Theory of the Non-Sentimental

Alex Luiten



This design aims to recognise the sentimental connotations of the site. A strong east to west axis connects the site to the wider context. This resonates as a counterpoint between Colin McCahon’s connection to landscape, his approach to how it is represented visually, and Geoff Park’s writing on landscape as theatre. Interventions are fluid, experimental andreliant on how the space may change over time.

Installation of sculptural frames serve as a lens and a gateway, seeking to question how we view landscape personally and historically. 

Colin McCahon changed how landscape within New Zealand was represented. Where we once only saw pastoral, colonial scenes, McCahon described how a connection to a personal landscape could be created over time and space, a spiritual connection that became part of his identity as well as his work. His work was dark and provocative, its content became what surrounded him;

 “I am not painting protest pictures. I am painting about what is still there and what I can see before the sky turns black with soot and the sea becomes a slowly heaving rubbish tip. I am painting what we have got now and will never get again. This is one shape or form, has been the subject of my painting for a very long time.” (1)  

This idea of presence in the moment served as a cornerstone idea in my design which was further developed when I went to Smiths bush in the middle of suburban Auckland and experienced the feeling and mood of a deep dark landscape, with a cathedral of Kahikatea overhead and the richness and smell of decaying plant matter under foot. This created the tone of my design, represented by the rich brown hue that has been used.

Geoff Park’s writing on the New Zealand Landscape and how it is experienced as theatre is both insightful and relevant, Oratia sits as a gateway between the urban and the rural. Is this landscape something to be looked at and photographed or is it to explored and experienced? 

Landscape discourse seems overly focused with the idea of the sentimental. The notion that by providing a connection with the space by implementing a scaled installation on the site of some memorable moments of the past somehow provides resonance within the design, seems like a disconnected starting point. This design sees that approach as a barrier. Instead it inherently understands the connotations associated with the site instead of being a framework it becomes the vernacular, the accepted.

The main focus is on visual and memory connections within the site. View shafts connect to the wider context and are enhanced by the installation of seven sculptural apertures that resemble a frame or a gateway, questioning how we view landscape personally and historically. The site encourages people to explore through their own interaction rather than be led into a preconceived moment. 

Vegetation on site exists in swathes with no exclusivity to native or exotic. A grid of native Kauri and Rimu is composed adjacent to exotic grasses, allowing the site to naturalise into a unique form that will develop and change over time. Growth and reseeding will have an entropic cyclic effect that will adjust to the conditions. Hydrology on site is of major importance and consideration of planting along the stream side to promote long term health is one of the designs key points.


(1) P, Ward. (2009) Colin McCahon The Luminary. Retrieved from