Traversing Memory: Workshop 1

In late August (yes, I know, that was aaaages ago) I presented workshop number 1 of 4 towards my Masters degree. It was nerve-wracking – I felt like I hadn’t produced enough work – but in the end I received some great feedback so it’s probably time I share the workshop with the wider world. The beginning repeats a little of what I said last time but the rest should be new info. There’s some lovely old photos of the area in here … Enjoy.

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Kia ora koutou. My name is Hannah Alleyne and this is my first workshop as part of my Master of Design degree. Thank you for taking the time to be here today and sharing your thoughts, with me, about my project so far. My project is titled: Traversing Memory: the last days of the Old Mangere Bridge.

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:

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The Old Mangere Bridge, in Auckland’s Manukau Harbour, can be seen as a mnemonic device that allows communities the opportunity to recall, and therefore preserve, memories of the place. As the bridge falls into disrepair and faces demolition so too do our memories of the area.

Memories of a time or place are kept or lost depending on the strength of neural pathways already in place. The stronger the pathway, the greater the chance a memory will be formed. Research shows that the retelling of a memory, with people who share a common experience, increases the strength of the memory for both the narrator and the audience, further augmenting its integrity and continuity. (Amanda J Barnier, “Memories, memory studies and my iPhone: Editorial,” Memory Studies 3, no. 4 (October 1, 2010): 294, doi:10.1177/1750698010376027.) We rely heavily on things, environments, or people external to ourselves to preserve our own memories. Likewise, the destruction or disintegration of an environment that might have scaffolded mental processing will very likely cause the destruction or disintegration of the memories themselves. The Old Mangere Bridge is such a scaffold; at once helping us recollect our past and preserve the memories of it.

Through the collection and sharing of both individual and community memories of the Old Mangere Bridge, and through the documentation of the old bridge’s final months, I intend to construct a spatial provocation that stimulates recollections of the area, strengthening both individual and collective memory pathways.

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Late last year I was offered the opportunity to apply for a Master of Design, here at Unitec, and be part of a collective of artists and designers whose projects focus on the water and weather around the Manukau Harbour. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to come back and study and to be part of a group of accomplished practitioners. Being part of the group allows me to broaden the scope of my project whilst concentrating on the things that are important to my thesis. I’m able to situate my practice within areas of art and design I could not have done otherwise.
Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation II_Page_04Looking at previous memory works, there are a multitude that focus on both individual and collective memories.

Memorials, like those created by Daniel Libeskind or Maya Lin help us remember groups of people. Their works, whilst helping us recall collective memories, are designed to touch us as individuals and help us understand that it is individual people, each with their own story, that are worthy of remembering.

Or, as Juhani Pallasmaa put more succinctly, these works

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Beyond memorials, the built structure serves as a mnemonic device in three ways.

Firstly, it materialises the course of time. It projects time and makes it visible.

Secondly, built structures concretise recollection by projecting and containing memories.

Thirdly, built structures inspire us, they stimulate us to remember and to imagine.

As a spatial designer, and especially as a designer of a memory-place, it is my job to ask what should be brought to mind here? What should be remembered? What could be imagined?

To help me along the way, I’ve looked at works by artists and designers for inspiration and four, in particular, have caught my attention.

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Rietveld Landscapes are a design firm based in Amsterdam. Their installation, Pretty Vacant, is a suspended screen. It’s a reversal of a previous work. Here, we are presented with the negative spaces of a model city.

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And I think my role is to do something similar – to represent the negative space that will be created once the Old Mangere Bridge is gone.

I like to imagine what effects the negative space could create when they react with the water and weather around them. Do they shimmer, do they sing, do they float, do they sway with the wind or the tide?

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Chad Wright, like Rietveld, has used models of the built form to create an installation piece. Master Plan examines the symbolism of the mass-produced tract house in American suburbia.

Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation II_Page_12Whilst I understand this piece was never designed to speak about disintegration of structure, I think read that way, it certainly helps me see possibilities for my project.

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Based over the water, the Old Mangere Bridge is crumbling and disintegrating as it is weathered by wind, water, and time.

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Neither, do I think, was Wright’s work supposed to illustrate the erosion of memories – but that’s what I see when I look at this work. Especially because the sandcastles depict suburban homes where so many of our dearest memories are held.

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The Snow by Tokujin Yoshioka is another work that I’m drawing inspiration from. It first caught my attention just because of its immense beauty. It’s a large piece and yet, I imagine, it creates an atmosphere of quiet calm.

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Here, feathers fly around a 15 metre-long tank. The exhibition, aimed to rethink the unconscious way we sense nature.

