UBC Graduate Research

Sacred Grounds : Enhancing the Cultural Landscape on Mauna A Wakea Lacsina, Christopher


My thesis considers the contested landscape of Mauna Kea, a volcanic mountain on the island of Hawai’i. As ground is literally being broken in the name of astronomical scientific advancement, what breaks in tandem is the site of cultural practice for an entire community and nation. The Mauna is currently home to 13 telescopes sponsored by public and private institutions locally and globally. The latest telescope, Thirty Meter Telescope or “TMT” has been approved, but its construction is being protested by the Native Hawaiian community under grounds of continued desecration to their sacred cultural lands. While some might consider the motive of the scientific community is for the advancement of human civilization towards groundbreaking discoveries about the universe, others feel a threatening of their way of life and culture. These tensions unfold within a landscape that holds significant meaning to the Native Hawaiian culture and its people, while this exact site has been identified as the optimum location for peering into the universe. Through tracing a lineage of the Native Hawaiian sense of the land or “’aina” we come to understand that the landscape is a reflection of their spiritual and physical wellbeing. The destruction of their sacred lands through the building of the telescopes greatly impacts the Hawaiian community and their ability to continue practicing their culture and way of life. To Native Hawaiians the mauna is viewed as the origin spot (axis mundi) of where life begins and a place of great spiritual power. My consideration is that landscape architecture has a role in being a mechanism of cultural promotion where design will give form to the complex processes of how landscapes themselves are tied to a community’s well-being manifested through its cultural expressions and shaped through human practices. The project seeks to understand opportunities to enhance the site for cultural practice.

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