Traversing Memory: the last days of the Old Mangere Bridge

Last night I got my letter of acceptance into the Masters by Project degree at Unitec Institute of Technology. Here’s something of what I presented for candidature …  Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 130424

The aim of my project is to protect and promote both individual and collective memories of the Old Mangere Bridge through spatial intervention.

I’ll be asking,

Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 1304242

One of the research methodologies I plan to use is heuristic inquiry. Heuristics focuses on meaning, quality, and experience rather than measurement, quantity, or behaviour. The researcher’s own experiences are important – implicit – to heuristic inquiry – and so with that thought I’ll start with my story.

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When I was five-years-old, and my sister just turned one, my parents separated. My sister and I moved with our mother to Te Atatu North and our father moved to Mangere. Every weekend our father would pick us up in his black Vauxhall, drive us to his house in Mangere, and then drive us back to Te Atatu. Every weekend we slowly drove over the old Mangere Bridge, already over 60 years old, as it seemed to disintegrate beneath us. Every weekend was a traffic jam on this bridge as people travelled to the still new Mangere Airport.

The three of us, my father, my sister, and I, sat in the car sweltering in the summer, freezing in the winter,

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watching a new motorway bridge being built alongside. Then we sat in the car, sweltering in the summer, freezing in the winter, watching a new motorway bridge not being built as industrial action obstructed construction. We would sit there, the three of us, and Dad would tell us about when I was born “just over there in Selwyn Street” and about how things used to be and about how great things would be once the motorway bridge was complete, about how close we’d be again.

Looking back, the bridge seems such an important physical manifestation of what was happening in my life. Here was a bridge, the connection between my parents, the link between the two most important things in my life, and it was disintegrating.

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By the time the new motorway bridge opened in 1983, and the old bridge was closed, my father had moved back to his hometown of New Plymouth. Our connection had been lost.

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Several bridges have emerged and disappeared across the Manukau Harbour. The Old Mangere Bridge is the second bridge to have been built between Onehunga and Mangere. Before any bridge — waka, rowboats, and ferries were used to cross the harbour. As early as 1866, when this map was drawn, a company was formed for the purpose of connecting Mangere and Onehunga, but it wasn’t until 1874 that the government authorised the Public Works Department to build the first timber bridge.

Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 1304247

This timber construction was narrow and hazardous to cross during stormy weather and within two years the bridge’s supporting piles were under attack by shipworm. By 1910 more than 30 piles had been replaced on the 20-pile bridge and by 1914 the bridge was declared unsafe. Mr R. F. Moore, builder of the Grafton Bridge, won the design contract for the new bridge, which was quickly completed by 1916.

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The second bridge was constructed in Ferro-concrete. Its 17 spans total 246 metres in length with each span resting on four reinforced-concrete piles. This bridge would not succumb to shipworm; this Mangere Bridge was intended to last.

But by 1927, just eleven years after its construction, the new bridge was showing signs of serious deterioration. Traffic flow was increasing and with the opening of the new Airport at Mangere in 1966 it was decided that a new motorway bridge needed to be constructed.

Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 1304249

Work began on the new bridge in July 1974. Wilkins and Davies Construction won the contract and completion was planned for mid-‘78. By late 1976, on-going industrial relation issues had reached an impasse and work on the bridge stopped.

Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 13042410

Meanwhile, the second Mangere Bridge was under further pressure and in1980 a Bailey bridge was constructed over the most deteriorated section of the bridge in order for the connection to continue delivering 33,000 vehicles a day across the harbour.

Fletcher Construction won the contract to continue work on the motorway bridge and whilst there were some further small delays in construction (due to underestimating the amount of work needed to resuscitate the project) the new Mangere Bridge was completed and opened in February 1983.

Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 13042411

As the old bridge reaches its centenary the on-going maintenance costs have become unsustainable. The New Zealand Transport Agency has completed community consultation and will begin building a replacement pedestrian bridge late this year or early next year with an estimated completion date of 2015 – just in time for the old bridge’s centenary.

Today, the second Mangere Bridge, now commonly called the Old Mangere Bridge, is a popular site for walking, cycling, and fishing. The bridge has become a destination in itself. It is a link between two geographic communities and a link with the water it spans.

It is a connector of people but is also a mnemonic connection with our past.

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Links between water and memory are many, Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory, dwelt on the banks of the river Lethe, the river of forgetting. We talk of events in our past as ‘water under the bridge’ or, in te reo, those forgotten ‘float aimlessly on the tide of one’s memories – rere kurï noa i te tai o maumahara’.

And whilst the old bridge spans these tides of memory and provides a structure for the connection of nearby communities – it is our neural pathways that provide the scaffolding for our cognitive connections.

The ability to form complex memory structures is one of the most important differentiators between us, as human, and other animal species.

In literary theorist, Djelal Kadir’s book, Memos from the Besieged City he writes,

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In many respects, it is memory that makes us human. It is memories that identify us as individuals making us each unique and extraordinary.

