Te Whare Pūkākā & The Agile Collective (Part 1)

There has been significant evolution in the design of commercial work spaces from cellular offices to hot-desking, Activity-Based Workplaces, co-working, and now, hybrid working. Academic workplaces however, have been much more resistant to change. Massey University’s College of Creative Arts (CoCA) in Wellington, New Zealand, provides a valuable exemplar in the exploration of new ways of working in the tertiary sphere. In this two-part blog, Nick Kapica and Nick Mouat share the story of the making and enabling of the CoCA staff workplace.

The central ‘forge’ meeting, eating & sharing space. Image courtesy of Nick Kapica.

When a new workspace for staff at the College of Creative Arts (CoCA) opened in 2015 it quickly gained attention within Massey University and also externally as an exciting exploration into Activity Based Working and Co-working. Te Whare Pūkākā (which loosely translated from Māori means the Hothouse) quickly helped staff discover other ways of working, improving their workplace experience, becoming more efficient, and building a healthy community. Within the first six months a number of other colleges began exploring similar principles, seeking advice from the CoCA design team and coming to use Te Whare Pūkākā to understand the experience, the possibilities and challenges it presented for the community who use it.

Shared work desks. Image courtesy of Nick Kapica.

The College of Creative Arts’ strategic areas of focus—Creativity, Virtuosity, Understanding, Autonomy, Connectedness—were the foundations for the project. Regular workshops with key users added specific project aspirations for the space. A series of keywords emerged that guided the development of the planning, the design, and the inhabitation:

Inviting | Social | Redefining | Transparent | Adaptability | Identity | Sharing | Disruption | Courageous

With the speed in which things had to develop, these simple words were essential to the realisation of all the project’s significant aspirations. That short timeline to design and build also provided momentum which helped create a project that could focus on the iterative process of testing, reviewing, improving – rather than looking for the solution. This momentum helped get users, and the design team, through the low point of change being an unknown and fearful proposition to acceptance that the project is happening and we will be together in this new space very soon.

Sustainability and wellness within the workplace were topics that staff were interested in exploring through the development of a new workspace. While there was evidence of strong communities within CoCA, typically defined by school or subject area, the lack of genuine community within the whole College was identified as a problem.

Flux spaces & boxes. Image courtesy of Nick Kapica.

As innovators and early adopters, CoCA wanted to stay ahead of the game. It was proposed to use Te Whare Pūkākā as a research project and explore approaches that might solve various emerging problems and show that design thinking was informing not just the curricula but the daily working environment.

One of the key differences from many academic workplace projects was identifying that people were critical to resolving issues that built design outcomes could not. This approach recognizes that those ‘issues’ may not be evident before the design is complete or even months into people using the space. As a result, the role of the community manager was formed. This person provided hands-on help and the ability to adapt, especially during the teething period. The flipside was that this role also provided an individual that could be singled out as the ‘bad guy’ who represented what was and wasn’t working – a person who represented ‘change’ and its challenges.


Part 2 will address how agile project management approaches were used to support change and evolve collective working practices within the Te Whare Pūkākā community.

To learn more about the process of developing Te Whare Pūkākā, its diverse activity zones, and impacts of the space on the culture of the college, download the 2015 paper, Te Whare Pūkākā: College of Creative Arts Workplace below.


Nick Kapica has worked in many areas of design from typography to design thinking. He has lived and worked in London and Berlin and now calls Wellington home. Now at Isthmus’ transdisciplinary studio, Nick champions design thinking, co-design, tactical urbanism, environmental graphic design and brand – always promoting participation over typical public engagement.

Nick Mouat is an associate at Athfield Architect’s Wellington (NZ) studio where he works across a wide range of typologies for the tertiary education, museum, gallery and library communities. Te Whare Pūkākā is one of many projects Nick has been involved with at Massey University including teaching and research studios, laboratories, library, music recording studios, and marae.

One thought on “Te Whare Pūkākā & The Agile Collective (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Te Whare Pūkākā & The Agile Collective (Part 2) | Integrative Briefing for Better Design

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