Interior design student Lee Mei recently swapped places with her tutor when she gave a presentation to her fellow students on the topic of Māori culture and its place in design and architecture.
Mei – who is of Māori and Samoan descent - was shoulder-tapped to give the talk by tutor Alicja Podemska-Paglioni.
Lee Mei's design took out the Visualise Laminex New Zealand Award for Excellence in Kitchen and Bathroom Design.
Podemska-Paglioni discovered Mei spoke fluent Te Reo and had a strong connection to her culture. She suggested to Mei that she give a presentation to her fellow students as an assignment, and Mei keenly accepted.
Mei learned about her Māori culture from her late grandfather, who came from the Hawke’s Bay region. “A lot of what I know came from my own upbringing,” the 33-year-old says. “A marae has structural forms that are familiar to us, but each element contains so much meaning in terms of stories and myths - like tuku tuku panels, which are full of story, tradition and ancestral references.”
Mei was pleased with her fellow students’ response to her presentation. “Some had never even been on a marae so they were grateful to gain a better understanding and appreciation of Māori culture and its influence on contemporary design. And for me, the process of creating and giving the talk has reconnected me to my culture, which I lost a little bit after my grandfather died.”
Podemska-Paglioni was also impressed. “Lee’s a wonderful speaker and is so passionate about her culture. She has great potential and I’d really like to build on this and continue to have Lee involved in the future.”
For now though, Lee is just days away from completing her diploma - a significant milestone for the mother-of-three. She’s looking forward to getting into the industry. “I just want to get started and keep learning.”
One area she seems particularly suited to is kitchen and bathroom design. At the recent Visualise awards evening for Ara interior design students, Lee won the Laminex New Zealand Award for Excellence in Kitchen and Bathroom Design.
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