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 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 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.