Yoshioka, importantly to me, didn’t try to create a reproduction of nature – in this case snow – but to recreate a memory of snow.

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Reading this was one of those ‘aha’ moments for me. I knew I didn’t want to simply create an image of the old bridge in order for people to remember it by. This installation made it very clear to me that it is the memories of the bridge I need to concentrate on and illuminate – not the bridge itself.

Recently, I read an interview with architect Peter Zumthar who said that his ultimate goal is to create architecture that is free from symbolism and is all about experience. So I’m going to spend some time researching Peter Zumthar over the next few months.

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Engineering Temporality by Tuomas Tolvanen is a project that is about memory. The work is inspired by Tolvanen’s grandmother’s fight with Alzheimer’s disease. Watching his grandmother’s health deteriorate before his eyes he felt that the disease was vaporising her very core, leaving her as an empty shell of her former self.

Engineering Temporality aims to create a bridge between the metaphysical world – memory – and the material world.

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By covering family furniture with metal rings and

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destroying the original with fire, the memory is transformed onto the rings creating a metaphysical bond.

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The memory of the original is transferred to the new and it’s this action, this transference, that I need to investigate further.

So, those are some works I’ve been looking at in order to inform my own work. The most important generator for my project though, has to be the memories I collect.

Whilst I’ve been waiting for ethics approval to come through, so I can collect those memories, I’ve been putting together the story of the bridge and its surrounds.

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And like anybody’s story – the tale starts before the bridge was created.

There are eleven iwi (Ngati Maru (Hauraki), Ngati Paoa, Ngati Tamaoho, Ngati Tamatera, Ngati Te Ata, Ngati Wai, Ngati Whatua, Ngati Whatua o Orakei, Te Akitai Waiohua, Te Kawerau a Maki, Waikato) that have ties to the Manukau Harbour. (“TKM | Tamaki | Te Kahui Mangai.”

Hannah Alleyne - Workshop Presentation II_Page_23In the early 18th century, it was Te Waiohua that held most of the area you see here.

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In 1741 Te Taou took the area.

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The Manukau Harbour had been a place of sustenance, commerce, and transport for hundreds of years. Te To Waka, the portage route between Manukau and Tamaki River was the most frequently-used portage in New Zealand during this time. (Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu. “The Canoes of Tamaki.”

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Nga Puhi used the portage on their way to war in Waikato.

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The united Manukau iwi, Te Akitai, Te Taou, and Ngati Te Ata followed Nga Puhi north – and defeated them in 1832.

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Soon after, Te Wherewhero came from the south and gained control of huge areas of land, including all of the Manukau isthmus from Awhitu to Onehunga and beyond.

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It seems that once Te Wherowhero had control of this vast area he allowed the Manukau iwi to return to their land, while he took up permanent residence in Onehunga.

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Meanwhile, Te To Waka portage was still an important produce route.

Europeans began exploring the area around this time, exploiting the area’s timber resources, and establishing Onehunga as a colonial settlement with land being alienated from native title.

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Through all these changes, the beach at Onehunga continued to be a transport and trading hub

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and in 1858, when the wharf was built, over 500 waka were landing per year.

Traffic was increasing between Mangere and Onehunga. Waka, rowboats, and ferries were being used to cross the harbour. There are stories that local iwi may even have built a connection of stepping-stones that could be used at low tide.

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But a more permanent solution was needed, and in 1866 we see the conception of the first Mangere Bridge.

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Eight years later, the government authorised a timber construction.

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It was narrow and hazardous to cross during stormy weather and within two years the bridge’s supporting piles were under attack by shipworm.

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By 1910 more than 30 piles 

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had been replaced

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on the 20-pile bridge

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and by 1914 the bridge was declared unsafe.

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The second bridge, being built in the background here, was constructed in Ferro-concrete.

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The new bridge was opened in 1915. But, by 1927, the new bridge too was showing serious signs of wear.

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Traffic flow kept increasing and with the opening of the new Mangere Airport in 1966 it was decided that a motorway bridge needed to be constructed.

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Work began on the new bridge in 1974 but by late ‘76, industrial action brought the work to a complete stop.

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It’s just after this that the bridge’s story and my story converge.

When I was five, and my sister 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 sat in traffic jams on the Old Mangere Bridge, already over 60 years old, as it seemed to disintegrate beneath us.

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With 33,000 vehicles using the bridge per day, the bridge was deteriorating at a fast rate and in 1980 a Bailey bridge was constructed over the most deteriorated section.

As my father, my sister, and I, sat in the traffic jams, 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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Today, as the old bridge reaches its centenary the on-going maintenance costs have become unsustainable. The structural condition of the bridge is deteriorating rapidly and it’s believed that it won’t be able to provide safe access for more than another five years.

