studio catherine griffiths


photographs / Catherine Griffiths © 2012


A note on The Trestle Leg Series


Beneath the Auckland Harbour Bridge, on the north side, is a site of historic and contemporary significance: this place offers public road access to a local community; underside bridge access for essential maintenance works to the structure; and public access to an important reserve area including Te Onewa Pa/Stokes Point. From this vantage point there are expansive views of the Waitemata Harbour framed by the striking bridge structure overhead; it is a place for celebration of the natural environment as well as cultural and engineering heritage.

New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) is upgrading the area of Princes Street under the Bridge. The first stage of the upgrade project is complete, and includes landscape improvements to the abutment area and new lighting to the bridge area. This stage of the project also included the The Trestle Leg Series: excerpts of poetry and prose wrapped around eight of the eastern trestle legs of the west box girder beneath the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

The project team selected writers of national significance who have local connections to Auckland/Tamaki Makaurau and the North Shore. The typographic rendering of The Trestle Leg Series makes a visual connection through the underside of the bridge to the Pa site, reserve and the water. Cathy Challinor of Boffa Miskell led the NZTA project team in an intensive process working with local iwi representatives and local literary experts including Dr Jack Ross to select the writers and the excerpts. Permissions were obtained from the estates of the writers and visual artist and typographer Catherine Griffiths was commissioned to interpret these works onto the bridge columns:

A.R.D. Fairburn (1904–57)

Robyn Hyde (Iris Wilkinson) 1906-39
published in Persephone in Winter, 1937

Janet Frame 1924–2004
published in Mate No 12, June 1964

Kendrick Smithyman 1922–95

Te Waatarauihi
he rangatira o Kawerau, no Waitakere, 1860

Frank Sargeson 1903–82
published in The Stories of Frank Sargeson, 1964

Maurice Duggan 1922–74
published in Collected Stories, 1981

Bruce Mason 1921–82

Griffiths’ proposal was to render onto the steel structures — in the manner of painted lettering used on ships and bridges — the excerpts of poetry and prose in this three dimensional and atmospheric public space beneath the bridge. Lifted from the printed page and re-contextualised in a spatial and built environment demands that they are engaged with physically, on a much enlarged scale. The extracts of poetry wrap themselves around the steel columns, the fixed line length determines the shape and form of each, and requires the reader to move with the work, to spend time with the words, the sounds they make, meanings that are formed; to arrive at the work from any point, whether in full or part.

A korero by Te Waatarauihi, chief of Te Kawerau in 1860, is addressed by the inclusion of speech punctuation. The poems by Frame and Smithyman, first published between 1959 when the bridge was built, and 10 years later, when the two clip-ons were added, deal with reclaiming land from the sea and the march of progress. “When they reclaimed the land, the sea made little fuss about possession, or such legal niceties as who was first owner”, wrote Frame in The Road To Takapuna, after having stayed as a guest of Sargeson at his Esmonde Rd home. Smithyman, who moved to Auckland in the 1930s, wrote in Building Programme how “they are changing the way of my city. The Skyline is not what it was, nor are we”.

Signage companies Signright and Designcraft were commissioned to install the work. The Trestle Leg Series work is applied to the steel ‘clip-on’ structures which were an addition to the main bridge structure in 1969. The paint system and application methods had to be compatible with the specialist bridge steel coating system, including template application to ensure crispness of the lettering. The paint also needed to be extremely high performance to ensure longevity in a demanding environment that includes harsh marine conditions, public access and the demands of constant maintenance activities to the bridge structure.

Press release, June 2011


01 typography in the landscape


Light Weight O
O’Connell Street, Auckland, NZ
2012 / installed 2018

Wellington Airport domestic terminal, NZ
2015 / installation tba

Te Kei, Ara Institute of Canterbury, Christchurch, NZ

Zion Hill Park
Auckland, NZ
2014 construction 2015/16

Fifth Movement
Takapuna Beach House, NZ

The Trestle Leg Series
Auckland Harbour Bridge, NZ

A Hillside Intervention Athfield Architects, Wellington, NZ

A typo/sound sculpture, Wellington, NZ

Wellington Writers Walk
A series of 15 concrete text sculptures, Wellington, NZ
2002 and 2004

Ponatahi House
A house wrapped in literature, Wairarapa, NZ

Distance Markers
A series of cast-iron, number discs, Wellington, NZ


The Trestle Leg Series Auckland Harbour Bridge

2009 / installed 2012

Commissioned by Boffa Miskell, Auckland, for Land Transport New Zealand

Excerpts of poetry and prose wrapped around eight of the eastern trestle legs of the west box girder beneath the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Eight columns of varying heights, paint application to steel structure

related reading

Shes Got Legs


catherine griffiths © 2011 / all rights reserved / contact / twitter / facebook / instagram /