The vision for Pukeahu as a landscape is one that evokes, supports and hosts commemoration. This has come to fruition through landscape architect Megan Wraight and architect John Hardwick-Smith.
Working together as the joint venture company Wraight Athfield Landscape and Architecture, their team won the Stage 2 Memorial Park Competition in 2007 and have since then successfully turned their winning plan into reality.
Key principles of the design were to create a landscape for memorial that ‘evokes, supports and hosts commemoration’.
The plan was developed by using the site’s topography as a starting point, with the carillion as a focus on top of the hill and the former crèche building creating a bookend at the eastern entrance. Between are the terraces running up to the hill where spaces for memorials have been created.
The terrace spaces are an important link to the past as this is where Māori developed their gardens for the pa site on the hill above. As well the spaces have been created so they can be used on a daily basis by people visiting the park and also on a larger scale for commemorative events.
Moving through the spaces easily was also vital to the overall design. Essentially ‘rooms’ for reflection they were designed with no one entrance or exit so people can move from one to another in an explorative way.
Walls contain and support the terraces as they step up towards the central ceremonial space in front of the carillion. Edges provide steps, seats, and walls to define movement and frame future memorials.
The tunnel is formed from folded down terrace walls. People driving through the tunnel catch glimpses of trees, the carillion and the two new gateway pavilions via the steps in the wall between the terraces, engaging them with the park from their vehicles.
The pavilions at the main gateways in Tory and Taranaki Streets provide shelter and a place to become orientated from street to park. The inverted wing canopies gesture toward the carillion, guiding movement into the park. Their copper roofs are in keeping with the roof structures of the carillion and museum buildings and textured totara eaves and columns beneath reflect the craft and patterns of the pacific.
With the city boulevards of Taranaki Street and Cambridge Terrace joining the eastern and western flanks, Pukeahu will be a place for people to walk and cycle through as well as take time out for their own reflection about war, peace and sacrifice. Lawns for sitting, relaxing, picnicking and playing are also part of the overall plan.
Pukeahu also connects well with the city by providing a new space at the southern end of the capital with views out to the harbour and beyond. The Australian war memorial, the first to be built, provides a new foreground to the city vista as seen from the steps to the National War Memorial.
Planting the park, which can be hit by both the southerly and the dominating northerly wind, has been a challenge. This has taken shape with natives, including Pohutukawa, northern Rata and Kowhai planted on the eastern flank and imported species, such as Chinese elms, olives and a single Gallipoli pine on the western flank.
The focus for the central area has been on two events with red tussock and flax lily mixed with red carpet roses flowering during autumn chosen for Anzac celebrations and white flowering rengarenga lilies and Chatham island forget-me-nots chosen for Armistice Day in spring.
Around the lawn terraces tussocks, ferns, New Zealand iris, hebe, low manuka and creeping fuchsia are amongst the chosen plants. An orchard of hardy heritage fruit trees – apple, pear and plum, has been planted as a tribute to Mother Aubert besides the former crèche building
Flexibility on the plantings means countries, with the agreement of Wellington City Council, will be able to bring in plant species to complement their own war memorials.
Megan, John and their teams have worked hard to create a park which will be as current in 50 and 100 years’ time as it is today.
“A key challenge has been to shape a space that supports and reflects commemoration, while also creating a great robust urban space for everyday use, that can develop and grow with the city around it,” says John.
Both agree that the seven-year journey from concept to creation has been some while, however working in partnership with the combined design team has ensured the essential elements of the design and the integrity of the project have remained in focus.
“We can all now see the vision formed – the permanence of Pukeahu and what it will mean as a national war memorial, making it a very special place for all New Zealanders,” says Megan Wraight.
Read more details about the landscaping in the official opening ceremonial booklet.
In September 2015, Pukeahu's two Pavilions won the NZ Indigenous and Specialty Timber Award at the 2015 NZ Wood Resene Timber Design Awards.
In May 2016 at the New Zealand Architecture Awards 2016 for Wellington, the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park received a public architecture award and the sole planning and urban design award. The judges described the work completed in conjunction with Wraight Athfield Landscape +Architecture as “this comprehensive and brilliantly realised piece of city stitching manages to be very clear and quietly dramatic in its sculptural and landscaping intent without being pompous or overbearing”.
At the April 2017 New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects annual awards, Pukeahu won the George Malcolm Award – the supreme category – and also took out the Parks’ prize. The judges described Pukeahu as "a complex, multilayered design has been executed with a clarity of vision, confidence, and restraint; the park offers much to the people of, and visitors to, Wellington. The reverent Pukeahu is a place of utmost value to all New Zealanders".
Updated on 14th November 2019