Paths in towns, cities and suburbs are dynamic and social places, running through urban centres and neighbourhoods, full of movement – of people, goods, other species and natural flows of water and ecosystems. The spaces we travel through are not just utilitarian (streets, roads, pathways, parks, squares and junctions). The spaces we travel through are the human environment, the city itself, with all its multiplicities.
Art is encroaching on spaces traditionally governed by the functionalism of engineers and planners (such as the decorated bridges for sense of place in the Auckland motorway network). Our urban ‘material culture’ (a term drawn from anthropology) is shaped by human decisions about both function and ornament, influenced by history, aspiration and everyday cultural expectations.
Assumptions about everyday travel needs, and cultural expectations of public space affect our efforts to improve urban transport. These assumptions arise from existing, yet often unspoken, narratives about urban travel and public space. Human needs and experiences associated with everyday urban journeys make travel through the urban realm a ‘living’ activity, both functional and potentially attractive in itself.
Critical urban design and planning for transport can learn from projects which take human habit and desires into account, as well as rational decision making.
Transport spaces can tell a story about the places we move through, how and why, and may contribute to transport choice and better, more integrated design of transport as part of public space and society.
My research looks at sense of journey as an additional layer to sense of place, and a tool for transport design. I propose a design method for drawing out the functional, social and cultural context for everyday urban journeys, as part of a dynamic experience of space. The outcome of the method is an urban travel narrative that is specific to the path, network, journey or traveller. This narrative approach may be useful in travel demand management, promoting positive and personal transport choice to individuals (or specific workplaces or neighbourhoods), as well as offering a common language with urban design and transport professions.
To illustrate some of the socio-cultural choices of design for travel I looked at four specific examples of pathways in Auckland which include ‘non-functional’ aspects of design (art and ornament):
There is little out there on critiquing the experience of urban travel space as part of urban design. Because of this, I found myself collating ideas on what makes everyday travel purposeful, satisfying and appealing. Establishing a useful, repeatable method of analysis that got to the heart of the travel experience became a key part of my research. A method I hope to share and develop with others involved in art and design for public spaces.
The title of my thesis:
(re-edited 26 July 2012)
People leave marks to connect with others…
‘The writing is on the wall’ – in this case it’s a joyful omen of a sunny day at the beach for those who have just arrived. The wall of sand appeared after a winter storm, presenting itself as a temporary blank canvas of iron sand for an even more temporary bulletin, or directive, made of shell. A message of living in the moment, an invitation to acknowledge a shared experience.
Saturday 6th of August was a busy day in Auckland with two ‘new’ public spaces opening, one in the inner city and the other at its outer edge. I chose to go to the public art opening on the waterfront (while other members of my family elected to take the elicit thrill of cycling on the new motorway in Hobsonville).
This is the view from Te Wero Island approaching the new pedestrian and cycle bridge, Wynyard Crossing, over to Wynyard Quarter. The paving design is based on traditional Maori patterning, I’m looking to find out its meaning but I suspect is related to kai moana – food of the sea and its abundance. The curvy roof is the new Viaduct Events Centre.
The bridge is a double drawbridge, which they were showing off throughout the day, along side what were probably the most picturesque boats in Auckland:
I arrived at 10am for the official opening of the three public art works. The first work was a sound installation by Rachel Shearer (NZ) called The Flooded Mirror, just at the end of the new bridge, and the associated cast concrete step design details (the steps are called Silt Line), the first attractive water access point for people in the central city in some time, that also mark the shifting tides.
I didn’t get a chance to experience this work away from the crowds but it supposedly relates to the “interconnections between sea, geology and humans”, with “sounds inspired by mineral structures as a metaphor”, and as “an aural map of energy flow narrating ancient general histories and specific recent histories” operating to coincide with tidal frequency (from Auckland Council flyer). I had to laugh when the time came to switch the sound on and the draw-bridge buzzer burst in, diverting the apprehension and stealing all the attention as history-in-the-making.
