She waved her wand and cre­ated magic

The Timaru Herald - - Obituaries - Me­gan Wraight With thanks to the Wraight fam­ily, Si­mon Mor­ton, The Do­min­ion Post

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 non­threat­en­ing, 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.

Talk­ing to The Do­min­ion Post in 2006 about one of her land­mark projects, Welling­ton’s Wai­tangi Park re­de­vel­op­ment, the pi­o­neer­ing land­scape ar­chi­tect was field­ing com­plaints from those who reck­oned there was too much con­crete in­volved.

‘‘Peo­ple will have to be pa­tient,’’ she said, re­fer­ring to the end prod­uct.

When Crook imag­ines the site now, with its shaggy grasses and open spa­ces, and its sense of a jour­ney, she pic­tures Wraight’s own spirit.

The site, which be­came one of her most cel­e­brated and iconic works, was on re­claimed land near the his­toric Wai­tangi La­goon, fed by the Wai­tangi Stream.

Ac­cord­ing to Welling­ton City Coun­cil, the stream once fed a more ex­ten­sive wet­land used by Ma¯ori for gath­er­ing kai, launch­ing waka, and as a source of fresh­wa­ter.

The Wairarapa earth­quake in 1855, which lifted the land by 1.5 me­tres, forced the stream un­der­ground, and it be­came part of the city’s stormwa­ter net­work.

Work­ing through Wraight Ath­field Land­scape Ar­chi­tec­ture, with co-project leader John Hard­wick-Smith, Wraight helped re-di­vert the piped stream into the park’s wet­lands, which were de­signed to nat­u­rally fil­ter out heavy pol­lu­tants via a sys­tem of densely planted na­tive sedges and reeds.

As the wa­ter moves to­wards the har­bour, planted sloped ter­races were de­signed for fur­ther fil­ter­ing. Wraight also in­stalled an open-air pond, and a rain gar­den to col­lect and fil­ter storm wa­ter run-off.

The fin­ished park ended up cov­er­ing 30 per cent of the city’s wa­ter­front, amount­ing to six hectares and a cost of $22 mil­lion. It won sev­eral awards, in­clud­ing prizes from the New Zealand In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects and New Zealand In­sti­tute of Land­scape Ar­chi­tects.

Di Lu­cas, direc­tor of Lu­cas As­so­ci­ates, says Wai­tangi Park is an ex­am­ple of Wraight’s recog­nis­ing el­e­ments of the past within the present, to move into the fu­ture.

Wraight worked to thread to­gether whaka­papa of Aotearoa’s na­tures and cul­tures, Lu­cas says, and was skilled at ev­ery step of the weav­ing process.

Hard­wick-Smith says Wraight’s de­signs drew strongly on a site’s per­son­al­ity – ecolo­gies, lay­ers of cul­ture, pre­vi­ous in­ter­ven­tions and use. She had a

healthy dis­re­spect for bound­aries.

As well as a skilled prac­ti­tioner, Wraight has been de­scribed as car­ing and de­ter­mined, with unerring in­stincts. She was able to work with the public and au­thor­i­ties to un­der­stand and trans­form a space. She re­spected nat­u­ral land­scapes, and al­ways thought about sus­tain­abil­ity.

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.

Work­ing in New Zealand as a land­scaper, she de­cided to take it fur­ther and left again to study land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture at RMIT Univer­sity in Mel­bourne.

Re­turn­ing again to New Zealand, Wraight worked for well-known firm Boffa Miskell, be­fore found­ing her own prac­tice based in Welling­ton, Wraight + As­so­ci­ates.

She was lead land­scape ar­chi­tect on sev­eral of the coun­try’s large-scale ur­ban projects, in­clud­ing Welling­ton’s Pukeahu Na­tional War Me­mo­rial Park and the

wa­ter­front re­de­vel­op­ment, Auck­land’s Wyn­yard Quar­ter, Taranaki Wharf, the Wait­omo Glow­worm Caves Vis­i­tor Cen­tre and Christchur­ch’s Te Ara Ihutai Coastal Path­way.

An ad­vo­cate for ed­u­ca­tion, Wraight con­trib­uted to Vic­to­ria Univer­sity of Welling­ton’s land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture pro­gramme. Dr Han­nah Hopewell, from the univer­sity, says Wraight made a tremen­dous im­pact on the pro­fes­sional prac­tice of land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture, es­pe­cially as a role model for young women.

