Whare Uku

Project commenced:

In 2004 Dr Kepa Morgan embarked on a pilot project based around an idea of combining rammed earth technology with muka (flax fibre) – effectively integrating mātauranga Māori with science and engineering, to create low-cost housing solutions. The result was whareuku.

Fast forward a decade to 2014 and Kepa and his team have gone from pilot, through design and build (2 whareuku), proof of concept and compliance testing. But Dr Morgan wasn’t finished there. In 2013 as part of the NPM Expanding Excellence programme, he proposed a programme of research to take it from proof of concept to the people.

Entitled ‘Hybrid Construction Component Portable Infrastructure Solution. Maximum investment on resubmission’, the project asks the questions:

  1. Can a hybrid solution be designed and built, that complies with the contemporary building requirements of Councils (essential for funding)?
  2. What resources are needed in terms of time, money, labour, materials, knowledge; and how do these differ from timber frame construction?
  3. Is a hybrid solution viable as a housing solution on papakāinga in terms of occupant well-being and safety, legal, financial, and technical requirements?
  4. Will Councils accept the hybrid as a complying solution under the Building Act? Is a Certificate of Compliance obtainable?
  5. Will finance institutions consider this a fundable Māori land development solution?

The past research arose out of a need for better quality housing solutions on Māori land. Whareuku is a potential solution. It created breakthrough technology. The uku process involves the harakeke being mechanically stripped, cut to given lengths and combined with the soil cement mix to provide reinforcement. The combination of conventional rammed earth technology and the reinforced earth cement has many benefits including: low toxicity, warm during winter and cool in summer, lasts six generations, cost effective, soil from the surrounding land can be used and is easy to construct.

One impediment to implementing this solution on any significant scale is a compliance issue – dwellings have to be re-locatable. A part of the building could be re-locatable however, if constructed as a portable unit that incorporates the most costly and technically difficult aspects of the house.

The idea is a hybrid solution that combines a whareuku wharemoe with a portable self-contained unit comprising the kitchen, laundry, bathroom and toilet complete with water storage, water heating, plumbing, wiring, solar panels for electricity, and waste management. The integrated solution takes advantage of the locally sourced labour and materials for the whareuku (sweat equity deposit) and the re-locatability of the portable unit.

The original research pilot arose out of a desire to make the transition for many whānau relocating from their city/urban lives back home, as comfortable as possible, by facilitating access to innovative solutions for essential infrastructure technologies, to enhance the quality of life and death experienced by our whānau. To this end we identified needs related to water capture and storage, energy generation and, waste management.

The extension of these research findings involves the design of an implementable solution: the incorporation of innovative technologies, that meet the identified needs, into a portable stand-alone solution for papakainga developments. The extension phase of this research involves identifying and developing a technically feasible stand-alone solution in conceptual form that can be paired with existing applications of the Uku technologies to produce a synergistic result that offers the optimised combination of an infrastructure solution pre-fabricated off-site and the on-site construction of Uku spaces for sleeping and living.

Te Ahikaroa Trust, with partial support from Housing New Zealand Social Housing Unit, has commenced construction of three whare uku after gaining acceptance for the new building techniques from the Far North District Council - the consenting authority. The trust now has 20 families on the waiting list, with many more interested.

This project potentially revolutionises housing solutions for Māori, for New Zealanders and for the world.

Selected Outputs and Outcomes


  • 3 Whareuku built that out perform standard housing construction techniques for:
    • thermal performance
    • humidity
    • cost
    • shear strength
  • 3 Whareuku under construction
  • 20 families on waiting list

“it is special to sleep in a building that is made of earth containing the blood, sweat and tears of our tipuna”

Peer Reviewed Articles

Voyde, E and Morgan, TKKB (2012) Identifying Commonalities Between Indigenous Values and Current Sustainable Design Concepts inAotearoa New Zealand. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples 8(2): 215-229.

Cheah JS, Ingham JM and Morgan TKKB (2008) Cyclic testing of a full-size stabilized, flax-fibre reinforced earth (UKU) wall system with openings. Proceedings of the 14th World Conference on Earthquake Engineering. Beijing, China, 12–17 October.

Morgan, TKKB. (2006) Indigenous Development using UKU – Fibre reinforced earth Composite Technology. Sustainability of Indigenous Communities, Perth, Australia.


Documentary on Sustainable Housing Solutions. Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Documentary series.

Documentary on Project Matauranga, ‘Whare Uku’, Series 1, Episode 5.

Article in ‘Sustainable design should look to indigenous concepts’ in New Zealand Construction News, August/September, 2013, p. 33

Research Lead(s) and Team

Ngāti Pikiao of Te Arawa

Dr Kepa Morgan's (BE, MBA, PhD, CPEng, FIPENZ ) bi-cultural background is rooted in his cultural identity as Ngāti Pikiao of Te Arawa. During his engineering career Kepa has strengthened his understanding of Pikiaoanga while also striving for excellence both professionally and academically. As an indirect result of this combination of identity, interests and expertise, Kepa has found himself at the juncture between Māori aspirations and the engineering profession on many occasions.