Kotahitanga is the Māori word for “oneness” - and embodies values of unity, reciprocity, and respect.
Covering one thousand acres of tussock grassland, Kotahitanga Farm stretches from the mountains to a city by the sea. A flock of five hundred New Zealand merino sheep graze the high country year-round, and city dwellers can see the animals in the distance or take grower-guided walks through the paddocks.
According to the seasons, our flock is mustered into town by working dogs and shepherds on horseback. This allows the public to get close to the sheep and watch shearing, health treatments, and other activities that take place in and around the wool shed.
Historically, the wool shed has played an important role in New Zealand station life - serving as a space for shearing; the place where wool is sorted, pressed, and stored; and as a hub for social activities. Our wool shed draws on NZ’s historical rural architecture, updated for public use in an urban context. Familiar materials - an exposed steel structure juxtaposed with native timber - show the suspension of the ramp, and movement up into the building.
Essentially folding together humans, animals and materials, the sheep enter one end of the building and people the other - meeting in a buffer zone that blurs distinctions amongst them.
Walking into the building, people arrive in a gallery space. On one side is a wall of reclaimed historical wool shed timber, marked with the graffiti of dozens of shearers. Visitors can run their hands over these traces of past people, places and activities, while peering through view shafts cut into the wall that allow glimpses of the shearing board, and offer initial close-up views of shearing and wool processing.
The past also runs parallel with the future, as the opposite gallery wall comprises a large display for interactive, real-time digital mapping. Each sheep in our flock is equipped with an EID tag, GPS device, and environmental sensors. Visitors are able to adopt individual sheep, and locate their animal on a farm map that shows the temperature, humidity, wind and air quality conditions around their animal at all times.
Individual animal profiles also provide detailed information on a sheep’s lineage, vital statistics, veterinary treatments, and wool quality. A memorial pays tribute to the animals that have died on the farm.
People and animals truly come together in the gallery space, as the walkway winds into the shearing board and wool processing areas. Recalling the communal function of the wool shed, here visitors are able to engage in lively conversation with breeders, shearers, wool handlers, animal caregivers, and other visitors.
From the gallery mezzanine level, visitors are able to more clearly see the sheep in their catching pens - being caught and shorn, and eventually put through the portholes to go back to the yards. This area also provides a slightly separate space for more quiet observation, reflection and conversation.
The shearing board space can be easily repurposed to accommodate seasonal agricultural processes including lambing each Spring, and docking, crutching, foot-rotting, and other activities throughout the year. Visitors are also able to spend time in the outside yards where veterinary processes like drenching can be observed and discussed, and animals can be more closely approached.
Moving away from the wool shed, and into the urban fabric, some of our merino sheep can be seen grazing in parks and other public spaces. This gives people the unique opportunity to get to know livestock without having to leave the city.
And finally, looking out over the wool shed from the city allows people to see the extent of Kotahitanga Farm and how it blurs traditional boundaries between people and animals, urban and rural space.