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Under the Radar:
Under the Radar: Project Description

Under the Radar is a landscape architecture-driven urban design project which highlights the unique volcanic landscapes of the Auckland region. It does this by focusing on the ecology of the native lizard populations whose habitat is the volcanic field that structures the Auckland isthmus. The project’s main objective is to draw out the web of biotic and geologic relationships which lies just under the radar both of visitors to the city and Aucklanders themselves, and yet which provides the special character of the landscapes with which they interact on a daily basis .Under the Radar links the discipline of landscape architecture as an art practice, with the science of lizard ecology.

At the same time as bringing the cryptic lives of skinks and geckos to the attention of the people who live among them, the project aims to contribute to the scientific understanding of lizards. The body of knowledge of northern North Island New Zealand herpetology is evolving only slowly, due to the diminished locations and range of the endemic lizard population. The Auckland region currently provides habitat for twelve species of lizard. Prior to urbanization there were eighteen. The depredations of prolonged urban development and the corresponding growth of predator populations have taken their toll. The lizard population of Auckland is therefore in a critical phase.

Under the Radar intends to contribute to the recovery of Auckland lizard species by, in the first instance, a focused habitat enhancement programme and second, by raising public awareness. This is to be achieved by designing and constructing landscape ‘interventions’ – artworks - at appropriate locations in the urban field of Auckland. These interventions are located at the intersection of what we call landscape taxonomies. There are three primary taxonomies: lizard populations, geologic outcrops and urban cycleways and walkways. The interventions are ‘lizard gardens,’ enhanced lizard habitat structures that will build, support and maintain increased lizard populations by providing the ecological niches, comprising volcanic rocks, leaf litter and plant species, that form lizard habitat. These new landscapes are attractive to humans too, and are part of a long horticultural tradition, beginning with pre-European Maori gardens, that has helped shape the Auckland landscape. They are also part of a global garden-as-art practice that stretches from the contemporary installations at Chaumont-sur-Loire to the gardens of the ancient Persian Empire.

Science has always been closely associated with gardens (plant pathology, genetics and meteorology, for instance, are crucial to horticulture), but Under the Radar has developed a new garden typology for the 21st century, emblematic of the increasing convergence of artistic and scientific investigations of the world. This is the Garden Laboratory, a garden which provides a living laboratory for the scientific study of flora and fauna and the relationships between these and the geologic structures which support them.

Gardens, like science, both interrogate and celebrate nature.And yet gardening for pleasure remains an artform, and great gardens are works of art. By means of their special declension from the untrammeled processes of nature, gardens provide a link to a realm that has often been characterized as sacred, or outside the utilitarian conditions of everyday life.

But it is a two way street. Horticultural and landscape practices inform the sciences. In a sense, then, gardens have always been laboratories. We find things out by levelling the land, growing things, inducing water to flow - and even through the compelling phenomenology of light and shadow which has given us, for instance, the sundial and the astronomical diagram of Stonehenge.

By centering attention on the interactive nature of the urban ecological landscape through the creation of landscape interventions, both social and scientific outcomes are possible. New information is made available to lizard ecologists, and new forms of landscape architectural practice are suggested which cross the boundaries of the anthropomorphic. Additionally, the resultant gardens intensify and complexify our sense of place by engaging with the often invisible structures of place.