NUWAO (Nature-based Urban design for Wellbeing and Adaptation in Oceania) project. I’ve been a Board member and Trustee of several NZ-based Pacific development organisations.

Now, nearing the end of my professional career, I still appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the urgent responses to our current climate crisis, with a view to the need for sustainable and equitable resource use and a Just Transition. I’ve seen the pitfalls of many expert-led projects and I’m now much more interested in co-design approaches.  I recognise the enormous reservoir of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Mātauranga Māori in our region, and the power of bringing together this traditional knowledge with western-grounded “scientific method” knowledge: my personal belief is that they complement and enhance each other.  As well as my work in NUWAO, I am a member of Mauri Tūhono, a group working to develop a new decolonised partnership between the people and the natural environment in the Wellington region.  Through my Progressive Jewish beliefs, I also have a strong involvement in bringing faith-based values into responses to current environmental crises.

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Dr Victoria CHANSE

Primary Research Investigator
Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand

I grew up in New York City in the United States but spent a great deal of time with my grandparents on their dairy farm. One half of my family is German American while the other half of my family is Chinese. My partner and I are very recent immigrants to Aotearoa. We live on the south coast of Wellington. 

Growing up in a bicultural family in a city with a lot of immigrant communities, I have been drawn to with different cultural communities and cultural contexts in planning and design. Growing up in a city, I was constantly on the lookout for finding natural spaces, urban nature and art. These interests led to pursuing work in sustainability and later degrees in ecology, environmental planning and landscape architecture. 

Earlier in my career, I began working with communities and other stakeholders to apply sustainability principles within planning and landscape architectural practice. My work as a community designer and planner is motivated by applying an evidence-based approach that draws from other disciplines such as restoration ecology, hydrology, public health, sociology and architecture. In the states, I developed long-term university-community partnerships as part of studio practice with students.

I have focused my research, teaching, and practice on solving problems associated with sea level rise, flooding, and stormwater. My motivations have been to work collaboratively across disciplines and with communities to develop local responsive designs that consider community needs and landscape changes under different scenarios of sea level rise and stormwater management. Past and current projects have faced critical environmental concerns: design and planning adaptations to sea level change, the use of green infrastructure in addressing stormwater issues, and engaging communities in addressing both equity and environmental problems.

I have received grant funding and published works on community-based approaches to stormwater management and community engagement around climate change. For more about my research and teaching, please refer to https://people.wgtn.ac.nz/victoria.chanse and to https://www.vchanse.com.

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Dr Gabriel Luke KIDDLE

Primary Research Investigator
Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand

I’m Pākehā, raised and schooled in Whakatū Nelson. I’ve also spent many years living, studying and working in Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. Te Waipounamu is home, and I’ve recently returned to Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington after five years of living rurally in the Motueka Valley. I’m a human geographer, but I’ve spent a large part of my career working in international development. I’m currently also teaching part-time at the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. My partner and I share care of our five school age kids.

Through my work in international development I’ve been lucky enough to spend considerable time living in, and learning from, Pacific island countries. I spent three years working for the New Zealand Aid Programme in Solomon Islands, where all three of my kids started school. I’ve also spent long periods in Fiji for research, including when the kids were very young. Solomon Islands and Fiji particularly are close to me, part of me and my family. It’s front and centre for me that Aotearoa and Pacific island nations are close, sharing historic and contemporary people-to-people links and Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, the Pacific Ocean. This influences how I see our region; I see myself and my family as of the Pacific. 

My university teaching and research work has focused on urban issues (particularly informal settlements) in small islands, and resilience as urbanisation interfaces with climate change. I’m also interested in interpretations and models of wellbeing, however they are appropriate locally, as we all work together to make Aotearoa, Oceania, and our planet a better place for all. 

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Lucy TUPU

Primary Research Investigator
Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand

I am a classically trained Industrial Designer with over 20 years of experience producing bespoke rugs, carpets, furniture, and lighting. I have lived and worked in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. The New York City-based design studio, Lucy Tupu LLC, was founded in late 2015 and my debut collection was launched in May 2016 at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF).

I am influenced by my Samoan and New Zealand roots, which epitomise my trademark aesthetic of clean, sophisticated pieces with vibrant, graphic, and playful touches that reflect both my cultural heritage and warm, energetic personality.

​In addition, I produce a significant number of bespoke pieces for clients with varying budgets. On every project, I am a design partner first and foremost – drawing on a rich, creative background spanning over two decades. Partnering closely with the client at every phase of the process, I leverage a diverse set of materials and fabrication techniques to realise their unique vision.

