Beautiful logic

October 12, 2015

Within the book ‘Vernacular’, which I worked on with David Straight, it was important to us that we record objects that are both old and new, as the subject that consumed our attention (forms that arise from everyday life) concerns a sensibility, not an era. It is not a eulogy for how good things once were (that would relegate it to the hinterland of nostalgia), but a celebration of what happens when people make things in response to straightforward needs or their own particular context – a process that is always at play within our landscapes.

For some time, I have admired the methods of construction employed on many built features of one of New Zealand’s most frequented walking tracks, at Hooker Valley, where a range of solutions (both old and new) have been formulated to provide access to upper reaches of the valley. One of the most recently constructed elements at Hooker Valley is a beautiful bridge (pictured below, and above right) that displays particularly high levels of craftsmanship – exemplified by the chamfer on the wedge-shaped block (shown above on the right), as well as the rebated surface on the timber to provide a flush finish where the L-shaped rail bracket is joined.

Its timber and metal components have been assembled in an honest manner that exposes the structure and basic functional requirements of the bridge. The elegant, considered mode of construction elevates prosaic details, like the galvanised steel bolts and plates pictured below, into distinctive aesthetic elements.

The photograph below shows a different means of attaching a steel rail to a now-defunct bridge that was situated halfway up the valley. This comparatively ‘low-tech’ method was perfectly fit for its purpose, and stood the test of time on a previous incarnation of a crossing point that spanned the stream halfway up the valley.

The bridge that has taken its place has been positioned slightly further down the valley, to direct walkers away from an interesting rock face that used to be one of the botanical high points of a walk up the valley. It has a less elaborate (and presumably significantly less expensive) nature than the more substantial lower bridge (that has already been described further up in this journal entry), but is also worthy of observation for the relationships between its constituent parts (such as the various steel modules and fixings utilised on its sides, as shown below, left).

A path skirting the base of the aforementioned rock face (leading to the erstwhile bridge) was bound by simple metal pipe-and-wire fences to prevent walkers falling off the precipitous ledge to the stream below. For me, much of the appeal of these barriers is in the way in which the metal pipe has been bent to replicate the lie of the land, forming a dynamic, snaking line that reciprocates the organic nature of the cliff above.