Isthmus Group
Maungawhau Tihi.

  • 2020

    Submission # 119

  • Output

    Environmental – Kaupapa Taiao

  • Kaupapa

    Identity – People & Culture

    Identity – Place

  • Location

    Auckland, Tāmaki Makaurau

Project Overview:
The volcanic scoria cone of Maungawhau / Mount Eden is waahi tapu—a sacred place of immense historical, cultural, and spiritual significance to the Mana Whenua iwi/hapū of Tāmaki Makaurau. Inhabited since 1200AD the iconic pā site (defensive settlement) needed to accommodate the growing pressures of tourism whilst repairing eroded tracks, geological features and restoring the culture and mana of the maunga.

In 2018 the Tūpuna Maunga Authority (TMA), a co-governance statutory authority between Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau and Auckland Council, commissioned Stellar and Isthmus to deliver a world-class boardwalk experience on the ancestral volcanic crater of Maungawhau. The sensitive design response treads lightly on the land, elevating visitors on a structure that floats above the maunga itself, restoring the mauri and wairua of this special site.

Stage One which stretches around the crater from the lower tihi (summit) to the upper tihi is the first piece of this work to be completed. The boardwalk alignment follows the contours of the crater rim, carefully winding through the tūāpapa (terraces) where the houses and gardens of the pā once sat and identifying the series of platforms and stopping points on route. This culminates in a 4.8m wide viewing deck at the lower northern tihi where visitors can take in sweeping panoramic views over downtown Auckland, Te Waitematā and Tāmaki Makaurau’s network of maunga.

Maungawhau and the other Tūpuna Maunga (ancestral mountains) of Tāmaki Makaurau are on a tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status. A major part of a World Heritage bid is demonstrating that the unique heritage values are being properly protected.

Isthmus were asked to develop opportunities for Maungawhau to manage the ever-increasing demand in visitor numbers to the tihi, while staying sensitive to the underlying mana of Maungawhau. As part of the extensive planning for the project the team reviewed precedents from other World Heritage sites that had dealt with similar challenges. To approach any project of this nature requires a sensitivity not just to the built outcome, but to the whenua and its rich inherent layers of meaning and context, the people who connect to it and most of all, celebrating the maunga and its connection to land and sky.

The design intent was for the maunga to remain the main feature on the hikoi to the tihi. It was an opportunity to be minimal with materiality and reduce the footprint of its structure as much as possible. The sensitive design response does just that by subtly blending built form into the volcanic crater rim a physical connection to our inherent relationship with tangata and whenua.

The project team worked closely with the Tūpuna Maunga Authority and other specialists to develop an innovative steel-framed boardwalk system with a minimal, removable footprint to protect and respect the cultural values and archaeological and geological features of the site.

The systemised design integrates an engineering methodology with an architectural approach to materiality to create a restrained ‘kit of parts’. This design system was carefully applied to the site contours and detailed to create a low impact structure in place of the previous track. The intent was to concentrate and contain visitors upon the boardwalk, letting the land below them rest and heal (the previous aggregate track was a network of uneven surfaces and deep ruts highly prone to erosion —in places the path had grown to over 6m wide, scarring the ancestral mountain).

Minimal disturbance to the tūpuna maunga during the boardwalk’s construction was achieved with foundations screwed into the ground by hand, meaning no digging was required (importantly, this technique is also reversible —the foundations can be removed in the future leaving no trace). Contractors carried materials by hand to locations onsite to ensure the lowest impact on this culturally and archaeologically sensitive site. All materials selected can be fully recycled at the end of their life.

Future stages of the project will involve removal of ad hoc structures and furniture in the upper tihi, pedestrianising the access road and reducing the carpark to a drop-off zone. Once completed a series of boardwalks and strategically located viewing platforms, will float over the earth worked terraces of the Maunga. Nestled in amongst repatriated volcanic rock, and pockets of reintroduced plant species characteristic of the unique maunga environs that have been lost over time through pasture and grazing.

Archiver’s Response:

"A project with a lightness of touch that encourages visitors to sensitively explore the Maunga."

"An absolutely stunning floating platform that is almost as visually pleasing as the environment around it. It's warm natural tones are quite complimentary to the surrounding greenery. One would assume the modern geometric forms would fight against the organic landscape but the don't. What I like is that there's no large open platform area, but rather a continuous path to take.
The solution this design offers being protection for the sacred landscape is invaluable. I would love to see more of this mantra applied in other places of significance around New Zealand."

Credits & Collaborators:
Blank - Stellar Projects —engineers
Blank - Tūpuna Maunga Authority Council Team
Blank - HEB Construction —contractors
Blank - Chester Consultants —project managers

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Archive Submission
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Archive Submission
Maungawhau 12

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