IFLA Congress 2013 – Auckland NZ

IFLA 2013 World Congress took place in Auckland, 10th – 12th April.   A number of the TCL team were able to attend the conference and our musings are recorded below.

Field Trips

As part of the IFLA 2013 conference, delegates were given a chance to participate in a range of field trips. Some had an urban focus, some were culturally focused, and some were focused on ecology.

Tiritiri Matangi – Kate Dekok

The field trip to Tiritiri Matangi focused on landscape and ecological restoration and conservation through planting and predator eradication.

Tiritiri Matangi 01

The island of Tiritiri Matangi had suffered through 120 years of vegetation clearing for farming, until in 1984 a program of revegetation was undertaken. In the space of ten years volunteers planted upwards of 280,000 trees and eradicated all mammalian predators from the island, allowing native birds to be re-established on the island in safety. The simplicity of the revegetation effort was inspiring. Mike Cole, the Landscape Architect on the project, put in place a plan to plant trees to provide strategically placed perches for birds to sit and deposit seeds they had ingested to further propagate the forest. The trees planted by volunteers were propagated from the trees already on the island, maximising their chance of survival in the familiar environment and utilising resources already available. This understanding and use of natural systems has seen the island’s ecosystems flourish, and the reintroduced bird species are recovering, so much so that some bird populations from Tiritiri Matangi are being translocated to other sanctuaries around the area to re-establish their populations.

Tiritiri Matangi 03

Tiritiri Matangi is an inspiring experience, which proves the effectiveness of knowing and utilising the systems that you’re working within, and highlights the potential of grass roots regeneration projects.


Adventures of Rangitoto Island – Alex Lock

rangitotoThis tour took me to the youngest dormant volcano in Auckland’s volcanic fields. Rangitoto Island got its name from the Māori meaning ‘Bloody sky’ referring to the ‘the days of the bleeding of Tama-te-kapua,’ a Māori chief, & the wounds he received during a battle. It now boasts upon Auckland’s skyline as a great iconic gesture & a reminder of the beautiful yet potentially tenuous landscape.

The volcanic landscape supports over 200 species of moss, plants and trees including the largest Pohutukawa forest in the world nestled into the lava crops finding advantageous crevices to capture the water as there are no natural waterways on the island and therefore they must rely on rain events alone.

The Islands’ unique geological, natural and cultural attributes mean it has undergone a colourful history pertinent to both European and Māori influence and it now rests with great significance to New Zealand’s recognition of place.


Gibbs Farm Nicky McNamara

The IFLA field trip to Gibbs Farm was an exciting opportunity to see some internationally significant, large scale sculpture.  When visiting a sculpture park like this I expected something like Heide Gallery in Melbourne, Louisiana in Denmark or Storm King in New York. Gibbs farm is different, it is a private sculpture park owned by Alan Gibbs wealthy business man who develops amphibious military machinery.

The site is 1000 acres and employs 40 staff. Our guide was Garth Falconer, director at Reset Urban Design; who has been involved in the project for the last 20 years. Initially he would design and document circulation networks, earthworks and planting schemes but every couple of years the client inspired by a recent trip abroad would have a change of mind resulting in rapid and dramatic changes involving large scale earthworks and replacing large numbers of trees, so now Garth just meets with Gibbs twice a year to discuss future ideas.


We could see signs or these sudden changes and different ideas across the site. It was a kind of pastoral landscape with perfectly mown grassed rolling topography and awkwardly placed copses of trees that seemed dwarfed by the grounds.

The sculptures sit very boldly in the site. Gibbs asked the artists to do produce their biggest work for his collection, something they hadn’t done before. Though the artworks themselves were amazing there didn’t seem to be a strong relationship between them, the character, physicality of the site or its broader context. There was little sense of journey, revealing, unfolding or narrative. I should say that I started to appreciate the quirky fun nature of the place and a couple of works did consider site. One being the 10 million dollar Richard Serra which runs 30 metres long, 6 metres above and 6 metres below the ground and was built in a German ship yard. It followed a single contour wrapping, dipping and folding into the sculpted ground. (In saying that, it would have been impossible to have a Richard Serra which would not respond site.)

The other was the Andy Goldsworthy stone arches that set off into the shallow mangrove waters and let the rise and fall of tide mark its sides. However again these works did not have a relationship to other works, vegetation or fit into a story of the site as a whole.

As a group of landscape architects we struggled with 2 things; The first being that such a significant collection of sculpture could be essentially private, only opening to the public once a month with a 6 month waiting list.  Secondly that the space and works could have come together in a manner that is not lead by spatial experience or strictly adhering to a masterplan.

