Case Study: Te Wānanga o Raukawa

Te Ao Māori values support successful outcomes for the Client, project team and the planet through The Te Wānanga o Raukawa Living Building Project in Ōtaki.


Four new buildings were recently completed at the Ōtaki campus of Te Wānanga o Raukawa. Led by tohunga, the buildings were named and dedicated in May 2023 by members of Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Toa Rangatira. They were joined by workers and contractors from McMillan Lockwood, Pritchards Civil Engineers, Tennent Brown Architects, and students, kaiāwhina and staff.

The buildings are named Waitapu, Rangataua, Miria te Kakara, and Te Moana o Raukawa. The names are taken from the whakatauki (saying): "Mai i Waitapu ki Rangataua, mai i Miria te Kakara ki Whitireia, whakawhitia Te Moana o Raukawa ki Wairau ki Whakatū," which describes the rohe of the three iwi.

The naming of these buildings is the culmination of a project which began prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and has faced all the challenges that have arisen since then. From early fears of recession through to cost escalations and supply chain issues, the client, architect, quantity surveyor, contractor and sub-contractors have worked collaboratively to achieve an outcome which they all agree has been a huge success on many levels.

Incorporating the Accord Values; Valuing the people, Āta: growing respectful relationships with people and the environment, being bold, acting with collective responsibility, agility and flexibility, the project is one of around 30 completed Living Building Challenge projects in the world(external link).

The project supports three of the Accord's mid-term goals for the sector, "Reduced waste and embodied and operational carbon” and “Increased productivity through innovation and technology” and "Increased capability of leaders to drive change." Strong Te Ao Māori principles were a key part of the successful outcome for all.

The project used a collaborative Te Ao Māori approach between client, architect, and contractor. It also incorporated some unusual contract features, such as cost-recovery, but managed to achieve this using the standard competitive contract, NZS3910. Those involved in the project have referred to the approach as a 'hybrid' one; a combination of fixed price and adjustments accepted through a high trust relationship with all parties involved.

Te Wānanga o Raukawa case study video


The Te Wānanga o Raukawa Living Building Project is one of a series of construction projects at the Ōtaki campus north of Wellington. Of the four buildings in this project, Te Moana o Raukawa is for management and administration staff, and the other three buildings have classrooms and offices for teaching personnel. As part of the project the campus has also become more pedestrianised, with a new student centric central courtyard encouraging walking and cycling.

The team involved in building this project has worked together before. Some of them, including Ben Law, the project manager for the main contractor McMillan Lockwood, have close relationships with the area. Other key personnel are the client representative, Rawiri Richmond, the architect, Ewan Brown (Tennent Brown Architects) and the Quantity Surveyor, Cameron Whyte (Rider Levett Bucknall).

The initial design was undertaken prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was decided to incorporate the international Living Building Challenge from the International Living Futures Institute into the design. This required a focus on sustainability within the construction of the project and is composed of 20 imperatives including responsible sourcing of materials, net positive waste, net positive energy, healthy interior environment, and universal access.

Living Building Challenge(external link)  -

Adding the Living Building Challenge to the impacts of the pandemic created obstacles both in tendering the project and in its construction. Initially there was a lack of understanding about what was required, and several contractors and sub-contractors saw some risk in tendering, particularly when combined with the uncertainty facing the industry in 2020. The pricing ended up significantly over the original budget, and a change in approach was required. This involved working with McMillan Lockwood (the successful tenderer) to develop a reasonable and fair contract under difficult circumstances. It also required client approval for an increase in budget, which was approved because the client understood the benefits of receiving buildings that are energy and water neutral, with no power bills to pay. They are also buildings that inspire enthusiasm, a sense of ownership, and have a great 'vibe'.

Despite the multiple challenges from the start, the project has ended up showing the benefits of a high-trust model of engagement, the use of deep-rooted Te Ao Māori principles, communication, and engagement with all on site, innovative construction techniques, and a strong focus on sustainability.


