Wetland Square, Market Pier: Rethinking Heritage in the New Zealand Regional Landscape
This thesis addresses the rapid environmental degradation and socioeconomic decline to which many of New Zealand's lowland regions have succumbed. In the last 150 years, it is estimated that 90% of the country’s indigenous wetlands and swamp forests have been drained and converted to farming pastures and low-density urban sprawl. This thesis critiques existing settlement patterns, investigating innovative urban forms that work dually to reactivate the wetland environments while increasing population density to levels required for public systems to function sustainably and vitally. These objectives are explored using design-led research, investigating a site-specific scenario in Kāpiti, Wellington region. The design project identifies a squared-off suburban conservation wetland, transforming it into a new Wetland Square: a civic heart of the region’s natural and cultural heritage with reference to the town square urban type. A Market Pier extends from the urban edge of the town square towards the central lagoon. This architectural intervention connects the new urban centre with the wider agricultural activity of Kāpiti while reinstating the historic functions and cultural significance of the wetlands which indigenous Māori historically navigated by canoe in search of food and resources. The research rethinks land conservation practice in New Zealand’s settled regional landscapes. It advocates that conservation efforts should expand beyond current land protection measures to also consider conserving the historic relationship between early settlers and natural systems. The thesis stresses architecture’s responsibility to reconcile urban and ecological systems, with emphasis on celebrating the rich social and cultural heritage associated with New Zealand’s natural heritage to ensure environmental and community resilience in the regional landscape.