Incredible rātā

The shrine is a life work experimenting with growing New Zealand Northern rātā over natural and purpose-built objects to expose and celebrate its incredible root formations.

Rātā is an epiphytic tree native to New Zealand. Few trees rival rata in its beauty and its’ incredible lifestyle.

Shrine Theory

“Whilst tramping with friends in the Te Urewera in the early 1990s, I had a mystic experience amongst the immense rātā that grow there. From that moment i developed the theory that by planting a young tree atop a structure that directed water flow and nurtured root formation, a designed, architectural tree could be grown.” AE

Over years of experimentation shrine theory has evolved into a technology, where an understanding of how to manage and cater to the trees needs and to deal with its intimidating growth and size over time are all considered. 

Shrine technology can be divided into two basic techniques;

  • the investment method, where the structure on which the tree is grown decays or is removed over time as the tree becomes self supporting.
  • the permanent method, where the object the tree is grown over remains in place, to become permanently encapsulated.

The permanent method is easier to achieve and asks less of the tree. The investment method is more demanding, but aspires to achieve the ultimate tripodular and hollow form where a visitor can experience whakaruruhau.

rata sculpture


Rātā begins life as a wind-blown seed lodged high in the crown of a forest tree. Following water and shade, aerial roots slowly descend the host’s trunk. When the roots reach the ground the surge in nutrients enables them to enlarge and girdle the host. Over centuries, a massive and often hollow pseudotrunk  of fused roots is formed. The host is replaced, the rātā has become a forest giant in its own right.

Te rātā whakaruruhau is a te reo phrase given to a highly respected individual. It means, literally ‘to provide shelter’. Some interpret this as figurative, I interpret it as literal. When lost in the bush, where better to spend the night than inside a hollow rātā?

The shrine celebrates this idea by endeavouring to train rātā into freestanding hollow trees, where whakaruruhau can be experienced.