Ending our 4 hour walking tour feeding giraffes from the farm which contains zebras, emu’s, sheep, yaks and an elk, should not have come as a surprise. It only enhanced the bizarre sense that you are in the back yard of an extravagant man who likes sculpture.  The wonderful thing about a private collection is that you are invited to experience the personality of the collector. Alan Gibbs owns these artworks and land, so he can do whatever pleases him. Can’t he?



Alex Calder  – Jen Lynch

Alex Calder (University of Auckland) discussed the conflicting narratives of improvement and ruination evoked by the “pioneer,” a figure Kiwis often use to express their centuries-long relationship with the New Zealand landscape and the sense of degradation that is implicitly coupled with progress. In Herbert Guthrie-Smith’s Tutira, a 400-page record of minute alterations to the landscape of a sheep station over time, Calder identifies a model for the “pioneer” that escapes this progress/ruin binary—sleeping sheep and the landscape that emerges in their wake.


Guthrie-Smith writes, “If this volume has a value, it is because of its insistence on the cumulative effects of trivialities.” Guthrie-Smith and Calder both argue that the transformation of New Zealand’s landscape has taken place slowly over time through the repetition of inconsequential actions. For Calder, the sleeping preferences of sheep described by Guthrie-Smith best illustrates this phenomenon. As sheep burrow into the ground nightly to sleep, they form microtopographic patterns across the landscape. The interaction of this microtopography with climate dynamics results in a gradual transformation of the countryside. The sheep, as pioneers, are “streams of tendency,” not the blazing torch of manifest destiny; the plants that take root in the sheeps’ wake are just as much “pioneers,” opportunistically colonizing the changed landscape and influencing the movements of the sheep in turn.

By scaling to the micro, everyday, and multiple narratives of the sheep station, Calder finds an interactivity that defies binaries (nature/culture, progress/ruin). This raises several questions in relation to landscape architectural practice—about the value in shifting focus towards longer-term maintenance and management of landscapes, in applying ideas like emergence and resilience to a smaller scale, in rethinking the expression of cultural identity through designed and vernacular landscapes, and in exploring a typology that involves an embodied, long-term engagement with a landscape that is slowly and consciously nurtured as it, by nature, changes—the garden.


Thomas Woltz – Lisa Howard

Thomas Woltz, of Nelson Byrd Woltz (NBW), presented on Hybrid Vigor: Beauty, Performance and Resilience in the work of NBW.

Woltz gave a very entertaining presentation on the work he has been doing in America, and more locally in New Zealand.  The projects he presented varied in scale from detailed winery landscapes, to large urban parks, to vast farmlands in New Zealand.  The way the work was presented, the designs appeared to have a simplicity of detail creating enticing and picturesque project images.

Woltz spoke about the Citygarden project in St Louis, a town desperately needing revitalisation. The Gateway Foundation supported the development of a free, public sculpture park in the heart of the city, where NBW worked with a team of designers to transform the heart of the city.  “The design derives from the cultural and natural histories of St. Louis and its environs”.


By contrast, Orongo Station in Poverty Bay is  a 3000 acre sheep farm.  Woltz spoke about the importance of working with ecologists on projects of this magnitude and ecological sensitivity.  The site was culturally and historically rich, and NBW worked with different environmental mechanisms to reveal and restore the site.  The team set up structured burnings of plots, to allow a regeneration of the local plant species that existed in the meadows; they relocated a lizard to the site returning it to its natural habitat; and planted over 600,000 trees to restore the coastline to the pre-Maori ecology.   Away from the sensitive coastline, a more detailed and designed landscape approach was taken to the house surrounds.  For me the project had an inspiring balance between ecological restoration, and formal designed landscapes.  http://www.nbwla.com/

The combination of ecological processes and design was inspiring.  In Australia these elements still appear to be disparate. Landscape Architects have the opportunity to combine the processes and when they do, it seems that richer and more intricate designs are created.


Parallel Indigenous Session – Anne-Marie Pisani

The session involved initially listening from various speakers who are well regarded in their various fields of study and work, talk about their indigenous perspective and connection to their land(scape).

The session started with the first speaker speaking purely in Maori for what seemed to be at least 10 minutes. (I understand that Maori people are given as long as they like to give you their introduction in language.) Imagine the cultural strength that this would give the Australian Indigenous community – what a different (and much richer) country we would all live in.


Listening to the Maori spoken language for an extended time seemed to immerse you into their culture, and as a first time visitor to New Zealand I felt like I was being lead on a spiritual journey. Although I didn’t understand a word of it, I was able to feel the spiritual connection that the speaker had with their culture, their land and their people. We were later informed that most of what is spoken in Maori as an introduction is to inform others about the land that they identify with, which helps keep the culture strong through the generations. Interestingly, Indigenous Australians identify themselves in respect to their family first and country second.

