Undoubtedly a place that still enjoys a link to its early colonisation by Croatians and those from Victorian Britain, today Oratia could arguably be viewed as a bridging point, both physically and metaphorically, between many disparate entities; east and west Auckland, urban and rural, historical colonial and modern multicultural, C19th Europe and C21st Pacific – the crossing point between a modern city and a wilderness.
In terms of physicality, on one side the site borders Auckland’s western suburbs and the other side plunges almost straight away into rain forest and Piha. So which wins? Or, perhaps more prosaically, how do we meld the two? A central tenet of contemporary placemaking is arguably the bottom up approach of involving and consulting the local people, who, unsurprisingly in the case of Oratia have expressed a multitude of sometimes conflicting needs and desires.
As Joan Clos i Matheu stated “the value of the public good affects the value of the private good” and in the case of Oratia Reserve the narrative is arguably even more complex. Oratia Reserve is a public space but it’s more intimate than that, it’s a very local public space, it doesn’t necessarily belong to Auckland as a whole. There needs to be consideration given to an inner Oratia and outer Oratia within the space and the two elements need to be constructed to complement each other, to compete but not to dominate each other. Auckland needs to be kept at bay to some extent, or at least kept under control in order to allow some of the bucolic charm to remain. The same can be said of the Waitakere Ranges; we can’t deny the relevance of Oratia’s urban fringe location in favour of an idealised notion of untamed forest or coast taking precedence over human need. The reserve must have seating; it must have the apparatus of human presence, food, warmth, shade, comfort, community. It must accommodate activity in all seasons.
If we can approach a site like Oratia armed with a comprehensive understanding of the experience and memory of the site and of the people linked to it, we will continue to act imperfectly but hopefully with a broader and deeper sense of responsibility to process and drive placemaking in a responsible, sustainable way that doesn’t simply add a veneer of design to a place but which makes a genuine attempt to get under skin of the site and of the community in a positive and meaningful way. The idea of placemaking is still used as a tool that reflects how we view ourselves as a society and a culture. It can still be a reflection of contemporary and to some extent mainstream social ideology because that is in itself a reflection of what we collectively hold dear and true as a society; our shared experience. To consider any site such as Oratia from the point of view of memory or shared experience “raises issues and questions that are not merely architectural but also moral, ethical, and philosophical” and requires the design approach to be centred around “unveiling—uncovering as well as anchoring—histories and memories”.