Lava field, Auckland

Collaboration was the starting point for this project within a central Auckland suburb. Our clients (one of whom, Mike Davis, is an architect and academic) had already discussed their landscape design at length before introducing us to the design process.

Subsequent negotiations over dark beer and expensive cheese helped to further develop the direction that Mike had established in preliminary drawings, as well as determining a ‘landscape logic’ for the synthesis of overall layout, built structure and vegetation.

The vigorous aesthetic that characterises the design was already in place when we discussed Mike’s initial scheme, and the fundamentals that he set up – solid geometry formed from cast concrete & sheets of stone – steered us towards the logic of the lava field. The result is a poetic form of anti-suburbia, in which our intention was to make something more akin to an environment than a conventional garden.

This environment contains a number of species historically recorded from a significant lavafield remnant 8km to the south of this property, at Southdown – including Coprosma crassifolia, which was first recorded (in terms of Western Science) along the margins of the Manukau Harbour at Southdown.

The design for the pivot gate and fence that face on to the street was entirely Mike’s work. This consists of hollow fence panels of reinforcing mesh clamped between uprights formed from standard metal sections – an elegant composition that elevates prosaic materials.

Conversations about the path that leads from the entry stairs to the front door were resolved in the most direct manner, when we proposed to Mike that we treat this as a cross-section through the lavafield. For this, we simply photographed the manner in which we had arranged the stone apron running down from the street (bearing in mind the difference between the surface and the mid-point of a cross-section), and bluestone paving was cut to the resulting composition.

We have somewhat of an obsession with the critically endangered Bartlett’s rātā at O2 Landscapes, based on its plight within the wild (which requires wider attention), attractive appearance and some unusual precedents for its potential in cultivation.

In this case, we proposed the development of aerial roots over the surface of the lava field, in a similar vein to how pōhutukawa send out octopus-like roots over banks and rocky ground. This is facilitated by an apron of tapering recycled timber boards that establishes a multitude of linear ‘tracks’ for water to run along (and which roots follow).

Boundaries are blurred by pulsing fields of shrubland inhabited by Corokia cotoneaster (which was also historically recorded at Southdown), Coprosma parviflora (a striking northern shrub whose southern limit was in Remuera) and an epiphyte, Pittosporum cornifolium, that also occurs on rupestral habitats.

Aside from the contrast offered by its bright, pale green foliage (against the subdued tones of smaller-leaved shrubs), Pittosporum cornifolium produces copious quantities of chocolate-scented flowers in spring (as shown below, left). Other species with comparatively vibrant tones, such as tawapou (Planchonella costata), Griselinia lucida (a significant component of lavafields) and Metrosideros perforata (pictured below, right) also contribute to bringing a sense of depth (and immersion) to the garden.

Which all means that future negotiations over dark beer and expensive cheese can take place in the midst of an environment that feels larger than its finite bounds.