Te Ao Māori approach

Every element of the project, from tendering to completion, was assessed against the guiding principles of the Wānanga, and the requirement to look for the greater good rather than personal gain. This is not only applicable to a Te Ao Māori approach, but Ben Law told us that plenty of corporations have wonderful principles on their website but that he doesn't believe that they make every decision every day through the lens of those principles.

The key principles which guided this project were Manaakitanga, Rangatiratanga, and Kaitiakitanga.

  • Kaitiakitanga involves looking after environment, people, and resources. Every decision made must be viewed through this lens, rather than only focusing on cost or look.
  • Manaakitanga involves looking after people. The client looked after contractors and others on site and included them in all events, including sharing kai with them on a regular basis. This led to everyone on site being increasingly careful about decisions because they bought into the project and felt involved with it. There is no status in manaakitanga – everyone is equal as people, and everyone shares the load.
  • Rangatiratanga reflects leadership and the bringing together of all the people. It involves thinking holistically about everyone and everything including the project costs. This principle requires everyone to display leadership qualities including responsibility, integrity, generosity, and the ability to unite people.

Collaborative contracting

This project removed the adversarial element that is a feature of many projects and replaced it with a collaborative approach. This allowed discussion about what was the best outcome for the client and for the project rather than focusing solely on price and profit. This was achieved while still using the standard contract, NZS3910. A cost reimbursement approach was used for Preliminary and General, carpentry and concrete works, partly due to the materials and resource restrictions which were in place at the time of tendering due to COVID-19.

Ben Law believes that sometimes the adversarial approach doesn't provide the best outcome for the client, particularly when it comes to more efficient construction options, or changes in design. He thinks that an approach where those on site feel comfortable in making suggestions, or proposing options, can lead to improved outcomes and, often, to cost savings for the client. His opinion is that the "positive side of competitive tendering is that you have to put your best foot forward and your total offer, but negative side is that any issues with the project that you raise can be too far down the road to change."

A high level of trust was built, fostered, and maintained, which worked for the client, contractors and all involved in the project. The four key decision makers - client, architect/project lead, quantity surveyor and contractor - all met regularly and talked through issues and what they needed to do. Cameron Whyte, the quantity surveyor, told us that "if there was anything that was difficult to talk about, we could talk about those things as well. And it just created this awesome environment".

Living Building Challenge

The Living Building Challenge has been created by the International Living Building Institute. There are currently only 30 completed projects globally that meet this full living certification level.

It's the highest rating system or accreditation system globally for sustainability. To achieve this accreditation the building must operate for a year after completion to prove the outcome of neutrality.

Living Buildings are:

  • Regenerative buildings that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community.
  • Self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site.
  • Create a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.

Living Buildings have seven different areas of focus: place, energy, water, materials, health, happiness, equity, and beauty.

Ewan Brown, the architect and project lead, decided to undertake this challenge because he really enjoys pushing towards this level of sustainability, and believes that every building in the country needs to be built in this way over the next 10 years. This will play a critical part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, for which buildings account for 39% globally.

Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC)(external link)  -

Undertaking a project which meets the Living Building Challenge criteria was "a big learning curve" according to the quantity surveyor for the project, Cameron Whyte. Even the sourcing of materials was undertaken in a different way, following detailed specification, to find materials which met the criteria of the Challenge (e.g., not 'red list' and sourced from close to the project). As Cameron pointed out, using a product which is better for the environment makes little difference to the project, but just requires "a change in mindset".

About the Red List(external link)  -

The adherence to the Living Building Challenge also meant that the contractor had to work in a different way, be creative, and research how to meet the goals of the Challenge. This included finding ways to minimise waste and create sustainable solutions that would still meet the cost estimations and design expectations of the project.

The vision incorporated in the Living Building Challenge sat perfectly with the Wananga's values and guiding principles, and both these elements led to a great culture on site.

