A day in the life of Fiona Daniel, founder of pre-construction design firm, Hapū Housing Solutions

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Fiona graduated with a New Zealand Diploma of Construction Quantity Surveying and a New Zealand Diploma in Architectural Technology. Now, she’s the founder and co-owner of pre-construction design firm, Hāpu Housing Solutions. Their vision is to help solve the housing crisis for Māori and Pasifika. We spoke to Fiona about what a day in her life is like.

This isn’t our first time chatting to Fiona – if you want to hear more about her experience studying, check out our first article.  

How do you manage everything in your day? 

I juggle a lot of tasks in my day, it’s ‘organised chaos’, but I love it. My priority meetings and visits are all scheduled about two weeks in advance, so I plan my day based on my calendar.

I keep my Wednesday mornings and Fridays free in case of an emergency hui, but if I don’t have that, I get to do cool things, like practicing design and looking into Māori architecture. I listen to Rau Hoskins, a fellow at Auckland University who talks about tikanga, and Māori applied practices and architecture. It’s my chance to wind down and learn at the same time.

Where are you based? 

I work flexibly, but mostly from home. It’s easier because all the tools of the trade are there. I like to have a hard copy of everything so I can visualise better, so I’ve got a lot of documents.

My team and I schedule in regular meetings at a co-operative workspace, which means we get to work and hang out in person together.

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Can you share anything about what you’re working on right now?

We’ve recently secured a contract with Ngāti Tūwharetoa, a post-settlement government entity (PSGE). Currently, we’re working on their housing strategy. Their vision is to ensure housing for all the community, regardless of economic status or social background, so that everyone in the Taupō catchment will have a place to call home.

The strategy identifies emerging issues for Māori whenua and community, and the lack of social housing in the Tāupo region. It’s a project that we could be working on for the next 5 or 6 years.

What work are you currently doing on the project?

We’re at the very beginning of this project, which is all about talking to key contributors like government organisations, councils, stakeholders and iwi. Creating relationships early in the process has always been a successful method for us - we go by the saying, ‘if we put people first, we’ll always win’.

This week, for example, I have a meeting with Kainga Ora (Ministry of Housing & Urban Development), where we’ll explain what we’re doing and welcome them to join our mission. Fostering relationships is all about creating true partnerships which is one of the key fundamentals of the Treaty of Waitangi.

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How do you engage with such a large iwi?

We're planning a series of six in-person workshops in Tūrangi, Taupō. Based at the marae, we’ll welcome hapū and family of the iwi to share their aspirations for the papakainga (housing development). Throughout the workshop we’ll discuss their ideas and opinions and turn them into feasible solutions for the housing strategy.

How do you incorporate tikanga (Māori customs) into your designs?

When creating our principles of design, we follow different tikanga depending on the hapu or iwi involved. Common customs are keeping your toilet separate from the kitchen, having an entranceway that allows you to take your shoes off at the door, or having a wash house separate from the main house so you can keep the dirty clothes away from where anyone would sleep or sit.

When we’re looking at the physical landscape, we look into whether there’s Māori history, and if so we use that to create a plan for how we set the housing and landscape out.


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What do you love about your job?

Seeing the potential that Māori have in themselves grow. You don’t realise it at first, but when you sit back and see the bigger picture, you see how many opportunities you’ve unlocked and the excitement that creates.

What have you learnt from your job?

That you never stop learning. I’ve always been the type of person to go down rabbit holes, searching for the best way to do something or whether there’s more to know. That approach is necessary though, as it ensures we’re always improving.

What’s your dream for Hapū Housing Solutions?

I want all whānau and government to be in the same waka and working with each other to create better outcomes.


Interested in a future in Built Environment?

If you’ve got a knack for solving problems, and a passion for the environment around us, a career in Architectural Technology or Quantity Surveying could be for you.

Check out our Built Environment programmes →

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