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New Ground - Pacific Island Maritime Museum and Hull Tank Testing Facility

Part 2 Project 2003
Bernard Wind
Leah Hogan
University of Auckland Auckland New Zealand
This project seeks to erode the iconic myths that bind Pacific Island material culture to artefacts suspended in museums - artefacts that affirm a ‘primitive’ state. Museums with traditional Pacific artefacts provide an interface for Pacific culture - A period of culture that receded with the arrival of the European in the Pacific. However rescued, traded and stolen trophies of Pacific culture today have become pivotal items of cultural identity. Creating an iconography that suspends Pacific material culture in another time. This architecture seeks to interrogate that iconography of a “Pacific look”.

By reviewing the way we look at Pacific ‘canoes’ in terms of its structural relationships, instead of as a primitive hull shape Pacific Maritime vessels would provide a rich source for the development of architecture. Having said that, the dynamic forces that traditional Pacific Island vessels such as a ‘Proa’ (a double-ended outrigger canoe) under-go provide an equally rich source of study. On the Internet a Google search of proa uncovers multitudes of sites that locate the modern advancement of such design everywhere but the Pacific. The traditional inheritors have instead museum artefacts or “curiosities”.

The intention of my project is to locate a body of knowledge, a ‘place’ of Pacific Island maritime culture in Aotearoa/New Zealand. In particular, in Auckland because it supports a high number of Pacific Islanders and has a world-class boat design culture (evident in the 2002 America’s Cup).

The building is in essentially three parts:
1. A maritime museum of Pacific Island vessels;
2. A transitional zone where lines from traditional vessels are converted into 1:20 scaled models for tank testing;
3. A tank-testing facility to study the flow dynamics of primarily Pacific Island vessels.

The site of the project is a closed silting portage at Ngataringa Bay — the western side of the Narrow Neck portage near Devonport on Auckland's North Shore (New Zealand). The location was once a way the ancient Maori and early Europeans used to bypass the 2-3 knot current that courses around North Head and the Rangitoto Channel. The closure of the portage by a man-made land bridge to what was then an island, accelerated silting, a process enhanced by further man-made and natural devices over the last 140 years. It is a process of reclamation from the sea.

This project uses an old Dutch groin construction system that, with time, builds up a ‘new ground’. But does not pierce the ground, instead uses stacked timber retaining wall system supported by concrete moorings. The new ground slowly grows to provide the foundation for the hull tank testing facility. The ground is monitored and built upon each year. These moorings rest on a sub-surface reef of sandstone. Once the system has reached the high tide mark the wind-blown pipi shells and sand unique to certain wind angles of this site raise the ‘new ground’ level to equal the existing reclaimed site conditions.

The new ground establishes its relationship in a very slow manner, and may take a generation (20 years) to establish. Upon establishment the groin is excavated and a 500mm thick cast-insitu concrete tank 120 meters long and 5 meters wide forms the dead weight to support the carbon fibre superstructure above using traditional Pacific Island bindings at the column supports.
The new ground and building has no ‘fixity’ — it is subject to the tide and an environmental and social condition of the site, thus the construction floats on borrowed ground, and speaks of the migrant condition of Pacific Islanders in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The slow construction process of the new ground and the building is an attempt to establish a slow build up of the relationship with the social and physical landscape.

The building is analogous to the relationship Pacific Island peoples have with the primary polarities of Aotearoa/New Zealand. On one side of the polarity is the ancestral relationship that Pacific Islanders have with the Aotearoa Maori (indigenous peoples), but without the same rights to the land. Thus Pacific Islanders are as any other migrant group. On the other side are representatives of the British Crown who have put in place the devices that provide entry to New Zealand for Pacific Islanders. So for Pacific Islanders there is entry but no grounding in terms of the ‘Tangata Whenua’(people of the land). The design is informed by this unstable relationship. Physically, it uses the hydrostatic forces of the accumulation of the new ground to hold the building in place, thus it is susceptible to the tide and environmental conditions.

The construction above ground is informed by the details of Pacific Island vessels, structures that rely on weaving, sewing or binding. The ‘fixed joint’ of the main columns supports the lightweight carbon fibre super-structure above the water tank. It is wrapped using traditional methods that reflect the ornament as structural and as the ‘loads’ require. The structure is thus a model of the building’s incident forces.

The museum entry occurs via a semi subterranean concrete vault, which has been buried under a landscaped bank which slowly tapers to the building extremity. The ground opens along the main circulation which arcs around to the Tank Testing facility. that is located on the ‘new ground’. The Museum requires the occupant to turn 135 degrees, and programmatically head backwards into the display spaces. The relationship with testing facility turns the structure of the building upside down. Transforming the floor-plates into large curving glu-lam beams and then suspending them as a floating light timber framing roof, tied to stacked timber construction.

At this extremity the woven Carbon Fibre shell is docked, the location of 'new ground' - research and development of Pacific maritime culture. It floats on woven column structure – that is lashed with traditional bindings to the concrete water tank. The vaults connecting the museum to the research facility set up the relationship that reflects the site conditions and the function of the building. The vaults are conceived as flow eddies — volumes of space in which the content serve as the subject of the study which indicate the rate of laminar flow around materials of different densities and composition.

Bernard Wind
Leah Hogan

the emotional city : resisting the generic

In his essay “The Emotional City” p13 Quaderns 228 Adam Caruso writes: -

“Rather than attempting to conceptualise urbanism as a whole, a critical architecture can emerge by ignoring the big and the general and working with the minute and highly specific. Architecture should be sensitive to those emotional qualities that define the city: melancholy, expectancy, pathos, hope. If we accept that architecture is about altering and extending what is already there, we can engage the powerful presence of the real so that the aura of urbanity is amplified and extended in the place that we are working. The complexity and interconnectedness of the city is sustained by instances of profound invention’

In developing their own projects, students were asked to reflect on this strategy. Potential sites to be considered for their projects were the historic main portages and waterways of Auckland’s Tamaki Isthmus.

As recent immigrants, the Pacific Island community have no ground to claim as their own. In a utopian leap of faith Bernard’s project demands the establishment of its own site and the making literally over time of its own foundation. Subversively located on the edge of Naval defence land on the inner Tamaki harbour of Auckland his museum for the exhibition of Pacific Island vessels with adjacent tank testing facilities for maritime research, offers the city of Auckland a compellingly elegant building. The projects aesthetic and technological strengths reflect the author’s passionate engagement with the dynamic tectonic forces of Pacific maritime culture and architecture.

Does a reading of the project moored in its final form confirm that an architecture unique to the Pacific is a possibility, or is it, like the mirage of a South Sea island, a seduction we can only idealize? Bernard’s project is underpinned by an alternate reality, a ‘migrant’ architecture that appropriates western techniques (i.e. the Dutch groyne system), Pacific skills and technologies.

Nick Stanish

Ms Elizabeth Shotton
• Page Hits: 3355         • Entry Date: 12 September 2003         • Last Update: 12 September 2003