Each person, given the same phenomena, will register a different memory. The neural pathways we activate to form a memory have a defining effect on how that memory is recalled at a later date. Furthermore, memories are not held in an archival, crystalline form from the moment of activity to the moment of retrieval. Because of the plasticity, fluidity, and flexibility of our brains we need to rely on things outside ourselves to keep the past in order.

Whilst mnemonic devices serve as aids, repeated recollection of memories is the best way to preserve and strengthen the memories we hold. Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor Amanda Barnier’s research has shown that long-term relationships help not only with the storage of memories but also with their recollection. Couples asked to recall memories would most often recall more detail when with their partner, than they would when asked to recall details individually. In an ABC Radio interview, Barnier comments that when people are moved out of their homes into controlled nursing environments, 

Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 13042414

With the move away from home, the residents lose the help from the objects around them to recall their memories.

I would like to propose that the preservation of our memories loses its scaffolding, not only when we are taken from our known environment, but also when our environment is taken from us. The effect however is exaggerated because the environment may be lost for dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people. When an environment is changed we run the risk of many people losing their memories. Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 13042415

Built structures both hold and project memories. In Spatial Recall: Memory in Architecture and Landscape Professor Marc Treib argues that buildings become repositories into which both deposits and withdrawals can be made. Treib sees the built environment as a memory bank for both individual and communal use.

Djelal Kadir discusses this idea in depth in “Memos of the Besieged City” where he notes that not only are memory and culture linked by time and place but that our culture is defined by what we remember as well as by what we forget. He writes,  Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 13042416

Social memory may be held by a society’s architecture. If the architecture is preserved, so may a society’s collective memories. However, where a society’s physical works are not preserved, nor will its memory be. In this light every culture’s identity is formed by the buildings and writings history has preserved as well as by those things that have been forgotten.

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Within the context of Aotearoa/New Zealand, marae hold an almost unique form of memory retention within the structure of the building itself. The pou and tukutuku, as well as providing structural support and decoration, also help to recall shared memories of whakapapa, major events, and stories of creation.

It is not the memory itself that is held within these environments, such as our marae, but the retelling of the stories alongside them that makes them such important mnemonic taonga. In The Archive as Metaphor, Wolfgang Ernst writes,  Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 13042418

While narrative may very well be our most important medium for holding social memory alive, our environment, as Barnier suggests, can certainly help preserve our memories.

The first objective of my research is to

Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 13042419

Using heuristic enquiry and an interdisciplinary approach, I will investigate theories of memory through critical texts, journals, online resources, and documentaries.

Continuing through heuristic enquiry, my second objective will be to

Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 13042420I will also research notions of bridging. Margaret Mahy’s short story, The Bridge Builder, has already given me some lovely ideas. One of my favourite quotes from the tale is,  Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 13042421

I’ll continue looking at types of bridging, both from an engineering perspective and as a connector of people.

My next objective is to

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A phenomenological methodology allows participants to describe their own experiences and sensations of a phenomenon. The data collected from this research will be in narrative form allowing the narrator to give his or her own perspective. To best understand and contextualise the Old Mangere Bridge’s significance to the people that have used it, I need for them to tell me their stories.

I will collect oral histories of the Old Mangere Bridge in order to create a narrative of the bridge’s own history. Histories will be collected from local Iwi, community groups, neighbours, and historians as well as from people who use the old bridge for recreation.

Collating these memories will enable me to contextualise the bridge’s significance.

My fourth objective is to Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 13042423Using an iterative drawing approach, by drawing and redrawing, I aim to create an image or series of images that will illustrate the bridge’s final months.

My fifth objective is to Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 13042424

I will use iterative design methods to make a series of drawings and models to inform the spatial arrangement of my final design. I will need to investigate the different qualities of construction materials which I’ll do through reading, speaking to experts, and testing materials through model making.

I plan to workshop orthographic drawings and computer renders of my design for the spatial installation. Using the feedback I receive I will then redesign, construct, and install a mnemonic device in situ for my final examination.  Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation 13042425

My intention for my final Masters project is to design and install a spatial intervention that will redress the loss of the Old Mangere Bridge as a mnemonic device.

When I look at the old bridge now, I don’t think about a sad and difficult time of my life, I think about being able to spend time with my father, how we were a captive audience to his stories and he to ours, how for a short period of time we were together, me, my sister, my Dad. Without the old bridge there to scaffold this treasured memory, I worry the memory will disappear too.

2 thoughts on “Traversing Memory: the last days of the Old Mangere Bridge

  1. HI Hannah
    This sounds very personal and very exciting, good on you for taking this challenge. You might want to speak to Marie ( jewellery lecturer) as she did her masters on the demise of the Waterview area due to the motorway link. She made beautiful broaches as anti- memorial’s to the idea of progress.

    hope all is good take care mandy

    • Thanks, Mandy. It’s really exciting and I’m enjoying every moment I get to spend on the project. I’ve bumped into Marie a couple of times, but yes, I do need to sit down with her and discuss her project more fully. Hope all is well with you. Han

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