The second session involved talks, questions and discussions about understanding indigenous landscape concepts in the context of the challenges that the Maori community, culture, and also the discipline of landscape architecture faces in New Zealand in the current times. The various questions raised in this second session made me realise, that as strong as the Maori culture is in New Zealand, there is still uncertainty about the most appropriate methods of consulting and working with the Maori people.  This made me think – if there is this local uncertainly (even from within our industry) in collaborating with the Maori culture which appears to be very strong to a first time visitor – then how is this collaboration/consultation understood and worked through with our own Indigenous Australians? Maybe we too as an industry have a lot more questions that have yet to be raised or addressed.

The end of the session was concluded with a sung prayer, that was strongly joined in by all the speakers and audience participants who knew it, with such gusto and pride. I think the Australians in the audience were taken a little by surprise  – if this session was held in Australia – what would be the percentage of the audience joining in with singing our National anthem or a holy prayer? I am guessing a much lower percentage. Where is our pride in the culture of our land?


Michael Pawlyn – Simone Bliss

Michael Pawlyn established Exploration in 2007. He is an Architect interested in the role of bio- mimicry as a design tool.

Throughout his lecture titled ‘bio-mimicry in Architecture’ he argued that if we can learn to create architectural environments the way nature does, we will improve on the use of our resources and energy use.

He discussed three key principles as the role of positive sustainability:

  • Radical increases in resource efficiency
  • Creating closed loop systems throughout the design process rather than a linear system
  • Changing from a fossil fuel economy to a solar economy.

Throughout his presentation, Michael referred to nature as a catalogue of products, thousands of years of research that we can apply to any design brief. Nature is a proven precedent, it’s a magnitude of information spans the micro scale to the macro. Similarities between natural forms such as a snail and the universe show us how these natural systems can be morphed and warped into a site of any given scale.

Namib desert beetle in Sossuvlei

Michael discussed in detail a project called the Eden project, located in Cornwall, England. Here, they take inspiration from soap bubbles to inform the buildings surface while pollen grains and carbon molecules helped to create a structural integral and breathable building.

Super-efficient roof systems based on the form of water lilies, water collection systems stemming from the shape of a desert beetles’ shell and water conservation models aided by the camels carefully articulated nasal system were all examples put forward of natural forms influencing built outcomes.

In mature ecosystems an important bio-mimicry process is symbiotic clusters. Michael discussed a greenhouse located in the UAE where they have been successfully able to remediate the deserts soil conditions and create new growth. Solar tracking panels trap solar energy while salt water collects on the roof. The salt is removed from the water to allow its use for irrigation. Calcium carbonate (found in salt water during its crystallising state) is collected and turned into building blocks that in turn capture Carbon dioxide within the air, a fine example of a closed loop system.

Michael’s key principle is that studying nature is fundamental to our search for sustainability. Sustainability should not be talked about in a negative sense, instead, it is a tool to excite and enjoy this period of innovation. At the conclusion of his presentation, Michael was asked by an IFLA attendee “why aren’t you king of the world?” I too would ask the same thing.

Further reading:



Adrian McGregor – Elly Russell

Adrian McGregor (McGregor Coxall, Sydney) approached the conference topic at a refreshingly macro scale, interrogating the profession of landscape architecture vis-a-vis global environmental and social changes. Research conducted by McGregor Coxall’s design research engine, the BioCity Studio, provided analysis and speculation about the intersection of these large-scale issues with the profession, and the firm’s work illustrated an engagement with these ideas at a site scale. However, the connection between research and larger scale design proposals has not yet been made.

McGregor’s talk, entitled “Biomimicry,” addressed global concerns like population growth, peak oil, and the need to embrace renewable resources, arguing for a change in scope to a larger landscape scale. He illustrated this challenge with a local case study, citing the ever-expanding boundary of western Sydney. He made a strong call for planners to take a greater responsibility in controlling urban boundary growth, increasing housing densities, and retaining this fertile land for food production. Despite the strong argument for thinking and operating at this macro-scale, the role of the landscape architect in this manner was not clearly identified.

Ballast Point Park, McGregor Coxall Landscape Architects

In a different thread of the talk, McGregor discussed the importance of landscape architecture at the intersection of culture, design, and ecology, citing a selection of the office’s award winning designs: the Caltex lubricant production facility known as Ballast Point and BP Park, both post industrial park conversions. The role these projects play in providing public amenity within the urban environment of Sydney was clearly conveyed but the connection between the concept of Biomimcry and these selected projects was not drawn.

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