Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Hand of the Engraver

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posted on 2021-12-09, 01:05 authored by Western, Ryan

The manner in which we dwell leaves scars upon the landscape. These scars are often left behind long after occupancy ceases. Countless derelict landscapes across New Zealand bear these scars left by human occupancy, but many are too advanced for remediation. Rather than removing scars, this thesis proposes allowing future generations to witness these scarred landscapes so that their intrinsic stories can provide important lessons for the future, while helping to provide unexpected new approaches to the revitalisation of these sites. Quartz Reef Point in Central Otago has been selected as the site for this design-led research investigation; it is an abandoned strip mine that appears so violated, that it has lost all apparent means of restoration or reuse. This design-led research project proposes that by building upon these scars, rather than ignoring or hiding them, these scars can be reinterpreted as lessons for the future that can help enable future generations to learn from past mistakes. The damage at Quartz Reef Point strip mine has been caused by ‘scratching’ the surface of the site so severely that natural systems have suffered inexorable damage. In the art of engraving, the surface of a copper plate is also deeply scratched––and the resulting ‘damage’ to the plate allows a story to unfold. This design research investigation looks at how the art of engraving can be applied to architectural design processes in ways that help tell the story of severely damaged sites such as Quartz Reef Point. Hans-Jörg Rheinberger’s book The Hand of the Engraver: Albert Flocon Meets Gaston Bachelard is used to establish a framework for this investigation. In this book, the architectural engraver, Albert Flocon, shares dialogues with the architectural philosopher, Gaston Bachelard––two distinct points of view about storytelling. The thesis proposes that when these two points of view are integrated with the voice of the architectural designer, the thesis author, new approaches for meaningful architectural interventions can be discovered to help bring the story of Quartz Reef Point to life for future generations. Using Hans-Jörg Rheinberger’s book The Hand of the Engraver as a generative starting point, the thesis investigation asks the research question: how can the engraver, the philosopher and the architectural designer be brought together to explore new ways of looking at scarred landscapes that not only reinvigorate them, but offer their tales as important lessons for the future? This investigation proposes that architecture can engage scars on the landscape in narrative ways that enhance visitors’ awareness about the site and its tragic history. Jerome Bruner, senior research fellow at New York University, outlines a framework that he argues is necessary to advance a successful fictional narrative. Architectural heritage theorist Jennifer Hill discusses how retaining visible scars in the built environment can offer insights into how the ongoing transformations of a site contribute actively to the narrative of place. Environmental psychologist Jonathan Sime argues that contextual elements of derelict sites, in combination with a fictional narrative, can culminate in an enhanced ‘sense of place’ through unexpected architectural responses. This thesis proposes to integrate the theoretical arguments of Jerome Bruner, Jennifer Hill, and Jonathan Sime in a design-led research approach to the reinvigoration of severely scarred landscapes. In the thesis investigation, architectural elements and environmental scars are conceptualised as overlapping, each line advising the other. In this way, the thesis looks to communicate contextual narratives in a way that not only revitalises place identity, but also enables us to fully engage a site’s heritage and learn from past mistakes.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Wellington School of Architecture


Brown, Daniel