Cultural Influence

WORDS Alistair Newsome

IMAGES Alistair Newsome & Luke Veldhuizen
Kingsland Design Competition Submission 2014



Exchange can both bring us together and push us apart. An exchange of ideas, opinions and beliefs is central to most human dialogue and landscape analysis creates potential for both effective exchange and change. Design process, consultation initiatives, business and commerce, law making and legislation all meet.
Culture shapes ideas and vice versa so when different ideas and values meet, as with any exchange it can be immensely difficult to achieve consensus. In relation to landscape, effective exchange is crucial to increasing our understanding of and ability to deal with issues that affect us collectively and individually. This exchange process exists in the ownership models and interpretation of public and private space, in politics and legislation, in treaty settlements and in day to day usage of our shared living spaces.

What seems clear, however, is that what we each define as our culture is exchanged and interwoven every time we engage in landscape dialogue. What we may commonly agree is collective culture exists in different ways for all of us. Our social constructs seem on the surface to be the subject of consensus and agreement yet when we attempt to break this down to a specific public space or forum for discussion we quickly find that the interpretation of that collective vision is far from easy to agree upon. The challenge to landscape architects is to bring together and articulate these exchanges of culture and ideas into something that resonates across cultures, in effect to guide that exchange process in order to successfully implement strategies.

To take contemporary cultural influence on landscape as an example, New Zealand has benefited exponentially from the closing of the gap in terms of perceived distance from dominant cultural centres, often European or North American, and from the reduction in time taken to disseminate information and ideas. The way in which dominant twentieth century cultural themes were previously absorbed by New Zealand, in terms of art, literature, architecture and politics was often by way of looking in from (literally) afar.

Now the way in which information and culture influence New Zealand’s consciousness, (unthinkable two generations ago), provides a new platform onto which we can instantly project ideas and facilitate exchange. The sheer volume of information available for us to attach to ourselves as individuals or to what we define as our societal norms has been and still is overwhelming. This brings with it a different set of potential problems in terms of how to make sense of all the competing information, it is therefore how effectively we make sense of and harness that exchange of information within New Zealand’s landscape dialogue that is now a key issue.

That information, however, is held differently by people of different ages, religious and ethnic backgrounds. In terms of New Zealand’s cultural exchanges, not only must we carefully consider design methodology, legal or legislative precedents but into the mix also goes a healthy and necessary debate around how different value systems can work together. New arrivals will bring another set of ideas and cultural beliefs, not to mention new languages, to our communities and therefore landscape.

How can we cater for this influx of people from all over the globe predicted to make New Zealand and Auckland their home whilst hearing the voices of those who have been here for hundreds of years?  The answer to this issue perhaps lies in our understanding of how exchange of culture defines our past, present and future relationship with landscape.

Inside any culture there must also be internal dialogue; there must be exchange within culture not just between cultures. Indeed, dominant cultural ideas can be problematic, why should they dominate when surely what we seek is consensus?

Our cultural identities help define us as people and so explicitly affect our relationship with our immediate environment and also our vision for implementing wider landscape changes or policies as professionals. In positions of influence, how do our individual cultural backgrounds shape and define the way we view the management of landscape going forward? There is no easy answer; it is more a process, one of analysis, interpretation and consultation.

To take a recent competition to design a park for Kingsland as an example, the ability to gather and interpret cultural exchange was a central part of the process. One part of that exchange needed to focus not only present day demographics and needs but also cultural heritage dating back to New Zealand’s earliest human settlement in order to create something with a true sense of identity and belonging within the community.

The recent history of the Kingsland’s last 130 odd years needed to be understood, but so did the very formation of the earth on which it stands, the volcanic tunnels that flowed through the area after the eruption of Mt Albert and Mt Eden (Ōwairaka and Maungawhau) and how humans now hold that history or mana whenua within them was crucial in the design process.

We can look at the past and the present but these are also intertwined with future proofing the site in terms of trying to also interpret Kingsland anticipated influx of new arrivals from more diverse cultures and nations. How we as designers were able to interpret that story was instrumental to our ability to then articulate that in a meaningful way.  Our shared cultural ideas influenced the landscape because it influenced us as individuals and allowed us to put that knowledge back into it.