A riverside public space project in Auckland sees a flood zone become a fresh landscape for neighbourhood use that expresses Maori culture and delivers greater community value.
Stepping stones and stream crossings are found along the length of Te Auaunga. Image Sarah Collins/Boffa Miskell
Te Auaunga (previously Oakley Creek) is an Auckland Council Healthy Waters project that remedies flooding for over 200 homes in central Auckland. Under the guidance of Mana Whenua and the local community, the project has developed from a flood-reduction project into a regionally significant river park, providing a network of shared pathways and pedestrian bridges, along two kilometres of the restored stream. New outdoor spaces provide extensive opportunities for natural play and nga aro takaro (traditional Māori play), which interpret the newly restored environments and the embedded cultural narratives of the site.
The multi-cultural fale is a popular meeting spot for locals. Image Sarah Collins/Boffa Miskell
“The restoration of an historic wetland from a concrete channel has greatly enhanced the recreation opportunities in this neighbourhood”, says Tom Mansell, project manager for Auckland Council. ”The project team have delivered a large-scale open space that significantly improves the quality of life for this community.”
The design team of Boffa Miskell (Design Lead and Landscape Architects), AECOM New Zealand (Engineers), and Harko Brown (Maori play specialist) worked closely with community representatives, and iwi partners to deliver the project.
The restoration and daylighting of Te Auaunga provided flood control and ecological benefits, along with improved open space and recreation opportunities. Image Kerttu Ots/Boffa Miskell
During the design process, the project team also met with local schools, and invited children to discuss what they thought about nature and the outdoors, and how they liked to play in those environments. The children’s responses included the joy of climbing trees, stepping on stones in the river, adventuring, exploring, and building huts.
“We set out to deliver play spaces that evoke wild places and natural environments, with plenty of opportunities for exploration,” says Mark Lewis, the project design lead for Boffa Miskell. “These playful areas, beside the restored stream, under islands of trees, and within the wetland environments of an outdoor classroom, offer children a unique experience to engage with their restored environment, to get dirty, and enliven their imagination.”
Lending a hand to balance across the hikeke
Mana Whenua suggested traditional Māori play could compliment these natural play areas. Ngā aro tākaro were selected specifically for the project to interpret the restored environments and cultural narratives for the site. These elements were interspersed throughout the site, and constructed from ancient swamp kauri, unearthed on another construction project; fallen logs from the project itself, and up-cycled jarrah power poles. Mara hupara specialist Harko Brown conducted lessons at four neighbouring schools, culminating in schools designing their own mara hupara elements that were also installed at the site.
A local family use boardwalks, kauri stumps, and rocks to move between the outdoor classroom and community fale areas. Image Boffa Miskell
Alongside the mara hupara, a BMX pump track was integrated into existing landforms and beneath mature trees to entice kids from the neighbourhood into the natural playspaces. New shared paths and pedestrian bridges link to existing path networks, and informal connections are offered for exploration, such as stepping stones, logs across streams, boardwalks to outdoor classrooms, and mulched paths within forests.
In one of the larger open space areas, the local community sought a heart for the finished reserve. Mana Whenua saw this as an opportunity to offer manaakitanga, as a place to welcome, nourish, and restore the local community. M+H Architects worked with artist Filipe Tohi and the community to design a multicultural fale and atea space. Filipe Tohi developed lalava (binding) as a defining element. The ‘manu’ (bird) pattern expressed in the rafters of the fale is a strong symbol for many cultures, with associations of navigation, the natural world, education, and aspiration. As this narrative developed, it was reinterpreted into seating and tables, boardwalk patterning, and even within the ‘rumble strips’ of the paths.
Local community members get to know each other and Te Whangai workers on volunteer planting days. Image Boffa Miskell
Along with improvements to the stream and reserves, the project has sought to create social benefits for the community. The 100,000 project plants were grown in a community nursery on the grounds of Mount Roskill Intermediate school, operated by Te Whangai Trust, who employ disadvantaged youth and long-term unemployed from the community. The nursery is incorporated into the school syllabus and ‘seconds’ from the nursery go toward other community projects. The head contractor for the construction of the project, Fulton-Hogan additionally offered apprenticeships on a work-to-employment scheme.
Tom Mansell (Auckland Council project manager) and Mark Lewis (Project Design Lead, Boffa Miskell) sit top-left, with the rest of the project team during a celebration day
Te Auaunga project exemplifies the power of collaboration on open space developments, in order to achieve meaningful impacts for local communities. The success of the project has been recognised with multiple Awards from Recreation Aotearoa; the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architecture, and the Engineering Institute of New Zealand. Most importantly the project has become an extraordinary source of pride for the neighbourhoods of Puketapapa, Mt Roskill and Owairaka, Mt Albert.
Kopapa connect mara hupara elements across wetland environments, allowing children to explore the different environments of the stream. Image Jay Farnworth/Boffa Miskell