Modos hero landscape
Counterweighted model arrangement. Scale 1:100, timber balusters, timber moulding, wallpaper, MDF, paint, acrylic, concrete, steel, thread, stocking, polymer, plaster, 2400x1050x1000mm.

An estimated 15,000 houses disappeared from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland during the 1960s and 70s, each forcibly acquired by the New Zealand Government and demolished to make space for Auckland’s central motorway junction. Over the following decades, the motorway proceeded to erase its own destructive past from Auckland’s collective memory, exacerbating the violence it once caused through its historical indifference. Today this history is virtually invisible, concealed by a disorientating knot of placeless roads and tunnels. Yet, from beneath the traffic and asphalt, the spectre of what was lost continues to haunt the city.

Through a series of creatively-led experiments in haunting, Under Asphalt seeks to invoke the spectres of Auckland’s lost houses. Uncovered in this process is a darkness that shadows both the colonial domestic and the motorway’s infrastructure alike. In a speculative architectural proposal for an archive to house Salmond Reed Architects’ historic wallpaper collection, and a pedestrian bridge accessing the forested island at the centre of Grafton Gully’s motorway interchange, this darkness is opened up and illuminated. Within it, a space for re-narrativising the past and contesting the future is created.

Under Asphalt attempts to recreate a place within the absence of one, in doing so, proposing, by its own example, a methodology, or architectural practice, named spectral urbanism. Central to this practice is a form of architectural renovation in which space is negotiated through the stories we tell and retell about places. In a city that has overlooked and erased much of its history, such an inquiry is critical to understanding the forces that have shaped, and continue to shape, Auckland and indeed, Aotearoa New Zealand.

This thesis examines Auckland’s lost houses and the motorway that destroyed them, asking how we can do justice to the violence that occurred. In answering this question, this thesis seeks to restore a sense of time and place to the site of the motorway junction, and in doing so, reconstruct narratives of its past. Uncovered in this research is not the sensational David and Goliath story of house versus motorway that I expected to find, but rather a more nuanced and multi-faceted history leading to broader conversations around colonisation and the domestic. In particular, this thesis discovers the shared colonial values implicit in both the motorway and the Victorian villas that it destroyed, values that are detectable down to the motorway’s original masterplan document and the villas’ wallpaper.

This thesis explores and interprets the past through a research-based creative practice, reintroducing it to the present in various forms. Considering the material absence of the history recovered, this process has been conceptualised as a method of generating or invoking hauntings— situations where the spectres of the past condition the present.



In terms of methods, this research has been led by creative experiments in casting, print-making, installation, photography and model-making. These experiments have been both intuitively driven and responsive to architectural writing, critical theory, written histories, and precedents from film, fine arts and architecture. In this way, I have consciously set up a process whereby scholarly knowledge and creative processes have been engaged through feedback loops, each continuously, if uncertainly, giving rise to the other. Although stemming from various disciplines, the sources consulted in this process all share a deep preoccupation with the effects of time’s passage and the recovery of forgotten places.

Around the midway point in this research, I learnt of Salmond Reed Architects’ heritage wallpaper collection; a resource used to assist with historic building alterations and accurately date changes to the built environment. Despite its historical significance and pedagogical potential, the wallpaper collection is inadequately stored, stacked in two cardboard boxes and kept dry by the 24-hour humidity-stabilising operation of Salmond Reed’s adjacent computer server. Salmond Reed have stated that they aim to secure a more appropriate storage facility for the collection, although this was in 2010, so the project has presumably gone cold. Prompted by this unrealised idea, it was at this point that I set out to design a historic wallpaper archive facility, fulfilling Salmond Reed Architects’ requirements, albeit speculatively.