Pā Reo Campus is envisioned to reflect and support ngā kaupapa o Te Wānanga o Raukawa. Creation of Pā Reo - an enclave of one administrative and three research and educational facilities, within a broader campus master plan, was designed to support te reo Māori ānake. This project is the fourth project to be constructed by Tennent Brown at the Wānanga and represents a strong ongoing relationship. The design exercises efficient use of built spaces and economy of design, manifesting in low ongoing maintenance costs and flexible spaces.

The design is resilient to and supportive of natural processes, in particular water (stormwater and flood protection). It prioritises people on campus, creating spaces for people and pedestrians over vehicles, whilst still managing accessibility, parking, and delivery. Connection to significant landforms and cultural history (places such as Tararua range, Kāpiti, Rangiātea and Urupā, te moana and adjacent wetland elements) are all considered. Pā Reo is a campus embodying kaitiakitanga, with the protection and expression of natural systems and structures that support energy efficiency and carbon neutrality principles.

Interacting with subcontractors and others on site

Along with the high trust model, there has also been a high standard of communication on site. Regular explanations and feedback to subcontractors and specialist trades has led to them feeling part of the project and wanting it to succeed. Meetings every couple of months with the architect, Ewan, and the client, Rawiri, covered not only the details of the Living Building Challenge, but also the kaupapa of the Wānanga, and the Te Ao Māori practices which were so important to those involved.

At these meetings, Ewan provided information to those working on site about the reasoning behind the requirements of the Living Building Challenge, and what was being done to meet them. Everyone on site was involved, including specialist trades such as drainlayers and electricians. At the meetings, Ewan provided the chance to ask questions and provide feedback. He found that this level of understanding of the Challenge meant that all involved found opportunities to do things better on site and suggest improvements in their area.

Use of technology

Ben told us that he had considered a full Building Information Modelling (BIM) process for the project but found issues with availability at the time he was looking. He also noted that some of the BIM people he spoke to were too far advanced, or too complicated for this project.

Ben did, however, bring on board a frame and truss detailer from Palmerston North who created a digital model of timber elements throughout the structures. Ben found this to be a perfect solution, where they were able to make changes virtually and produce prefabrication drawings for people onsite, rather than making multiple changes in real life. The prefabrication drawings were developed in consultation with the construction team, architects, and engineers, and resulted in significant material and labour efficiencies. As an example, in the installation of timber bearers, with multiple teams able to work from prefabrication drawings in parallel, installing specified timber members in designated locations, resulting in an estimated 13% reduction in material waste.

Outcomes and benefits

A unique contract approach taken to navigate unique challenges

The project was tendered at a time of rapid price escalation of supplies, and both rapid labour escalation costs and shortages of labour. The flexibility of the contract, and the use of a collaborative rather than antagonistic approach, led to huge benefits for the client despite the higher initial project cost. The approach received buy-in from all on site which helped the project to run smoothly, and it was one of the very few projects in the region that progressed relatively easily through the COVID-19 period.

One of the key benefits has been reducing the number of people in the office required to run the project because the key personnel have been able to be transparent and open, rather than spending time on every possible change or variation.

High trust relationships lead to easier decisions

Because the projected was guided by of a set of guiding principles that were the lens that every decision is made through, whether from a kaupapa Māori approach or a Living Building Challenge approach, decisions were easier, and a holistic approach was taken. This led to better choices for the project, positively impacting the people, and the environment.

Streamlined construction due to technology use

Creating a digital model for the project allowed the use of creative solutions, such as using prefabricated solutions, to make up for the piling taking longer than planned. The contractor was also able to test solutions digitally rather than taking five or six goes to work it out on site.

This enabled the contractor to minimise cutting, minimise offcuts, and maximise labour productivity. Incorporating digital or BIM solutions at an earlier stage would mean that elements of the design could still be undone, and problems fixed. As Ben Law pointed out, the goal is to build a better building for the client, for less money, while making more profit and the use of technology can help with this, including incorporating AI solutions in future projects.

