Whare Girls

Whilst doing a stint at an interiors magazine a while back I came across ‘Whare In The Bush‘, an architectural and building project led by four awesome young women, Elisapeta Heta, Raukura Turei, Rebecca Green and Ruby Watson – to design and build from scratch a delightful, functional cabin in the New Zealand. Enchanted by the notion, we caught up with Ruby…

What were your relationships prior to the project?
I met Peta in the Auckland architecture school courtyard one day and we got chatting. Raukura and I did our masters at the same time. Peta was the real link between us all though.

How did you come up with the idea?
I had some romantic notion of building a cabin one day in the distant future, and let this and my love for Kevin McCloud out of the bag to Peta one day. Peta had already been scheming a pavilion so we combined obsessions about making and documenting things. Peta approached Rau and Beca who were keen to get involved with a project. The whare in the bush was born when the four of us came together.

How long has in taken you to build? And how did you build it?
We started designing in September 2012. But this took a while, sourcing a few materials to start with (all salvaged) and visiting the site. Our first build was in February 2013 and we did 20 builds between then and June 2014. For some of those builds it was some or all of the whare crew with amazing help from whanau, friends and members of the community. I lived up there at the time, so often it was just me tinkering away down there. If I needed help lifting something heavy, I’d ring my dad who works at the top of the hill. He’s come down and help out quite a bit. He’s a legend. It was often just a day here or there, rain or shine. We had fun and plenty of visits to Charlie’s Gelato down the road.

What materials did you use and how did you source these materials etc?
We used all salvaged materials. We started with enough pallets and other scrappy bits to make a floor. That was it for a while, this lovely, lumpy pallet floor. Then some lovely local builders gave us beautiful rimu studs, so we made some framing. Cladding from John Furniss came at just the right time, as did corrugated tin for the roof. I left a love note on some abandoned French doors about our project and what I’d like to do to those doors… The owners contacted me and said I could have them. Score! So we kind of designed around whatever we’d been given. We only bought three bits of timber and hinges and things like that, which came to a whopping total of $180 or so. I learnt to drive a trailer and got pretty sweet guns from hauling pallets around.

All from architecture backgrounds, what (if any) challenges did you face as woman taking on a typically masculine task of building in terms of skill and power?
I did find the funny looks of ‘say whaaaaaaaaat?! You are building a cabin? Pfft!’ frustrating but also a good opportunity to try and break some stereotypes. Getting asked if I wanted to buy a pink hammer, or would my boyfriend be building my cabin for me was a low point and sums up how far we have to go on the equality front. But really, we were just clueless humans, women or not, when it came to be onsite. I think men would have figured it out in a similar manner but perhaps with less chocolate. Muscle power-wise it was fine – anything we needed help with we just asked.

Did any of you have experience in building? Or did you learn as you went?
I built a hut when I was 10. Does that count?! It was actually in the same location as the whare. And at university I made a bit of furniture and spent a few days on site with Habitat for Humanity laying foundations. But I didn’t have proper building experience. We made it up as we went along. We’d drawn construction details enough times on CAD but actually getting there and building it is different. I have a sneaking suspicion the whare would not conform with much of the NZBC3604.

Where can people see the whare? Can people stay in it?
Ruby: It’s on my parents land in Matakana so if you want to see it that’d be great! Just give me a buzz first. I’m hoping to get it up to scratch to have proper accommodation facilities at some stage. There’s a freshwater spring and wetlands right near it so I need to sort out a composting loo that doesn’t disrupt the ecosystem first before I advertise it as a luxury B&B! I’ve camped out a few nights and love it, so it will be great when people who are connected to the project get the same opportunity.

What can people expect to see inside the hut? Is it furnished?
At the moment the whare is minimal but again, grand plans for a fold out bed/window seat. Some floaty curtains (left over fabric from Peta and Beca’s recent exhibition ‘Gentle Foundations’) and table/chairs. But not yet seems to be my catch phrase… I’m in no hurry, just want to enjoy the process of getting things done around the other things going on in our lives.

Will you continue to create more whare around New Zealand?
Watch this space… I’m really keen to keep on this theme of small, sustainable housing and building experience. I have a project up my sleeve but it’s down the line a year or two.

What does being a ‘homemaker’ mean to you before and after this project?
I’ve never been much of a muffin maker or fancy shirt ironer so a practical ‘homemaker’ approach is probably more my sort of thing. I’m also a big believer that you can make a home by pouring aroha into it. Spending time making, tinkering and creating a space that’s yours because you made it that way.

What does this whare mean to you?
For me the whare is a mixture of things. I’ve spent so much time there by myself that it’s become a real haven, a space to get some perspective and chill out. Also, it’s been a real community project so there’s the fun, collaboration factor too. It’s some of my architectural theories put into practice on a micro scale, and it’s just some good old-fashioned fun at the same time. We all had different objectives for the whare and took out of it what we wanted really.

Working so closely together, were there any moments you thought, ‘what are we doing? How will this work?’
Because of the process of the design and build we were constantly thinking ‘how will this work? What are we doing?!’ It was a constant decision-making/problem-solving process. But that’s where the mini celebrations come in too! Every time you got something up, or connected, or cut, there was that happy, satisfied ‘yeah! I did it!’ feeling.

 – Isabella Van Heusden

Share This Post