Finished Product

This research culminates in an architectural proposal for a historic wallpaper archive facility and pedestrian bridge accessing the forested island at the centre of Grafton Gully’s motorway interchange. The proposed architecture sites itself within the Symonds Street Cemetery and the adjoining Grafton Gully bush encircling the cemetery’s limits. Together, the proposed wallpaper archive facility and pedestrian bridge comprise in plan an open circle, and a tangent. The wallpaper archive is a concrete volume embedded beyond the lower reaches of the cemetery, beneath the Grafton Bridge; the pedestrian bridge is a timber and steel structure that projects outwards from the wallpaper archive, circling beneath the Grafton Bridge and above the motorway, before reversing at a tangent back towards the motorway island. Together they demarcate a territory of absence: Auckland’s Bermuda Triangle.

The motorway island is a contradictory place: on one hand, it has been isolated from occupation for decades, and has consequently grown into an untouched pseudo-Eden, perhaps not dissimilar to the site’s pre-colonial condition. On the other hand, it is continuously surrounded by traffic, noise and exhaust fumes—a far cry from any idea of paradise. What visitors do on the motorway island is difficult to say. In a physical sense, the island can be appreciated as a memorial garden of wild native bush and a public reoccupation of a gully claimed by infrastructure. In this way, the architecture could be understood as an interpretive frame for the landscape. However, the journey to the motorway island can also be understood as being temporal and cognitive, as well as spatial. It is a journey both backwards and forwards in time, arriving at a spectral realm where the past is collectively remembered and the future contested.


Critic's Text

Tom’s project responds to the echoes and ghosts arising from earlier city places. Acutely attuned to the densely inhabited substratum of past others underpinning contemporary city life, Tom argues for, and enacts, a richer grasp of urban place he calls “spectral urbanism”. Working out how such an urbanism might operate and what it can potentiate, his project is centred on Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’s Grafton Gully, an inner city valley that housed what was once amongst a ring of working class suburbs encircling the colonial town. Cleared of housing in the 1960s and 1970s for the Central Motorway Junction, a concrete, spaghetti-like complex intended to shuttle commuting workers and shoppers from the CBD to newly formed, and often times distant dormitory suburbs, the Gully in particular remains a place for a different kind of distancing—the removal from awareness of the communities whose lives and dwellings were forcibly displaced. Working with the notion that inhabiting place isn’t just a territorial or spatial condition, but must be grasped in depth via temporal awareness, Tom imagines here a bridge crossing the Gully—itself a persistent need demonstrated historically—but one whose crossing stops short of any completion to the ‘other side’. Instead, the crossing lands midway at an extruded facsimile of an actual villa long since removed, a figure whose ‘subfloor’ permits access down to the uninhabited yet naturally regenerating motorway island. The bridge itself, curved in the manner of a vehicular turning circle, and detailed in section like a villa verandah, finds its leaping off point over the Gully in the lower reaches of the city’s earliest colonial cemetery. There a partly submerged archive is conceived of as housing a fledgling historical wallpaper collection started by conservation specialists, Salmond Reed Architects. These three armatures—the villa-tower, the curved verandah bridge, and the submerged archive—set in play devices for carrying the echoes of past inhabitation, all the while tiptoeing over starkly polluting transport conduits whose insistent noise all but drowns out anything but the immediate concerns of those on the move. Transported otherwise though, what Tom’s spectral intervention impresses is just how complex temporal inhabitation can be. Working with casting, photography, drawing and model making, his spectral intervention also leans on the tropes and the visual language of another time-centric medium—that of moving images. Underpinned by an awareness of the psychical ghosting films and TV by David Lynch makes visible, the temporally complex composition of La Jetée (1962) by Chris Marker, and the paradoxical polluting/transcending spatiality of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), Tom shows just how free-ranging the spectral can be, with place awareness infused with broadly circulating echoes of cultural and creative injunctions. Spectral urbanism then, a fledgling enterprise, stands as antidote to the all to readily closed imperatives of ‘conservation’, and its utterly stupefying other—spectral ignorance.

-Andrew Douglas, supervisor