Mangatawa Papamoa Blocks Headquarters, Bay of Plenty

A whale of a tale is behind the award-winning whale’s tail design of the new headquarters of Mangatawa Papamoa Blocks Inc.

More precisely, the story of three whales – Mangatawa, Kopukairoa and Hikurangi, who feature in Maori legend about how their namesake hills were formed. The story goes that mother whale Mangatawa and child Hikurangi got stranded in Rangataua Bay and, after becoming tired and thirsty, drank from a magic spring that turned them to stone. The mother and baby lie at the edge of Rangataua Bay, while father whale Kopukairoa, who came looking for them and also drank from the spring, then turned to stone and is nestled behind them. 

When Mangatawa Papamoa Blocks Inc (MPBI) was planning to build its new headquarters, Mangatawa Tari, chairman Kevin Haua took architect Graham Price to the top of Mangatawa hill and told him about the legend.

“After I told him the story, I could see his mind ticking over,” says Kevin. “He came back with some drawings and lots of ideas, with enthusiasm and the start of an exciting creative journey together.”

First Principles Architects & Interiors worked on the project with Mt Maunganui firm Form Building and Developments. Graham said he wanted to create a building around the local legend. Through a series of sketches the idea behind the family of whales to create a landmark building evolved, to become a single whale’s tail that formed the shape of the roof. 

“For years we had dreamed about building on the hill,” says Kevin, “and that design just blew us away.”

Graham says, “In understanding the brief and place, what we often discover is a bigger meaning and story than just designing a building. It’s all about the client, their people and their needs.

“It wasn’t practical to have a building in the shape of a whale, so the roof in the shape of a whale’s tail provided a functional building enclosure.”

The design also works on other levels: “That shape is also symbolic of arms being spread wide to embrace people and welcome them into the building. From a distance it’s a soft and floating shape, like a reflection of the contour of the hill.”

Other design elements were also part of the story, such as the exposed glulam beams that represent the skeleton of the whale, and the fabric entry canopy that symbolises the way sails of the waka hourua would have been laid down on the beach when their wi ancestors arrived onto our shores.

The entry canopy also won the Award of Excellence from the Outdoor Fabric Products Association of New Zealand. 

First Principles’ Architectural Team Leader and Associate, Ray Atkins says, “The success of this project was a firm belief, of all involved, that the ideas and essence of Graham’s concept sketches were to be developed through to the final design. 

“Everyone got on board right from the start because the building is a reflection of the iwi and many parts of the building are part of their story, so it was just a matter of fully modelling it and embracing the design intent with the refinement of detailing and construction.”

“Once Kevin and [executive manager and director] Paula Werohia saw the design, that was what they wanted to be built and they were never going to let go of the concepts and ideas.

“The completed Mangatawa Tari offices are so strong because the building is the story.”

Ray says that while the structure looks complex “precise documentation was possible due to First Principles Architects’ 3D BIM modelling experience to co-ordinate with all consultants involved.”  Co-ordination of the main structural/architectural elements, mono-pitch portal frames, with a purlin layout on four different roof planes were essential to ensure the original concept came to life in the final design.

Graham says there were other design references, such as the seam of the EuroLine cladding, which “is very architectural and represented the lines seen on a whale’s skin”.

Kevin says the True Oak roof sheeting is ‘Thunder Grey’ - as close as they could get to the colour of the top of a whale, while the EuroLine used for the cladding is ‘Sandstone Grey’ to represent the lighter colour of the belly of a whale.

Kevin had another key role to play as Contracts Manager at Tauranga company Taylor Roofing, which had the job of installing the roof. He loved the design but says he probably made a rod for his own back.

“It was a real mission to handle such long sheets with the longest being 17 metres,” says Kevin. “The roof was in four segments running in different directions.” 

He adds, “Getting the roof on was tough enough but the flashing was even trickier – trying to curve a straight flashing.”

Graham adds, “Having Kevin on board was great because he was determined to get the curved fascia right. Another roofer might have tried to take an easier route and given it a more segmented look.” The finished result is a sweeping curved front edge.

Kevin says True Oak roof sheeting was chosen for the roof because it could be laid with a pitch as low as four degrees, and he liked the look of the profile.

“It’s got a nice flat finish and I thought that would look better than trapezoidal, and when the job was finished I’m glad we went with that.”

Ray says the cantilevered roof’s dramatic overhang is swooping and sculptural but also has a practical purpose as it gives solar protection to the faceted wall of the north-facing glass.

“The roof lets the sun in during winter but reduces heat gain in the summer.”

First Principles Architect’s interior designer, Kate Price worked closely with Paula on the interior design solution.

She adds,  “Having the wall of glass along the front of the building was a symbol of transparency and that there were no secrets kept in this building.”

Deep plywood soffits transition through to the interior ceilings to provide a sense of continuity. 

The colour palette reflects the coastal setting – warm sandy hues and blues – and the tones were deliberately restrained so as not to compete with the building and the views of the Bay of Plenty coast.

Three pou were commissioned and executed by master carver James Tapiata. These represent the three whales with father whale Kopukairoa attached to the column supporting the entrance canopy and, on the same axis, the mother whale Mangatawa is attached to the central column supporting the roof on the main facade. The baby whale Hikurangi is at the base of the water feature. The water or ‘mother’s milk’ flows from Mangatawa downstream to Hikurangi through whale tail-shaped ponds.

James commented that the pou were blackened to symbolise rising from the ashes, a reference to the fact that the MPBI’s previous headquarters, which were converted farm buildings, had burnt down.

Kevin says not only are the views spectacular from the administration and operations building but the iwi can survey all their lands, more than 300ha that boasts income from beef, kiwifruit and avocado, as well as a retirement village and industrial developments. 

He says he got another chance to tell the local legend when he attended the Master Builders Association New Zealand Commercial Projects Awards in Auckland earlier this year with the team from First Principles.

Kevin wasn’t expecting to have to make a speech but when the project won three awards – A Gold in the Commercial Project category and winners of both the Value Award (under $2 Million) and the Special Award – he had to take a turn at the microphone.

“It was at the Langham Hotel in front of 600 people so I told them the story of the whales which started the whole client vision and concept design.” he says. “All thanks to Graham – he is a wonderful architect, full of ideas.”

First Principles Architects & Interiors

This Tauranga-based practice was established in 2013 by founding director Graham and his wife Kate Price, who is also a co-owner and interior designer. 

Graham’s vision was to create a bespoke design studio in the Bay of Plenty, specialising in commercial, retail, mixed use, hospitality, educational, urban design and multi-residential architecture. This career direction was based on 30 years of experience in three countries, designing and building many projects for clients such as owner-occupiers, developers, tenants and the public sector.

 “We concentrate on working with our clients in the Bay of Plenty, the Waikato and Taupo. However, we have resources to provide architectural services wherever our clients would like us to partner with them. Graham has also worked extensively throughout Africa and the Pacific and designs exclusive projects in the Islands.”

Architects: First Principles Architects & Interiors

Mt Maunganui

Telephone: 07 574 6728 07 574 6728 

Roofing manufacturer:

Roofing Industries

Telephone: 09 414 4585

Roofing: True Oak® Corrugate in ‘Thunder Grey’ 

Roofing supplier and installer: 

Taylor Roofing, Tauranga

Telephone: 07 578 5012

Builder: Form Building and Developments ,Mt Maunganui

Telephone: 07 574 7705

Photography: Amanda Aitkens Photography

Telephone: 021 127 5061