Sad news today – Megan Wraight has died. She had been fighting cancer for some time. Megan, a tough
Aussie Kiwi battler and Wellington’s best Landscape designer – heck, I’m going to say New Zealand’s best, even Australasia’s best – she gave the dreaded big C a hard fight, just as she gave everything a hard fight along the way. She’s going to be hugely missed.
Megan and her practice Wraight Associates have transformed large chunks of New Zealand over the years. While I think of her as a Wellington Landscape Architect, Wraight’s have tackled projects in Auckland, Manukau, Christchurch, Rotorua, Singapore, Oz, and many more: mostly though, she is known (by me anyway) for her great work in Wellington. She’s the brains behind Waitangi Park, Pukeahu Park, Cobblestone Park, parts of the Wellington Waterfront Walk (in conjunction with Aths), like the Jumping Platform and the Taranaki Wharf works. Unlike some Landscape Architects she was not one for soft, gentle curves – she liked a bloody big chamfered angle in raw concrete, and her characteristic slash and slice have made her legacy clear. Her work is Bold. She does concrete with Verve and Power. Her attention to detail is intense.
Megan’s work with concrete, trees, gravel and grass has, to a certain extent, come to characterise Wellington itself. We’re not a wussy little city – she was not a wussy designer. Big and bold like the platforms of Pukeahu Park, stepping down off from the marching parade ground outside the War Memorial. The bold curve of Waitangi Park, with a curving stream of water and the diagonal slice of the Graving Dock, now recast as a reed-filled duck sanctuary, with abstracted lumps and chunks that children loved to jump across from. I remember when the reeds were carefully planted into the Graving Dock when Waitangi Park was established, and some boring old fart wrote complaining to the newspaper that the reeds would soon go rotten and it would stink and fill up with rubbish: the reed beds have been a huge success and are an integral part of what makes Waitangi Park great.
Possibly her one mistake was to try and champion the dreaded Basin Bridge – trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear in my humble opinion. You win some and you lose some – I’m sure there are many more schemes that did not make it, but that would have been the more high profile scheme. I think she knew she was onto a losing wicket when the official response to the Bridge was to try and disguise it with a 10m high vine planted on the side of a building – never a good look. I’m hoping instead that Megan and the great team at Wraights have managed to design a better solution that is sitting in a drawer at the office, ready to be rolled out when LGWM finally pull their finger out and decide to resolve the Basin without the Bridge.
But enough of that – I want to celebrate her life and her achievements instead. Probably someone from Athfield’s would be better placed to write this instead of me – not sure if they read the Fish, as they never comment here – but I really love her attention to detail. She not only mastered the big bold moves, but the small subtle ones as well: imprints in the concrete of leaves from nearby trees, that have left their mark in the concrete as a delicate tracery of leaf veins, almost too subtle to see – you’ll know what I mean if you have seen then.
Raw juxtaposition of materials – big brassy bolts and chunky logs of timber, carefully honed and crafted into well-behaved seating and changes in levels. Loved your work Megan. RIP.
Good to see that the Dominion Post has published an article on Megan Wraight:
““Megan was very committed to making a positive contribution to [Wellington] city … [she] responded to the particulars of place, people and culture.” Wraight’s legacy would live on in the spaces she created and in the connections she had made with people, Hardwick-Smith said. Simon Morton, Wraight’s family friend of three decades and neighbour, said she represented a unique, visionary voice in a country of pragmatists. She was an early advocate of public space and was an artist at heart, he said.
Wraight is survived by her husband, Paul, and daughter Wawe.”
While all landscape designers would assert that they respond to the site they are presented with, I can’t think of one more likely to be misunderstood and misrepresented than the bomb site at the north-east end of the Wellington waterfront in 2005. A dead flat waterline demolition area huddling in the face of a 260-days-a-year northerly, was calling out for a whole lot of beautifying and sheltering. I’m sure many designers would have done a good job of that. Luckily Wraight et al got the job and gave the place what it really needed.
Waitangi Park has the kind of hard, desolate loveliness which is so right for the site – and for the city.
Dear Levi (and Starkive)
Thank you for writing so warmly of Megan and her really significant contribution to our City, and in particular to its public places.
She has left us (too soon) but with an enduring legacy, especially, but by no means only, in the creation of our Waterfront.
