Behind the stories of the diverse and dynamic life of Karangahape Road, sits Auckland Museum’s new acquisition: a bench.

Curator, Applied Arts & Design Grace Lai explores how the stories of this bench encapsulate why public furniture is so important for supporting community spaces.

Karangahape Road has seen many faces, changing over the years to meet community needs and changing council plans. In June, the street saw the completion of its latest facelift.

The Karangahape Road Enhancement project was the joint effect of Auckland Council and Auckland Transport (AT) to create a street environment that supported the local community while meeting the needs of a growing population.1 Footpaths were expanded to create more space for people and cycleways were added to better connect and enable public transport. Improved lighting and new street furniture were added alongside new artworks to usher in a new-look.

The arrival of the new saw the decommissioning of the old – including a beloved bench designed by Humphrey Ikin that has now found another home in the collection.


The Karangahape Road Enhancement project resulted in the decommissioning of the beloved bench.


The universal appeal of public furniture

For most, public benches are temporary rest stops, yet for some, public furniture offers more than just seating, they can be much more meaningful sites of shelter, some may even call it home.

Magaret Hoffman, “Magaret of ‘K’ Rd”, was a common fixture on Karangahape Road for over three decades, found sitting at her favourite bench outside of St Kevin’s Arcade.2 Although not homeless, Hoffman “lived” on the bench, arriving each day at 9AM and leaving at 5PM, where she would smoke, drink and beg. Along with others, she was part of the rich and colourful history of the community, just like the bench she sat on.

Well-designed public furniture can enhance the quality of life for the public, from fostering better relationships between communities and institutions to influencing well-being by creating a healthier and more inclusive space.

When the development of urban spaces is considered, public furniture can be designed with a strong visual identity and become universally loved. For instance, the iconic red telephone boxes in Britain are viewed as an emblem for the nation, in the same way Ikin’s bench is a beloved icon of Karangahape Road.


Life and times of a Karangahape Road bench

Commissioned by Auckland Council in early 2000, Ikin’s benches responded to the gritty live music and street scene of Karangahape Road at that time.3 Designed to enable and encourage conversations and interactions, the benches were conceived as modular pieces, convex and concaved curves, that enabled various combinations including a wave formation or full outward or inward circles.

The wave design was ultimately chosen and the benches were placed outside underground grunge bars where live independent and experimental music flourishes and where people gather to hang out and the benches debut as a platform for music performances.


The Ikin bench donated by Auckland Council to Auckland Museum features a painting by Abigail Aroha Jensen.


The Ikin bench donated by Auckland Council to Auckland Museum features a painting by Abigail Aroha Jensen. The painting speaks to Jensen’s connection to Karangahape, a place that has offered her many opportunities and important relationships, and the histories she uncovered of the place.4

In an Instagram post about the painting of the bench, Jensen mentioned that her work was dedicated to those with tired feet, a reference that is both contemporary and historic. Predating European settlement, Karanghape Road was part of a walking route used by Māori to reach the Manukau Harbour known as Te Ara O Karangahape – The Path of Karangahape.5 The name itself has multiple meanings and references; of it being a major walking route for over six hundred years, to the place where the great chief Hape called out a karanga or greeting to people and many more.

Jensen’s painting celebrates the land and history her work sits upon, an act of remembrance that the artist hopes passersby will contemplate for themselves.

No matter the developments, my hope is that we continue to honour the whakapapa of Karangahape. We need to know what was to know what is to be.

Abigail Aroha Jensen, 2021.

The Harunga project

Jensen was one of the ten artists who collectively painted seven of Ikin’s benches and matching bins, with each work reflecting the cultural diversity of cultures, histories and people of Karangahape Road as part of the Harunga project that rose out from Karangahape Road Identity Project (KRIP). The project rose out of a conversation in 2015 at the Karangahape Road Business Association (KBA) as an archive to collate a range of research and engagements to capture the essence and complex histories of Karangahape Road.6

There were various activations, including photographic portrait documentation by Serena Stevenson, Stjohn Milgrew and Laura Frost. One of the engagements was Hurunga, which directly responded to the Karangahape Road Street Enhancement project's target to repaint the street furniture on the street. KBA saw this as an opportunity to involve the precinct’s creative community and with the support of Auckland Council engaged Momoko Burgess and Ahalia-Mei Ta’ala who conceived the project as a public platform for emerging artists to express stories important to Karangahape communities.

The multiple uses and changes to Ikin’s bench exemplify how public furniture can take on a life after its design and become embedded within the space and community it is situated within. As Ikin states, it’s the nature of public furniture, it has to be ready for anything.7 Thus, the bench collected is not just a bench, it is an object made through considered design, served multiple functions and holds stories of the diverse and dynamic life of Karangahape Road, from music to culture and community.


1. Our Auckland. “Celebrating the revamped Karanghape Road.” 23 June 2021.

2. New Zealand: History and Natural History, Facebook. “Margaret of ‘K’ Road.” 17 Feburary 2017.

3. Ikin designed the benches, but not the accompanying bins, which were added.

4. Private correspondence with Abigail Aroha Jensen, February 2021.

5. Karangahape Road, “What’s in A Name?”

6. Karangahape Road Identity Project, "Individuals Together"

7. Private correspondence with Humphrey Ikin, February 2021.


First background image and header: Humphrey Ikin, Bench Seat, concrete metal steel, c. 2000;  AWMM 2021.4.1, 934996.
Second background image: Preparing the bench to be stored in the collection.




Grace Lai is an Applied Arts and Design Curator at Auckland Museum. In this role, she works to curate, develop and care for the Applied Arts and Design collection.

Click here to learn more about Grace.