Text description provided by the architects. Dubbed a project of “national significance” by our government, the New Zealand Transport Agency’s Waterview Connection was conceptualised to improve Auckland’s transport network.
Opening up the Western Ring and airport routes with two, 2.5-kilometre parallel tunnels, it provides a safer, less-congested and more time-efficient alternative to complex drives around suburbia. Passing through some of Auckland’s most densely-populated neighbourhoods, there was no doubt that the Connection was needed – but as the largest infrastructure project undertaken in the country to date, local views and ancestral Māori ties to land were of paramount concern.
The six-year process, which involved more than 10,000 people, began after consulting what project architect Tom Locke calls “the true experts” – the local community. Fortnightly design sessions discussed plans with community representatives to discover geological ties, cultural connections and shared histories. The motorway and public realm were seen as distinctly separate identities by the community, with the design developed to reflect each environment’s focus. Described by a local magazine as “a model of how to consult and carry on”, the project unconventionally sought to put people, not cars, at the project’s heart.
The Waterview Connection sought to do what its name implied – to preserve local connections. Bridging the communities of Mount Roskill and Mount Albert over the new highway, the Te Whitinga pedestrian bridge referenced the arcs of surrounding volcanoes over a wetland area lush with green public spaces, waterways and a habitat for native birds. Finishing on dark volcanic basalt legs, the bridge’s form added to Waterview’s iconic, volcanic landscape in three sweeping curves.
The tunnel offered another opportunity to link to place - the birthplace of 48 active and dormant volcanoes. Headlined by a portal glowing with diffused golden light, the tunnel referenced Auckland’s history as a volcanic eruption site through striated basalt walling, simulating the experience of moving through its once-surging lava. Formed to mirror the early Māori horticultural tools that built our first networks, the obsidian Pou at the tunnel’s entrance also represented a head, the Māori symbol of strength and guidance for travel. At the Southern Entrance, collaborations with Māori tribes Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and Te Kawerau a Maki created two concrete artworks depicting Hinemairangi and Tamareia, two folklore heroes who escaped into a lava tube to avoid capture.
The project’s strongest supporters and harshest critics, the Waterview community challenged our team to reverse Auckland’s infrastructure model, to deliver to Aucklanders without taking away. Local councillor Margi Watson summed up the community engagement process thus:
“It ensured that there were opportunities to challenge design, look for better outcomes, seek community input and deliver a construction project that is both complex and built with respect to the surrounding environment and community.”
Waterview Connection was originally an urban infrastructure project with transport-related goals. Through community engagement, research and consultation with Māori, we have seized the opportunity to discover, preserve and enhance our communities and environment at the same time.