You have covered all of those projects with which I am most familiar – Waitangi Park, Odlins Plaza, Dive platform cut out, and the re-modelling of Whairepo lagoon, Cobblestone Park, and Pukeahu National War Memorial Park. She was also responsible for the Cenotaph area re-modelling.
We Wellingtonians enjoy, and benefit from Megan’s creativity and skill every day.
I’d like to extend my sympathies through your site – and will also do so more directly – to all her colleagues, friends and especially Megan’s partner Paul and daughter Wawe.
Very best wishes
Mayor of Wellington
Thanks Starkive – and thanks too to Mayor Foster. I’m not sure if Nicole and the team at Wraight Assoc read the Fish, but hopefully someone can pass the comments along.
Starkive’s comment that: “Waitangi Park has the kind of hard, desolate loveliness which is so right for the site – and for the city.” is one that I find interesting. Remembering back to what it once was – a City Council incinerator and dump / city works department for storing tractors and lawnmowers etc – leaves me to believe that the Council ultimately did do exactly the right thing in creating Waitangi Park. In itself, the creation of Waitangi Park was one of the more extraordinary events I’ve ever been involved in, shortly after I returned to this country. Thousands of people protesting, a public vote for a giant tuatara sculpture and a Koru planning principle, thrown out by Council-appointed advisors who instead recommended the Athfield / Wraight partnership. The large open space that has arisen by the outcome – and the heavily planted / sculpted / played with border that skirts the park and divides off the walkers from the skaters and those relaxing from those doing more active activities. Looks so simple and so obvious now – only desolate on the most sunless of days Starkive – but she had a hard-fought battle to get it there and looking so good. Thanks again Megan.
The other part you might recall is that the layout of Waitangi Park is not actually what was originally proposed. There were four layouts with different building configurations. The original preferred option was for the Herd St Post Office to be moved to roughly the southern end of the graving dock, and be complemented by buildings along Cable Street. That would have opened the park to the sea – more sun, but also more exposed to the northerly wind.
That plan got reversed to the building layout we see now when it was deemed that the ground under the graving dock was not able to support the Herd St Post Office. Instead of letting the HSPO go and still doing any building development along Cable St, the option was changed to the building arrangement we have today, with the HSPO on the northern edge of the Park. The HSPO was subsequently heritage listed though there was considerable argument on either side about the merits of doing that.
Nice words but one big correction needed. Megan was most certainly not an Aussie Battler. Battler yes, but born in Rangiora, raised in Hawkes Bay and every bit a proud Wellingtonian.
Stu – thank for that correction. Wow, I got that wrong – I’ll go correct that now. I always found her accent quite strong – must be the Rangiora in the up-bringing?
There’s a fantastic obituary on Stuff today – perhaps in the Dom Post also – by Andre Chumko, entitled: “Megan Wraight wove Papatūānuku into public space”
it starts off:
“Megan Mary Wraight, landscape architect; b December 12, 1961; d August 31, 2020
When Megan Wraight first started dabbling in gardening in the 1980s, she put an ad in The Press: “Garden getting out of hand? I’d love to help you with it!”
She explained at the time to her friend, artist Maryrose Crook, that it was non-threatening, so people wouldn’t expect an expert, but would instead feel a friend was coming to help out.
That playful disarming, which Crook described as one of the secrets to Wraight’s genius, drew like-minded people towards her. A collaborator at heart, when people speak about Wraight, they mention her desire to create, and love of people.”
“Born in 1961 in Rangiora, Wraight grew up there, and later in rural Havelock North, then in Motueka. As a child, the middle of five, she was interested in horse riding, and had no fear even of difficult, fiery horses. Her bedroom wall was covered in prize ribbons. Her mother Anna, an artist, bred ponies, while her father Michael was a plant scientist. Tim Wraight, her elder brother, describes her as having inherited both of their qualities. They were outdoors children, and had a free-range lifestyle. Anna and Michael trusted them to look after themselves. There was time on the farm, building forts, sliding down hills, exploring. They would walk a couple of miles to school each day. Anna would always tell her children that if they were going to do something, to do it properly or not bother at all. Wraight was always a good organiser, and threw the best birthday parties. She would make them as memorable as possible, and invite many people. She was loyal to the family. Leaving home at 16, Wraight travelled to the United Kingdom in her early 20s, where her brother Tim was already living. She got into landscaping around London, but returned home when her mother fell sick.”