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Cultures, Communities and Design

Counterculture Countryside: Unveiling Stories of a Fallen Ohu
C. Olin & D. Adams
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm


Rem Koolhaus asserts that “architects imagine, where there’s nothing, a future” and that it’s possible to “unleash futures” if one looks “at the present in a creative way.” Just as the countryside can be where “the most radical modern components of our civilisation are taking place”, energised youth with alternative visions for how we live can complement and extend the efforts of architects and other placemaking experts. In 1973, a group of counterculture youth looked at a piece of Aotearoa New Zealand’s countryside in a creative way and unleashed the future of what would become the most longstanding of eight ohu communities set up around Aotearoa under the Ohu Scheme umbrella. Approved by then Prime Minister Norman Kirk, the scheme enabled those disenchanted with urban life to form intentional communities on unused Crown land centred around a ‘back to the land’ ethos. Ohu is a Māori (indigenous) word meaning ‘communal work group’. This paper presents initial probing and proposed methods to further probe into the landscape, buildings and stories surviving from the Ahu Ahu Ohu, which is located in a remote area on a tributary of the Whanganui River and has been abandoned since 1999. The ohu’s buildings remain standing, but they are no longer occupiable. The ohu’s land is now public and managed by the Department of Conservation, but its use and ownership are contested by local Māori. The aim of this research is to identify – through interviews and multimedia engagement – key determinants of community formation and dispersal, with a particular emphasis on the role of self-constructed homes and community infrastructure in the countryside. The stories shared by former residents, their descendants, and local Māori should unveil social, cultural, planning and design issues associated with the ohu which present lessons relevant to parallel issues faced in our cities today.


Dr Crystal Olin (previously Filep) is a Research Fellow specialising in urban design and placemaking with the New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities, based at the University of Otago, Wellington. Trained and practiced in architecture, urban design and qualitative research, Dr Olin has more than fifteen years’ international experience spanning across practice, local government and academia. Between 2019 and 2021 she was Urban Design Manager at Wellington City Council, where she led and managed the team responsible for delivering the city’s urban design programme of works and key functions: design strategy, design review, and public space delivery. She also led Dunedin City Council’s Urban Design Team between 2016 and 2018. Crystal’s research explores ways in which empirical evidence and lived experiences can better shape conceptualisations of place that inform innovative theories and approaches to placemaking, place attachment and design of the built environment. Her practitioner and local government efforts have ranged from large-scale strategy and masterplanning to localised revitalisation efforts and artistic interventions. Dr Olin is currently Deputy Director of the government-funded multi-year and multi-scale community-based research programme Public Housing and Urban Regeneration: Maximising Wellbeing.

Mr Daniel Gordon Adams transcends his classical music training to explore the multifaceted world of creative research, composition and performance through a variety of mediums. He is a leading authority on music composition and has spoken internationally on explorative approaches to audiovisual composition, videography and place-documentation. Through his open-minded approach to both work and everyday life, Dan embraces the unknown, engages with those voices less often heard, and opens up new experiences for audiences and practitioners. He is currently Lecturer in Composing, Songwriting and Music Technologies at Te Auaha and a Master’s of Musical Composition candidate at Victoria University of Wellington. Previously he has worked at Radio New Zealand as founding Producer of live magazine-style weekday show Upbeat. His live performances span New Zealand and Canada, and have included creating mixed-media music theatre works for the New Zealand Arts Festival and others with band Verona, collaborating musically with acting, narration, videography, archival film and animation.