Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Under the Volcano

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posted on 2023-07-10, 01:48 authored by Mackessack, Louis

Sites of disaster are often associated with tales of loss, embedded with a rich sense of place identity, which can contribute to the polyvocal narratives of a site. These stories, often only available as fragments of greater tales, form the historical identity of a site, and engaging with them can allow visitors to gain a more profound appreciation for the events that occurred. Architecture can play an important role in safeguarding Aotearoa’s heritage stories for generations to come.

The site for this allegorical project is Whakaari / White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano. Located 48km off the coast of Te Ika-a-Māui / North Island in Te Moana-a-Toi / Bay of Plenty, the island used to be a significant tourist site until a fatal eruption occurred 9th of December 2019. Twenty-two tourists werekilled, embedding within the site a great sense of loss and a new sense of place identity, not only for those immediately impacted but for the wider public as well. This thesis proposes using the volcano’s rich historical identity to explore how architecture can convey and safeguard fragmented stories of loss.

The allegorical architectural framework for this investigation is generated from the literary narrative framework of Malcolm Lowry’s classic novel Under the Volcano. Within the tale, a towering volcano acts as a constant backdrop for the story of the main character’s final 12 hours before he dies. The volcano symbolises mankind’s vulnerability and the power of the natural forces that ultimately lead to our fate. Using Lowry’s novel as a literary provocateur, this thesis investigates how allegorical narrative can be conveyed using speculative architectural drawings, in ways that can safeguard and re-present the tale of Whakaari / White Island so that it will be remembered by future generations to come.

This thesis explores how an allegorical architecture project can preserve such a fragmented story through speculative architecture, taking on the program of a research facility, a memorial and a timepiece. Using an assimilation of layering and fragmentation, temporality, and memory, the design-led research investigation examines how stories of loss embedded within a site might be reawakened and preserved as a rich polyvocal narrative.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

280104 Expanding knowledge in built environment and design

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

4 Experimental research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Wellington School of Architecture


Brown, Daniel