Toa Architects founder Nicholas Dalton and architect Tim Merkens – who attended Tereora College for five years, were on the island recently, checking up on their first project here, a “multiple villas sort of thing” for a local businessman.
They also visited renowned Rarotongan artist and carver Mike Tavioni, with the intention of incorporating traditional symbols and designs into their architectural work here.
“One of the big ambitions for our practice is to bring culture to the front,” says Dalton. “To acknowledge culture in a contemporary way, using those age-old symbols of culture, and I think working with someone like Mike brings that depth.
“He told us – in the project we’re working on now, the original name of the area and what that meant, and we’ve asked him to be involved in some of the pattern-making for the project. It’s really important to us.” Merkens, who first met Tavioni during his school years here, agrees.
“It really grounds the project to the place when you have that sort of local input, both through craft and the cultural depth of knowledge that Mike has.
“When my family were here, Mum was an artist, so we knew Mike through art circles and things like that,” he adds. “He actually taught my younger brother to carve.”
Merkens and Dalton are keen to explore further opportunities in the Cook Islands, and say they have “about five or six” other leads that could turn into potential new building projects.
“I feel like there’s an opportunity here,” says Dalton. “It just seems like people are coming home, they’ve saved up some money, they want a house, they’re having young families – and that’s why we train to be architects, you know?”
The pair have also picked up on the recent rising trend towards holiday-home rentals in Rarotonga, which has had adverse effects on the local rental market.
“Something that we’ve really discovered this trip is that a lot of the rental homes are not available to long-term local rentals anymore. They’re getting short-term higher tourist rentals instead,” says Merkens.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve got the housing crisis here that we have in New Zealand, but there’s definitely a need.”