Union Dining Hall refresh 1 image
A new look and new staff t-shirts …. In the refreshed Union dining hall Auahi Ora – opening on Monday on the Dunedin campus – are (from left) Hospitality Services Manager Adrian Lowrey and Events Supervisor Linden Miles.

A refresh of the Union dining hall over the academic break has created a more relaxing place for our returning students to socialise, eat and drink – and is also for student events in the evening.

Couches, armchairs, bookcases, colourful rugs, and plants have been added to significantly change the look and feel of the space, creating more of a lounge environment, while new chairs and tables also form a café and dining area, Hospitality Services Manager Adrian Lowrey says.

“It's more comfortable and inviting than the seating and tables we had previously. We're trying to create a space to gather … to come and relax and enjoy each other's company, a place for students to take a break.”

A single servery has replaced the three previous food and drink outlet counters and space has been created for a temporary stage to support events. New audio-visual equipment includes a new sound system and a large format screen for everything from presentations, movies and music videos to sports events or quiz questions.

The aim of Auahi Ora is to create a student hang-out space during the day until about 6pm weekdays – “somewhere to get away from it all” – then an events space for evenings, weekends and holidays. Staff are welcome to use the space as well.

The events space is also proposed to host live music, residential college functions, staff celebrations, and Otago University Student Association and club activities etc, Lowrey says.

He is keen to get feedback about what people like about Auahi Ora – which opens on Monday – and what more could be done, within a budget.

Campus Development Division Strategic Architect Gordon Roy says this refresh is phase one of the area's make-over, with new lighting, decoration and some more furniture coming.

“We are also considering alterations to the conservatory area for a future date. We were simply time constrained with what we could do over the summer break, that said, I'm really pleased with the changes and hope students like what we've done.

“We've been aware of a need to change this space for a while. Discussion with Otago University Students Association at the tail end of last year confirmed students were looking for a space to relax on campus – somewhere not specifically linked to study-space – but still retaining the ability to eat and drink.

“The revamp also gave us a great opportunity to work with our cultural partners at Aukaha [a Dunedin-based Rūnaka-owned consultancy] who have really brought the space to life with the narrative around the tradition of social gathering spaces,” Roy says.

Aukaha ensured mana whenua values and narrative were appropriately woven into the design of the space.

The name

The area's new name was discussed and approved by mana whenua and comes from a whakataukī recorded by southern historian Herries Beattie about 1920 – e auahi, e auora, e aumoana, aua tonu atu – which can be interpreted as 'smoke of a fire is a sign of life, smoke at sea, who knows.' That can be transferred to modern day as well – where there is light, there is life and people.

Fire or ahi was traditionally used to signal occupation of the whenua but also as a gathering place to share stories, sing, dance, and connect socially. These concepts of fire and life drive the visual design of Auahi Ora to create a comfortable and inclusive place.

Artist Aroha Novak (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Kahungunu) created the designs on the new flooring based on a piupiu pattern (in the flax skirt worn for kapa haka) to help separate the different zones and painted the servery with a graphic representation of the native plants Māori traditionally used to start fires, Roy says.

Other outlet news

University Union Manager Stephen Baughan says since the closure of the Hunter Café, Frankly Sandwiches, and the Lab Café we have seen a continued downturn in business activity across the Dunedin campus.

This has been compounded by increases in the cost of food and labour with further increases forecast for 2023.

Because these food outlets are no longer economically viable a decision has been made for these outlets to remain closed. Any affected staff have been relocated to other food outlets.

What now?

Planning is underway on how to optimise the vacant café and retail spaces to improve students' and staff's experiences – this is in its preliminary stages and more information will be shared in the future.

Facilities Group Leader (Campus) Alex Borland says the chairs and tables will stay at the Hunter Centre in the interim, then different furniture could be added along with more space for students to heat their own food.

The Lab could become a space for relaxing and having informal meetings, while the future of the Frankly Sandwiches space is still under consideration, he says.

Baughan says this is an opportunity for us to look at the student and staff food and beverage offering across campus and put in place facilities which better suit everyone's needs.

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