Workforce engagement creating good culture

There has been a great engagement throughout the project. The regular explanation sessions from the client and the architect led to all sorts of people coming and making suggestions, and asking "what can I do here?"

Everyone has gone away from the job having learned something. It has been a process of education for everyone, and everyone has been brought along for the journey. A key element of the Living Building Challenge is advocacy and Ewan noted that it's "amazing to see that one project can change the community".

Lessons learned

Get the right people on the team – he tangata

Get the best team around you, ensure everyone understands all aspects of the project, and what their part to play is in the bigger picture. Then it is all about relationships, people communicating well and working together to foster high trust communication. Make sure that all people involved in the project have a voice, feel valued and connected to the end goals.

Have a set of guiding values

This type of project must be anchored on a set of agreed guiding principles or values. Once principles can be brought into the centre of every conversation and decision, this provides a solid foundation to stand on when challenges arise and come back to when things become unclear. Sometimes this requires digging deep and some leadership to keep everyone accountable to the values.

Understand the scope of sustainability at this level

Achieving the level of sustainability expected by the Living Building Challenge is not easy. It is not business as usual with an extra consultant, it is a culture of building for long term change for all involved in the project. For the project to be successful, it requires continued advocacy, from materials suppliers, relationships, and clients through to contractors.

Have a robust and agreed site or project induction process

The Living Building Challenge inductions for this project started with client tikanga and revealed to all sub-contractors and workers on site the "why", so they could understand and bring their knowledge to "how we could do better" and feel connected to the bigger goals. The induction process was created to cover the obvious health and safety requirements, but also to foster ownership and pride in all those contributing to the build.

Take a flexible procurement approach based on high trust

With procurement on this project starting off as business-as-usual pre COVID-19, a flexible approach had to evolve as multiple challenges arose for the construction sector during these years. The initial budget was blown to pieces.

The clients were adamant they wanted to stick with the Living Building Challenge as part of the project, so multiple tendering discussions led to a hybrid approach. This involved some fixed prices and others being paid for actual time spent with a high level of monitoring by the project manager.

The project manager led the variations rather than multiple Quantity Surveyors, and this enabled a closer relationship with both parties.

The client is the sole reason for any project. If they didn’t want/need the building/project done it wouldn't happen. With that in mind the client sets the 'tone' for the whole project. When the client mandates that certain values must be adhered to and then leads by example the majority of people involved will follow that lead.

Include consideration around sourcing of supplies

The sourcing of supplies was a challenge. For instance, a percentage of all materials supplied (by cost) on the project need to be sourced close to the project. There were set limits from different distances e.g., 25% from within 500km, another 30% from between 500 and 100km etc.

This meant that the team had to get the cost of every material from the contractor and sub-contractors, for every trade on the job. The team then needed to research the location of manufacture of all these products to complete the project wide statistical analysis.

Taking the lessons forward to the next project

"We would begin digital co-ordinated shop drawings in the design process rather than later. We would use all the lessons in waste reduction as a starting position for the next project and workshop ideas on improvements earlier. We would start our LCA (Building Life Cycle Assessment) early so you can alter the detail, materials, or design to improve the carbon in detailed design." Ewan Brown, Tenant Brown Architects

Ben Law added: "As the main contractor – I would push much further down the digital coordination process earlier. Not necessarily BIM but just working through modelling and troubleshooting in a computer before starting that task on site improves efficiency."

Resources and links

Living building challenge 4.0 - A Visionary Path to a Regenerative Future [PDF 19MB](external link)  -

Living building challenge basics(external link)  -

Pā Reo Campus(external link)  -

#28 Pā Reo Opening(external link)  -

Te Wānanga o Raukawa unveils four new historic building - Te Karere TVNZ(external link)  -

Celebrating the Opening of Four New Whare at Te Wānanga o Raukawa(external link)  -

Last updated: 31 July 2023