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Susana Taua’a

Research Investigator
National University of Samoa, Samoa

Susana Taua’a is an Associate Professor of Geography at the National University of Samoa in Apia. She teaches undergraduate  and post graduate  courses  in urban  and rural geography, coastal processes  and land management issues in the Pacific. Her research interests include the informal economy  and employment creation and prospects  for smallholder farming in the Pacific.
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Māia-te-oho Holman-Wharehoka

Te Āti Awa, Ngāruahine, Ngāti Moeahu, Ngāti Haupoto, Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue,  Ngāti Tunohopu
Research Assistant / Post-graduate Student
Bachelor of Building Science, Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington School of Architecture, Aotearoa New Zealand. Studying towards a Master of Building Science degree.

Kia Ora, I am an architectural science student at Victoria University, currently working towards a Masters in Architectural Science majoring in sustainable engineering systems. My goals and aspirations involve encouraging and being involved in the evolvement of sustainable papakāinga. My passion lies with my people and the land from which I come from, which has made falling into this project exciting.
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Mitra Homolja

Audiovisual Producer and Editor
Master of Architecture (Prof), Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington School of Architecture, Aotearoa New Zealand.

I grew up in Serbia and came to Aotearoa as a rangatahi (young person), spending a lot of my childhood in Te Awakairangi Lower Hutt. I identify as Tangata Tiriti (a person of the Treaty). My master’s research focused on exploring how architects and rangatahi can collaborate in the design of spaces to activate youth agency. I am passionate about storytelling and the power of audiovisual tools which enable storytelling. Recently, I became co-founder and director at Studio Tēpu, a consultancy and advocacy group which helps designers and communities develop custom processes that enable them to engage transformatively with design.
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Thomas Kiddle

Ngāti Porou, Ngāpuhi
Website Developer and Designer

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Jovaan Mataroa

Cook Island Māori, Ngāti Kahungunu
Post Graduate Student
Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington School of Architecture, Aotearoa New Zealand. Studying towards a Master of Architecture (prof) degree.

My name is Jovaan Tumungaro Mataroa and I am of Cook Island Māori descent. Ngāti Kahungunu is my iwi and our Hapū is Heretaunga. My father’s whanau are from Rarotonga and our village is Arorangi. 

I am a fifth-year student at Victoria University, studying towards a Master of Architecture. My passion lies within sustainability and the communities that occupy these spaces. My studies in 2022 will explore how indigenous knowledge can enable socially and ecologically resilient architecture in the Cook Islands. I am excited to learn more about our cultural heritage throughout the process and work alongside NUWAO on this journey. 

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Pieta McAleer-Harding

Research Investigator
Master of Architectural (Prof), Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington School of Architecture, Aotearoa New Zealand.

Kia ora, I am a Pākehā, born in Aotearoa. My ancestors are Irish, English, and Scottish and I identify as Tangata Tiriti (a person of the treaty). I grew up in Ōtautahi with my whanau and then moved to Te Whanganui-a-tara to study at Te Herenga Waka in the School of Architecture. My Masters Thesis explored how community resilience could be improved through engaging with decolonisation efforts in both design practice and architecture outcome. It explored how Pākehā and Tauiwi (non-Māori) architects can better approach designing for the resilience of communities in Aotearoa. My major research driver is to ensure a well-designed built environment and the benefits considered architectural design will provide can be accessed by all communities. 
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Melanie Nelson

Te Reo Māori Translator
BA Māori and Environmental Studies, Graduate Te Panekiretanga o te Reo Māori: Institute of Excellence in the Māori Language. Currently enrolled in Masters of Māori Language Excellence

Melanie is a strategic cross-cultural consultant, mentor, writer and te reo Māori translator.
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Grace Young

Ngati Hineuru
Graphic Designer
Bachelor in Design Innovation, Majoring in Communication Design, Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, School of Design Innovation.

I am a student enrolled in my last year of University at Victoria University of Wellington. I am very passionate about design and one thing I find crucial within my role as a designer is using my skills for social change. I am so grateful that I was able to create the logo for NUWAO as I support the cause and their objectives as their project progresses. With use of my knowledge as tangata whenua, I created the NUWAO logo based on what unifies us within Oceania and how that can be visually explored.


Meaning of the NUWAO logo: Each of the components of the logo signify a different aspect of the NUWAO project. I wanted to utlise flora (kowhai leaves and hibiscus) in this logo in a way that symbolises nature and the unification of Aotearoa and the Pacific Islands. Water was a crucial component because it symbolises the ocean and how it connects Oceania. The ocean is important to NUWAO because of climate change adaptation. Lastly, the hands symbolise the centering of human wellbeing and cultural knowledge in relation to climate change adaptation work.

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