The next official work to be ‘opened’ was the interactive Sounds of the Sea by Company (Finland/Korea). These immaculately polished, reflective ships ventilators have various functions, as echoing seats or conduits of sound (based on ships speaking tubes). The artists demonstrated by one giving part of their speech into the curved form at a distance and the other holding a microphone to the opening of its twin at the other end of the installation. Yet another ventilator/sound tube delivered the voice of the sea from directly underneath the North Wharf.
The final official piece of public art work to be opened was the refurbished Wind Tree by Michio Ihara (Japan/USA), which once stood in Queen Elizabeth Square between Queen Street and the Ferry Building. Originally installed in 1977, this work was removed in 2002, with some controversy over its treatment by the previous council. The new position hopes to mend bridges for public art in Auckland, much like the original work was part of a rebirth for public art in Auckland in the 70s.
Aside from these three pieces that were deemed worthy of speeches, there were a number of visually, aurally and texturally attractive works on the site, including a series of buoys that seem awfully similar to a temporary installation along the old foreshore for the ‘Living Room’ programme in 2007 called ‘Bouys Before Shore’, by Erwin van Asbeck and Charlotte Fisher (as seen in The Aucklander Central, 23/05/07). They have protested about what appears to be their idea reused with out reference (see in the NZ Herald, Thurs Aug 11).
There was something wonderfully sculptural about the old Golden Bay cement silos that remain on site, with their bright spiral stair-cases and white skirts. The playground, crawling with people on the first day, had a sea-side theme, reusing local, marine materials for a rustic play-like-it-used-to-be feel, while tying into the sustainability efforts during construction. This contrasted with the fake grass on the play hill, but the resultant dry, durable surface was sure to please parents on a grey, damp Auckland day.
The landscaping also has a creative edge; with ‘green’ drainage swales on Jelicoe Street blending with general planting, inspired by the lush forest that existed right down to the waters edge prior to human colonisation. Storm water is treated on site through a man-made wetland that runs out to the sea similar to the design at Waitangi Park in Wellington. (context from seminar by Megan Wraight of Wraight and Associates at UoA, 10th May).
Free trams on the day were popular, I chose not to queue for a ride around in a circle, but I look forward to the day when the tracks are extended along the waterfront to the transport interchange and other inner city destinations.
This piano player in the fledgling jungle was the cherry on the top for me, a place full of life, people relaxed but engaged by the gift of music, with fresh sea air, verdant growth, glowing colour, the smell of nourishing food nearby under shelter, and plenty of places to sit and be part of it.
I love Festival time because of the atmosphere it creates. Auckland feels like a real city, living and breathing, with a pulsing heart at Aotea Square.
This is a quote from Renee Liang from an article on performing arts in the arts festival at The Big Idea. I like her seemingly off-hand comment that Auckland feels like a ‘real city’. Often it doesn’t. Often Auckland feels more like a small town closed for the winter for all the human interaction it offers. However, the arts festivals are a wonderful illustration of what a great events programme can do for our experience of urban space. Renee goes on to describe:
People are pulled into the CBD, pumped around its theatres and galleries, given time to linger in the spaces and eating places. This year the clever people at the Festival have created a great central space with neon signs, plenty of information clearly visible, and a good programme of events, both pay and free, to draw people in. Even on the slightly cooler nights we’ve been having recently the streets seem busier. There seems to be a real democracy to who’s eating ice cream at Giapo or sitting on the stone steps at the square – everyone from dressed up opera goers to students looking for a cheap night out.
I had a great time hanging out in Aotea square next to the Garden Stage on Friday evening. I sat in the sun on the newly refurbished lawn to check out music by Chris O’Connor, Sean Donnelly and James Duncan. The space was both buzzing and welcoming with tables, a temporary bar, and a variety of relaxed or stylish seating. The rest of the evening was amiably filled chatting at outdoor tables, floating in and out the many entrances for food or phone calls, cruising over to the nearby outdoor screening of New Zealand short films, and finally a second enlightening dose of noise-beats and sound-scapes from the musicians on the lawn. It is this enticing opportunism of festival time that makes Auckland feel like a ‘real city’.