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The New Zealand Transport Agency, NZTA, completed community consultation last year and earlier this month tenders were received for the design and construction of a new pedestrian bridge.

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Construction of the replacement bridge will start later this year or early next year with plans to open the newest Mangere Bridge in 2015 – just in time for the old bridge’s centenary.

So, that’s the bridge’s story – where it came from and where it’s going. 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 mnemonic connection with our past and a connector of people.

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The Old Mangere Bridge connects the Mangere Bridge Township with Onehunga. It’s the quickest pedestrian route between the two centres and is also part of the Regional Walking and Cycling Network.

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Two local boards share a border right through the bridge, which only helps to emphasise how important the bridge is as a connector of communities.

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NZTA have produced a 73-page Community Engagement Report that very clearly outlines how people use the bridge currently and what’s important to them for the new bridge. And whilst it’s certainly worthwhile learning that people use the bridge more on the weekend than on weekdays and that people like the bridge mostly because it provides access, I’ve needed to sit with the bridge, and its history, to get a better understanding of its real importance.

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Like any spatial designer, drawing a space provides a better understanding of it. Each line put to paper creates a neural pathway that gives us a new understanding of a space and also serves as a tool to help retain the memory of it. With this method of meaning-making as part of my usual practice, I began a series of drawings inspired by an essay by Jeff Parks. In A Regard for Pristine Loveliness, from 2003, Parks shows how he set out to, not so much recreate, but recapture images taken by photographer Henry Wright in the 1890’s.

So, using historical images I sourced from Auckland Libraries, I set out to recapture them.

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I started with the first photograph of the area I could source. Taken around 1875 looking at Mangere Mountain from Onehunga. I first drew the historic image

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and then how the area appears now.

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I did the same with an image from 1913,

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once again using Mangere Mountain as my point of reference.

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Lastly, I used a photograph of the new motorway bridge being built in 1980

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and contrasted it with the motorway bridge as it stands today.

This exercise was harder than I imagined it would be. It was difficult to find the same point of capture.

What I did learn from this exploration was that my focus has to be on the Old Mangere Bridge itself. Whilst the area surrounding the bridge and how the bridge sits within its surroundings are important, it is the bridge itself that will be gone soon and so it is to the bridge that I need to turn.

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Thinking about the theory of how built structures project memories I decided to take my drawings a step further.

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Once again using both historical photographs and my own photographs, I printed the images onto acetate and projected them onto a large roll of paper.

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Here, the past is projected into the present. The drawings allow a way to blur the edges of time.

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The hatching of the sea and sky show them as reflections of one another – the only constant in this ever-changing environment.

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The darkness of one bridge illustrates what has already been destroyed.

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The negative space within the other images illustrates what will soon be lost.

And so, that’s how my project has progressed to this point.

Next – now that my ethics approval has come through, I’m going to start gathering oral histories from the people that use the bridge and from those that know the area.

Using a phenomenological research methodology, participants in my project will be asked to describe their own experiences and feelings of the bridge. The data collected from this research is 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.

Histories will be collected from local Iwi, community groups, neighbours, and historians as well as from people who use the old bridge for recreation. I’ll also collect short anecdotes about the bridge from people on the bridge.

It’s this information that will help me understand the bridge’s significance to the people that use it and what kind of spatial intervention will best serve to foster the memories of it.

I’ve been in contact with Auckland Libraries’ Heritage Librarians and in October they’re going to include me in some training on techniques for gathering oral histories. This means that my recordings will have to follow the National Oral History Association of New Zealand’s code of ethical and technical practice. But this also means that once completed, the histories will be held and catalogued within Auckland Libraries’ Special Collections.

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Alongside the memory collecting I’ll be undertaking materials testing both in studio and on site. Looking at the precedents I mentioned earlier, and using materials found on and around the bridge, like concrete, steel-tubing, rebar, or maybe even materials used for fishing, I’ll investigate how different materials react to the environment.

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What effects are produced when wind or water moves through space within an object? How do different materials change the effect? Does the affect change the material? How quickly do different environmental conditions effect or erode the materials?

Part of my project is to document the end of the Old Mangere Bridge. I’ll continue drawing and trying different methods. William Kentridge’s process looks attractive – the way he removes layers to produce an image. The taking away seems fitting and something I’d like to investigate further.

Next month, I’ll be taking a research trip to Christchurch to look at the ways that the locals are trying to retain their memories after so many losses.

It’s an exciting time in my project. I feel like it’s just starting. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the story unfold.

Thank you.

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