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Motorway with a dose of urban design

Thu, 30 Sep 2004

Motorway with a dose of urban design

Motorists on the Southern Motorway will soon begin to experience interesting urban design solutions along Stage 1 of Transit New Zealand's Central Motorway Junction.

Due for completion early next year, the motorway improvements between Symonds Street and Gillies Ave will include a number of design features with strong links to our cultural and natural heritage. The project delivery consortium Freeflow was encouraged and inspired by its multi-award winning urban design approach for its sister project - the Grafton Gully upgrade which made extensive use of features such as artworks, native plantings, archaeological finds and embossed concrete panels.

Stage 1 of the Central Motorway Junction project has already made similar innovative use of concrete. New motorway barriers are embossed with the iconic Rangitoto outlines, while new bridge piers further north feature a stunning shape, somewhat reminiscent of a prehistoric skeleton. However, the project team will also transform dreary 'utility areas' and commonly neglected spaces around motorway ramps and bridges in order to showcase the project's unique urban design initiatives. These include an eight metre long gecko sculpture that will take pride of place on what is now a disused parcel of land adjacent to the Khyber Pass on- and off-ramps.

With a colourful mosaic surface, the sculpture promises to be more than just an aesthetic improvement. The project's Environmental Manager, Letitia Drury explains, "The gecko is one of our chosen heritage motifs. It represents the rich animal and plant life of the region and, according to Maori, also provides guardianship and protects the passage. We believe this is a relevant message in the roading context."

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Around Gillies Ave further geckos will be 'climbing up' the columns, however, with the added drama of night-time illumination. Other initiatives include six massive round mosaics, each depicting a symbolic animal or plant motif which will appear on structures such as on the abutment at Gillies Ave. These motifs include the leaf of a little-known tree, the whau. It is of local significance and deeply connected to the naming of Mt Eden/Maungawhau where whaus used to be plentiful and prized for their light timber which, incidentally, is the lightest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Mosaic animal motifs include the fantail which is considered a Maori symbol of peace, and the short-tailed bat, the country's only indigenous mammal which curiously folds its wings under its forearms and uses them like legs to crawl around branches or forage on the ground. Other colourful mosaics will feature the cabbage tree, the Puriri moth and a gourd to represent utility values.

All in all, the various motifs may well inspire motorists and residents to contemplate the area's wider environmental context and heritage. "Considering the tremendous feedback we have received after the Grafton Gully Project, we are quietly confident that Aucklanders and visitors alike will appreciate our urban design efforts along the motorway," says Letitia Drury.


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