White Night on Saturday was a chance to wander between a huge variety of visual arts, with galleries large and small, art centres, and pop art stores all open late. My friend and I wandered K’ Road between Artstation and Queen Street following the trail of white balloons to experience a glowing white knitting party in UV black light, vertigo inducing video works, graphics with 3D glasses, live painting, delicate drawings, films of historic art performances, a zine stall and a wonderful offering of watermelon soup. The soup is an example of the level of human interaction that went along with all the art – refreshing, sweet and spicy. That night we were not alone on our touring quest for real-world inspiration, we were part of a continuous flow of people warming up the city’s brightly lit caverns and hollows. Free events like these show an Auckland that is generous with its talents and welcoming in its nature. This is an urban Auckland that waves as we walk past and invites us in for drinks.
Hopefully White Night will become an annual event, meanwhile, the festival garden continues for another week with free music every evening. Pop your nose in and say hi if you’re passing through town.
The atmosphere of a city
In the two months since I moved back to Auckland I have been reassessing and rebuilding my mental map of the streets, routes and landmarks. I am also rebuilding my map of the social scene, of people I know and people I’d like to know. I am testing my assumptions about the places people meet, the places people go to hang out and get food, and the places people go to fulfil basic needs like conversation or knowledge gathering. I’m having to adjust to the new atmosphere. A different mode of urban living.
In the five years I was learning to live as a Wellingtonian, Auckland became the ‘other’ city, less easy to identify and interact with, despite being my home town. Auckland’s ‘spirit’ is slowly coming back to me, but it’s not where my Wellington eyes initially thought to look.
Aucklanders seem to socialise at home a lot more than Wellingtonians, they share their homes with pride, like they personally are a social resource. Yet Wellingtonians seem to get together with more ease and more often, before they even leave town for home. The city itself provides and homes are less important.
It seems that Auckland has less ‘urban vitality’ than Wellington despite being many times bigger. Auckland is predominantly suburban. It feels like a number of small towns stuck together, each a little diffused and lost. Perhaps in Auckland that sense of vitality, of ‘life force’, comes from somewhere else. In Auckland the vitality is found in back yards, not cafés.
a comparative boasting of home – finer moments of Auckland and Wellington life
Auckland is about glowing warmth, outdoor living in lush gardens, surrounded by tall palms, fat fruit trees, bright native flowers, living abundance. The outdoors is our biggest selling point. Two harbours, two coasts, two forest ranges, a field of loveable little green volcanic cones each with character and a name. Our sub-tropical paradise, come visit my little bit.
The sprawling nature of Auckland means one’s home can be just as convenient (or not) as any other location. Home is where people are welcomed to for a drink, and to admire personal collections of warmth, lushness and other riches. In comparison public space is vast, impersonal, forgotten.
Being the largest city in New Zealand makes Auckland appear abundant in choices. There are enough people to cater to taste types in commodities: athletic, bohemian, slick, crafty, traditional, comfy, all separate, compartmentalised and marketed just for you.
At the same time no assumption is made about the taste of the masses, we offer bland real-estate-common-denominator beige to all new comers with unknown objectives. We offer you a clean slate. Many bars, cafés and public spaces seem to fall into this set, more about basic transactions than comfort. Here individuals are given all the freedom, and the responsibility, for bringing character to their environments.
Wellington is wholly different. While casual outdoor comforts are reserved for special weather occasions, outdoor activity in public space happens all the time. The wind helps you along, it’s energy a companion to the buzzing crowds of people. Here we revel in chance meetings that are more likely to be accidentally on purpose. Let’s walk this way home and see who we can see. Why would you make everyone go to the trouble of coming back to your house when everyone is already near the cafés in town?
