The Living Building Challenge is an international sustainable building certificate program to

foster the conscious development and design of eco-friendly architecture.  

It was launched 10 years ago, and pillars of performance include, site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty.  Recently the Maori tribe Ngai Tûhoe completed the construction of New Zealand’s first living building, Te Wharehou o Tūhoe.

The film Ever the Land is a documentary about this monumental event. It’s a film that will interest designers, developers, architects, First Nations, carpenters, government officials, and documentarians, telling the story a living building, its representation of the past and its endurance of hope for the future.

Here in the Yukon our First Nations have been building community headquarters and cultural centres in order to represent themselves on traditional lands; Kwanlin Dün on the Yukon River, Carcross/Tagish on the shores of Nares Lake and the Na-Cho Nyak Dun in Mayo who are looking at Living Building Challenge options for their community building.

In the protected forest region of the Te Urewera on the North Island of New Zealand, the Ngai Tûhoe (“Children of the Mist”) has been fighting to reclaim their traditional lands for over 150 years. Tûhoe’s struggle with disputed settlements in New Zealand has been not unlike many other indigenous peoples’ journey to recognition, resistance and resurgence here in Canada.

The construction of the living building mimics the unique connection to the land, which is essential to all First Nations’ identity.  

The design principles of the certification separates the Tûhoe from past settler occupation in a way that is quite profound; it is testament to how Tûhoe traditional knowledge and practices regarding the delicate relationship between humans and ecosystems can continue into modernity through sustainable architecture.  

Ever The Land is a film that documents building sustainable relationships through the procurement of architectural designs and construction materials. With undivided observational style German-born director Sarah Grohnert lends insight into the intricate systems of governance that surround such a project.  From concept, to design, to construction finding a space for everyone’s individual voice Grohnert’s static camera documents with reserved accuracy. The very processes of how the Tûhoe relate and take guidance from designers and developers represent a new kind of communication and collaboration – one that did not exist 150 years ago.  

Grohnert’s work as a documentarian lends itself well to the study of cultural anthropology. Within the Tûhoe there exists two very different and opposing views as to whether the building should have been built or not. Some argue for more basic housing needs rather than a cultural building.

All of these delicate issues are left to define themselves through Grohnert’s minimal intervention, immediacy and the revelation of individual human character.

The film’s main subject is the living building itself, the Te Wharehou o Tūhoe.

In full Maori regalia and ceremony, through hand made clay bricks, 400 year old timber, the consideration for a fish gutting station with regards for the buildings thermal envelope efficiency, the building is alive with the wishes of the Tûhoe. If walls could speak, the Te Wharehou o Tūhoe would whisper the voices of its builder’s ancestors.

The Yukon Film Society presents Ever the Land on April 19 at Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre at 6 p.m.