Carter Manny Award

  • Recombinant Indigeneities: Maori Environmental Design and the Architecture of Biculturalism
    Jacob Culbertson

Earthship Collage, builder's bulletin board, Northland, New Zealand, 2011. Photo: Jacob Culbertson.

Jacob Culbertson, University of California, Davis, Department of Anthropology, is the recipient of the 2012 Carter Manny Writing Award.

This dissertation is an ethnography of Maori architecture, an emerging professional field in New Zealand that draws on traditional Maori building practices and purportedly-universal architectural practices. Over the past two decades this architecture has become a crucial resource for reviving indigeneous traditions while literally rebuilding Maori communities. Grounded in three years of participatory fieldwork with Maori architects and traditional woodcarvers, the study asks how Maori architects select, combine, and translate diverse Maori and non-Maori architectural influences to comprise their unique field of practices and to differentiate it from other architectures. By exploring how "Maori villages" are designed and built as three different settings—a rural communal housing project, an urban tourist destination, and a traditional meeting grounds—the project shows how Maori practices shape twenty-first-century architectures and how contemporary architectural movements, including green design, community-based design, and the concern for "the local," shape our emerging conceptions of Maoriness.

Jake Culbertson is a visiting assistant professor of anthropology at Haverford College, where he teaches courses on political ecology, design anthropology, Oceania, and art and material culture. His research explores the tensions between indigenous landscapes and the modern notions of environment that underwrite liberal multiculturalism, focusing on environmental design in New Zealand. His teaching and scholarship draw on extensive field research among architects, environmental planners and indigenous artists, both contemporary and “traditional.” He is currently completing a book manuscript entitled Recombinant Indigeneities: Maori Environmental Design and the Architecture of Biculturalism. The book traces controversies around Maori landscapes in environmental planning, architecture, and urban public space. New Zealand is on the verge of its “post-settlement era”: the sitting national government is racing to settle all outstanding treaty claims to land and cultural property by 2017, promising to refashion the relationship between Maori and the Crown from one of historical grievances to one of equitable collaboration and consultation. Yet Maori relationships to landscapes are not stable historical artifacts; they frequently emerge in environmental design projects in new innovative forms, resistant to settlement. The book demonstrates how design controversies yield complex claims to the landscape that stifle liberal modes of inclusion, as Maori landscapes push open the ostensibly-universal foundations of both environmental design and liberal multiculturalism.