Invisible Cities

At a relatively early stage in the project, we met up with Finn McCahon-Jones in the centre of Auckland, in order that Finn could show us many of the built layers that reside within the city centre, including the diversity of stone that one finds on many of our kerbs. As a dedicated walker of cities himself, David had also amassed a considerable amount of observations of the details that go largely unnoticed in our urban areas.

However, Finn’s interest in the minutiae of the urban fabric is a level apart from any knowledge that David or I had previously garnered. Taking in the place of various types of basalt, Hauraki Gulf shingle, shell and Coromandel granite in Auckland’s kerbs, walls and stairs (many standing in close association) provided a different view of the static, contemporary ‘reality’ of our city.

One of my favourite books is Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’, in which Marco Polo recounts a large number of fantastical cities to Kublai Khan; all of which are surreal manifestations of Venice (or perhaps better said, experiences or impressions of Venice). Like the apartment dweller who places a makeshift clothes-drying setup suspended above a lane, or the homeless person for whom a city becomes a series of stations and shelters (some unwelcome, others accessible), staring intently at our city’s layers opened up alternative perspectives on experiencing places – the kinds of impressions and characters that I find heightened to such an imaginative level in Calvino’s masterful writing.