Here the city is full of nearby places to meet and be comfortable indoors. Businesses make it their job to sooth and invite, not just out of the wind, but into genuinely welcoming, homey spaces, available at 5pm, 10pm, even 2am. Cherished places of character are like people you know, more than backdrops, these places join in on the conversation. They revel in multiple sometimes contradictory tastes. Each place its own entity. Homes, shops, institutions, all distinct, a jumble of colour, a clique, a club. Know this place, know us. You can’t change us but you are welcome to join us, or choose another.
Wellington has spectacular scenery; a series of green belts and harbour city views to make you swoon but the city does not rely on these for its sense of self. The city is a city, full of its own captivating inventions. People interacting with people.
Auckland’s backyards are a suburban feature that is great for urban biodiversity, but where are the fruits of real urban living? Where do I go to get new ideas and be part of what’s happening? Auckland could be so much more than a sea of suburban gardens and hoarded treasure homes. With the best urban design and development to bring people together Auckland could also be a network of real urban centres, a city with everything.
Auckland is lucky: Urban form is a lot easier to change than the local climate.
Note: I use the word café as shorthand for any kind of place providing the service of being a comfortable meeting place with food, drink, water, toilets, seats, people watching and sometimes other entertainment. Unlike bars, cafés are open to all ages, and therefore more public than most ‘pub’s.
Along side great North Road in New Lynn is a tall angular steel sculpture. Recent visits to the town centre on foot allowed me a closer, more intimate viewing that revealed new layers of meaning.
Up close I found the sculpture is in fact the pivot of a large sundial. It’s sharp pointy nose marks hourly time at Solstice and Equinox four times a year.
Hour markers radiate from the sculpture, pieces of shell gleam reminders of the sea, which is not visible here, inland, and somewhat forgotten in the press of people heading East to West.
The surrounds include two smooth solid stone like plinths: one pointing West to the dark green Waitakere ranges and sunset; the second points south, away from the noon sun, and towards the great expanse of the Manukau harbour.
The extra weight attributed to the cardinal directions marks the importance of these two boundaries of the city settlement, the form of the land that contains us, the eternal influence of the twin resources of Forest and Sea. As visitor to an urban place it is easy to forget the lie of the land, the influences larger than ourselves. Prior to coming to this sculpture I had forgotten the presence of the sea.
From a distance the sculpture is vaguely reminiscent of a waka (Maori canoe), being carried across land or a sturdy forest that provided the wood hull, like the timbers now protected across the Waitakere ranges. The sculptural links to water awoke in my memory the local story of “Portage”. The word portage had become abstract in my mind, lost its meaning, (seen everywhere in West Auckland as a local licensing trust). But here suddenly its meaning became very visceral. I was standing not far from Portage Road, and I realised this path is a historic route.
This work reminded me.
The uplifted waka form is now infused with new awareness, of its nearness to the sea, deliberately pointing the way, mimicking historical journeys across the Auckland isthmus. I have new appreciation that here the land itself is a bridge, only 2.7km wide from the Whau river of the Waitemata harbour, to the coast of the Manukau, joining the long east and west coasts of the North Island
In the past I have seen this sculpture from the road and puzzled over it. I thought: It’s new, it’s large pieces of sheet metal, I can see it all from here. Why should I be interested? Only in this recent exploration of the town centre did I discover its layers, its story. Thanks to a little walk.
I do think I would have found the sundial earlier if the central sculpture had more colour or texture – more welcoming detail or intricacy to draw me across the road to take a closer look.
For more information on the sculpture and town centre
New Lynn Urban Design PDF by Nick Robinson
This sculpture was initiated by the West Auckland Sculpture Trust and the Portage Trust in 2002. The Portage and Waitakere Licensing Trusts regulate the sale of alcohol and put profits back into the West Auckland Community. I am very glad to see the trusts wont be affected by the new ’super city’ structure for Auckland.
Previous post about New Lynn (and transit oriented development).
Spring Equinox is coming up on September 23rd.