Urban Designer - Vernacular Architect - Maritime Planner - Owner-Builder - Servant of Piglet - Educator - Author - Revolutionary - Peacenik - Tour Guide 

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Visitors Book - Jim Morgan Print E-mail

ImageOnly after Tony had brought me back from the Hokianga and delivered me to the 21st Triennial of the Friends World Committee on Consultation at King's College, Auckland - a global conference of Quakers - did I begin to perceive the spiritual beauty of our trip to his ancestral grounds.









ImageFor their introduction to New Zealand, besides a bus ride from the airport, other Quakers were greeted by the "Powhiri" ritual. Thanks to Tony I got the real thing.Our drive north, with Phil Evans, host of the Tree House, included a satisfying visit to Zealandia, Terri Stringer's inspired Art-garden, so one's sensibilities were alerted that what lay ahead would be utterly unpredictable. Except, of course, that Piglet was there to greet us at the Tree House. Reluctantly bidding adieu to her, we headed off in ebbing light to the Marae.As we completed our preparations there, rain came up from nowhere so the "simple forty-minute walk" I had been advised of took on a more challenging dimension immediately. Since I was carrying almost nothing while Tony backpacked 15kg of Mortar among other things, even rain and gathering darkness proved not to be overwhelming. Up, up, up across the fields we climbed, always looking back down to where we had started.
It was indeed almost totally dark when at last we plunged into the forest and I could only follow the sound of Ton's footsteps after that. On up we went, the track by now illuminated, strangely enough, by the ambient light of the sky-dome so that, with dark-adjusted eyes I could actually see where I was putting each foot forward. It was only next morning, however, that I could see the dense, tropical beauty of my surroundings. What a pleasure to finally come upon the house!

A few seconds later Tony had a lantern going and a palpable sense of "shelter", in its fullest meaning, permeated me.

In spite of his own extreme fatigue by now, tony hustled up a comfortable bed for me and, almost wordlessly, I fell into it, soon asleep.

ImageEven with hundreds of skinny tree trunks just outside its enormous windows, in the morning, the main room of the house glowed with sunlight. Tea brewed with hot water, from a compact cook-top on a brick base, flowed liberally. A generous spread of fruit appeared from nowhere.

So we sat there for a long time talking about how Maori people find the Divine Presence (my term for it) in Nature. It was beginning to dawn on me that Tony's reference over the past fifteen years to it was not just poetic but real.

The Maori "sense of place", as Tony seemed more comfortable putting it, grew more vivid for me as we talked.

ImageBy the time we started back down the hill, bathed in light this time, I felt myself responding to the richness of the forest - its many colours, textures, sounds and smells - with newly heightened awareness. It was not just to the physical character that I responded, however, but to the "energy" of this sacred grove. I could almost imagine it as a fully mature rain forest with the complex, unimaginably complex actually, ecological inter-relationships of which I am now, dimly at least, aware. For this Quaker, then, the walk back down to the car became a sort of religious procession which would culminate later that day when I found myself surrounded by Friends from around the world.

Probably the single most powerful moment of our travel that day was when Tony took me into the cemetery of a sweet little wooden church near the Marae. There was the headstone of his great-grandmother, Annie Ruamamao Watkins, whose maiden name is also in large letters on one of the Marae buildings. How amazing it seemed to me to be able to make such a connection and still live, as Tony has done his entire professional life, in those circles of international architectural activity that brought us together in Stockholm more than fifteen years ago at the first Executive Committee meeting of Arc-Peace, International Architects Designers Planners for Social Responsibility.

It felt to me that a circle as large as our planet had completed itself and I was full of joy.

Jim Morgan, RA, Auckland NZ.
26 January 2004


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