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Pioneering Motorway Art

Pioneering Motorway Art

Auckland’s newest motorway environment features a major new artwork by Auckland designer Caroline Robinson. Commissioned for Transit New Zealand’s Grafton Gully motorway upgrading project, the artwork is entitled Maumahara mo Waiparuru - ‘Remembering Ancient Pathways'. A brave departure from the conventional approach to motorway design, the artwork joins ropeworks - an earlier installed sculptural artwork by Robinson along the new motorway route towards the port.

Enhancing the aesthetic environment of what is now a major roading channel, the project embraces a contemporary urban design ethic and philosophy that calls for a multi-disciplinary approach. This design ethic draws on community consultation and often includes gathering historical data on the environment so that outcomes are more people and environment friendly.

Robinson, who is also currently involved with urban design redevelopment in Glen Innes and Panmure, developed creative processes which sought to engage a holistic understanding of the site and its communities. “These processes are very relevant to the challenges faced in urban design work,” says Robinson.

The title of the stonework Maumahara mo Waiparuru pays tribute to the historical significance of the Grafton area in general and the Waiparuru Stream in particular. “I learned about the area with help from members of the local iwi and the community,” says Robinson who had a strong emotional response to early visits to the site and wanted to honour its heritage.

“The Grafton Gully is incredibly rich in heritage which has become almost invisible as the gully changed over the years. It was originally a pristine environment with small waterways, then was marked by the old cemetery where many Maori and early settlers were buried, and finally made way for a complex network of traffic.”

“The intention to ‘give back to the land’ has therefore been a very relevant aspect of this work,” says Robinson.

In the early stages of the design process she was focused on an idea that she needed to make something that would sustain visual impact in a transient motorway environment. “But as important as how something 'looks', is how it feels,” says Robinson. “The gully’s terrain once emanated the gentle power of its former pristine ecosystem. The creativity of this project therefore became about acknowledging and remembering the many stories that are associated with the land."

The 80m sculptural work Maumahara mo Waiparuru is made up of earth and large basalt boulders from local lava flows. The huge stones are arranged in a sinuous streaming pattern trailing down the gully. Some of the bends are marked with galvanised steel 'ripples'. For Robinson this meandering pathway represents a “journey of release”. The work sets out to put some natural flowing lines back into a landscape that has lost its original contours.

Waterways, bird life and small walking paths have flowed through Grafton Gully - now cars dominate. “It is my hope that when people drive through the gully, these stones will remind them to ask questions about what was here before, and to explore deepening the relationship we have with our local heritage, both natural and cultural.”

Caroline has a growing body of work throughout New Zealand including Basket of Dreams on the Time Walk Heritage Trail overlooking Lake Wakatipu and a major work in the New Lynn Community Centre. Lately she has been working on the urban redesign of Panmure and Glen Innes and she has also just completed her first book “Panmure – A Sense of Place Scrapbook”.

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