Design Competition to Replace Hook of Maui

23 September 2009

A competition will be rerun to design a gateway sculpture for the northern entrance to Wellington City following the decision by Wellington City Council and the Wellington Sculpture Trust not to pursue the Hook of Maui and Receding Waters.

The sculpture, a collaboration by Claude Hidber, Taika Waititi and landscape architects Wraight & Associates, was selected by the Wellington Sculpture Trust following a call for proposals in 2004. It was due to be completed in June next year.

Wellington City Council has since found that there are two major barriers to the completion of the sculpture. First, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has said that the laser - an integral part of the sculpture's design - is a hazard for aircraft. Second, the sculpture's projected cost has far exceeded the budget.

The Council's Project Manager, Geoffrey Snedden, says the CAA was not concerned with the idea of a laser in 2005, but having now seen the detailed design plans had determined that the laser would be a hazard to aircraft.

"There have been increased laser strikes on planes in the past few years around Wellington," says Geoffrey. "So understandably, this has led the aircraft industry in general to be more wary of the use of lasers and to caution organisations like us against locating one on the flight path to the Airport."

Council officers, the Wellington Sculpture Trust and the artists explored ways to lessen the risk, such as reducing the laser's radiance, replacing it with a lit rod or giving the Airport's air traffic controllers the ability to switch the laser off as necessary. However, the Airways Corporation, the artist and the Sculpture Trust have agreed none of these solutions have proved feasible.

Megan Wraight says the laser is a key element of the sculpture. "Without it, the hook becomes just an object - it loses a poetic and a transcendent element," she says.

"We are very disappointed that the Hook of Maui cannot proceed. There has been an enormous amount of input from our team, suppliers and contractors to date to develop the design. But we understand why the decision has been made."

There were also budget concerns. Initially $500,000 was allocated to the gateway sculpture project when the competition was launched in 2004. After Hook of Maui and Receding Waters was selected as the winning design, a further $120,000 was allocated to the project from the Council's Public Art Fund.

The Council's City Arts Manager, Martin Rodgers, says there was still a funding shortfall.

"Private donors contributed more than $600,000 based on the strength of the project," says Martin. "But as we developed the initial concept into a working design, it became clear that components such as lighting, cladding and structural costs were going to be much more than anticipated.

"Hook of Maui was a unique concept that hasn't been done in the city before - its scale and location on the motorway made it a huge project for us to try to make a reality. The final cost of the design came to just over $3m. The artists trimmed the cost by $1m by taking out the detailed lighting in the sculpture but we decided that would diminish the design. We also felt we couldn't justify spending that amount of money or find the shortfall required."

Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast says it's a great pity that the work cannot go ahead.

"So much work has already been done - we've worked to raise private funding and worked closely with the artists and Sculpture Trust on the laser issue, but it's just become too complicated to continue with the project. So it's back to the drawing board," says Mayor Prendergast.

"Hook of Maui and Receding Waters was chosen because it incorporated a mythical narrative deeply rooted in our national identity.

"My heart goes out to the artists who have worked so hard on their design for the gateway sculpture, and worked tirelessly with Council officers to get the project this far."

The Hook of Maui was to be located at the top of a rise in the motorway where it crosses the rail lines from the Hutt Valley. As such, it would appear to be pulling up the ground under the motorway.

Receding Waters - a series of LED light sculptures - was to be at intervals along the motorway on retaining walls and overbridge supports all the way to The Terrace tunnel entrance. At night the lights would shimmer and pulsate, giving the impression of water rushing off the giant fish as it is pulled from the sea.

"The scope and creative drive behind The Hook of Maui and Receding Waters has certainly raised the bar for the forthcoming competition," says Mayor Prendergast. "We'll just need to fully explore the type and cost of materials with the entrants and the Sculpture Trust before the winner is selected this time.

"This is a very important project for the city. We hear all the time from residents about how much they love our public art, and it's also a drawcard for visitors to the city.

"The southern entrance to the city from the Airport is enhanced with dramatic sculptures that welcome people to the city, and the northern entrance to the city deserves a greeting to the multitudes of people entering the city every day. We are fully committed to a sculpture for this part of Wellington."

A call for proposals will be issued by the Sculpture Trust before the end of this year. The budget currently stands at $1.1m, but this could vary depending on the wishes of existing private donors.