2016 Inception Award | Nocturne for a Sunken City

Xavier Ellah


Inhabiting the urban-coastal imaginary



My research has focused on the marginalisation of unseen landscapes, which lie between the culturally conditioned binary territories of “natural” and “urban”. I observed how loaded these terms are, and how this oppositional relationship limits our experience of the landscape, especially where these conditions overlap, or potentially could like in most parts of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. I am inspired by how landscapes are made and remade. In a constant state of being un nished, they are spatial vehicles for collisions between opposed forces and changing conditions – movements that often unfold at different timescales and rhythms
like that of the tide, seasons and the journey through night and day.

Nocturne for a Sunken City considers how the temporal ows on Wellington’s waterfront ebb & swirl with a drama rarely experienced just two metres above on the pavement and how the urban fabric often privileges predictability at all costs. Operating as a section drawing in motion of Oriental Parade, it asks how we might safely challenge this relationship, so that intertidal zones in cities can free themselves from the burden of resisting change. From a shoreline on the precipice of two opposed realities, a gray territory slowly grows that invites both to hybridize. Instead of a tool for the detention and suppression of waters, the concrete of the city is explored as a material capable of breathing, absorbing and funneling excess sea or stormwater to awaiting cavities that can activate spaces of ecological status and human interaction with the elements. Drawing the line between the incomplete and the ‘yet-to-be’, this transect asks how the experience of the city could be expanded in a way that complicates ideas of the urban and the aquatic.