She had ex­tra­or­di­nary in­tel­li­gence about land­scapes, botan­i­cal knowl­edge, a de­sign eye, and a good hand, says her friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor Hugh Ten­nent, direc­tor of Ten­nent Brown Ar­chi­tects.

She was pas­sion­ate about con­ser­va­tion, and worked to achieve syn­ergy. ‘‘She was a pretty ex­tra­or­di­nary per­son . . . For me, the great­est col­lab­o­ra­tor I’ve ever had.’’

While her ar­chi­tec­tural voice was par­tic­u­larly New Zealand, her sense of how space was used by peo­ple was es­pe­cially in­ter­na­tional.

Her work wasn’t about be­ing on show, but rather about cre­at­ing spa­ces that felt nat­u­ral and that ac­com­mo­dated and were an­i­mated by peo­ple.

But while Wraight never sought to im­pose a sense of the maker’s hand, her fo­cus on re­gen­er­a­tion ended up be­ing, some­what iron­i­cally, a sig­na­ture.

She had the abil­ity to de­sign for 50 years in the fu­ture, down to the last tree or Meuh­len­beckia. She also had a sound ideas base.

One idea of hers that Ten­nent wanted to see re­alised was Te Matau a Ma¯ui – Maui’s fish hook – tow­er­ing up from both sides of Welling­ton’s north­ern mo­tor­way – but it ended up be­ing put on ice.

In 2013, she was the first land­scape ar­chi­tect to re­ceive the Arts Foun­da­tion of New Zealand Lau­re­ate Award. It was a fit­ting recog­ni­tion, says Mark Amery, arts com­men­ta­tor, cu­ra­tor and ad­vo­cate.

‘‘It’s a mark of Me­gan’s dis­tinc­tive, in­no­va­tive style and im­pact on our cul­ture that this land­scape ar­chi­tect and public space cre­ator was made a lau­re­ate . . . the first New Zealand land­scape ar­chi­tect to be awarded a no­table arts prize.

‘‘Wraight was a pioneer in the cre­ation of dy­namic public space: de­sign­ing spa­ces that boldly bal­ance the restora­tion of en­vi­ron­ment and her­itage with the need for peo­ple of all ages and back­grounds to ex­plore and cre­atively play.’’

Her re­ceiv­ing the lau­re­ate was a sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment for the ar­chi­tec­tural world, as it was recog­ni­tion of ar­chi­tects

be­ing artists, says Si­mon Bow­den, the foun­da­tion’s for­mer ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor.

Wraight once told Bow­den she would go on se­cret night mis­sions to tend to Wai­tangi Park, and to do plant­ings.

‘‘I think she did this with­out per­mis­sion, but out of love,’’ he says. ‘‘It

. . . speaks to her cheeky na­ture, al­ways pre­pared to go the whole way for her work. Like a painter, drop­ping into the gallery to fix up a paint­ing.’’

Lu­cas still laughs at one mem­ory from years ago lis­ten­ing to Ra­dio New Zealand, hear­ing Wraight dis­cuss the in­te­gra­tion of green space into an ur­ban area.

Wraight’s daugh­ter Wawe, then a baby, called out in the back­ground em­phat­i­cally dur­ing her mother’s in­ter­view, in an en­dors­ing man­ner.

‘‘Peo­ple don’t nec­es­sar­ily think about who de­signed a . . . public space like they do with a build­ing,’’ Lu­cas says. ‘‘They say a sign of suc­cess with ur­ban spa­ces is if no-one knew you’d been there.

‘‘But Me­gan waved her wand and cre­ated magic.’’ – By An­dre Chumko

She would go on se­cret night mis­sions to tend to Wai­tangi Park, and to do plant­ings ... ‘‘Like a painter, drop­ping into the gallery to fix up a paint­ing.’’

Do you know some­one who de­serves a Life Story? Email obit­u­ar­ies@dom­post.co.nz

Me­gan Wraight cre­ated, among many other projects, Welling­ton’s Wai­tangi Park, right, on the site of the for­mer Wai­tangi La­goon. She planted the ex­ten­sive area with na­tive sedges and reeds to fil­ter out heavy pol­lu­tants.

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