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Pallet Art Livens Up New Zealand
Pallet Maze: Over 1,500 CHEP pallets are arranged in Auckland City, New Zealand to form a gigantic, life-size maze.

By Matthew Harrison
Date Posted: 6/1/2006

   “That’s a-mazing!” laughed Chaille, my effervescent boss, as he perused pictures of a gargantuan pallet maze on my desktop.

   Over 1,500 CHEP pallets were arranged in Auckland City, New Zealand, in order to transform Queen Elizabeth Square into a gigantic, life-sized pallet maze. The maze is part of the sophomore Living Rooms Series, a relatively new initiative aimed at attracting visitors to Auckland City’s Central Business District (CBD).

   “The Living Room Series came about from a desire by the inner city businesses and the CBD in Auckland to liven up the CBD with some activity,” said City Event Manager Pitsch Leiser. They were looking for ideas that would make the city more alive, happening, and interesting for locals and visitors alike. And they thought a pallet maze sounded like a novel idea.

   “It’s like a landscape: a palletscape,” said designer Fleur Palmer in a decadent Kiwi accent. “So it’s something that transforms [Queen Elizabeth Square]. That square normally is quite an empty sort of space so it transforms it in terms of making it more intimate, and there’s a deliberate play with the plan of the pallet maze to introduce the domestic into the open landscape, so the pallets sit up like a house with a series of smaller internal rooms.”


Domesticated Pallets?

   Fleur is a senior lecturer of Spatial Design at Auckland City of Technology, and is considered to be the resident expert of enhancing visual aesthetics. Her specialty ranges from constructing film sets to creating “performance architecture,” or essentially using buildings as media for artwork.

   “It’s the wooden aesthetic, I really love its appearance,” Fleur said of using pallets as construction material for the pallet maze. “The other aspect that happens with pallets is that when you stack them up on top of each other, there’s sort of a play off between the interior rooms and the effect that it makes.  It’s like a city, as well. A miniature city. You can start imagining when you’re down there looking at the pallets; they’re a bit like small versions of multi-story buildings.”

   Fleur added that the structure juxtaposed people’s notions of how public and private spaces interact. “The whole living room series works with sort of relationship between public and private space, and definitely, the pallet maze is working with that sort of relationship,” Fleur continued. “The people who work down in the city are genuinely involved in business, commerce, retail, or whatever so they leave their private life or home life behind them. It’s deliberately setting up a sense of intimacy or privacy within their environment.”

   “On one level, people really enjoyed seeing pallets used in a very different way.  Kids enjoyed sort of exploring the little maze,” said Pitsch.

   However, public art comes with unforeseen consequences. Pitsch said that, even in a beautiful and tranquil place such as Auckland City, homelessness remains pervasive. “We had a few of the poor people who live in the streets that will just sit there in their little space because it was kind of sheltered. They thought this was a very good place to hide out at night,” Pitsch added. 

   You have to think through all those variables if you put something up in
the city center and leave it basically unsupervised and open 24/7. Pitsch said, “You must mount it safely and you must develop it in a way so that the spaces are totally enclosed and hidden, so people are seen at any one time by others so it’s not sort of a hiding place for undesirables.”

   Pitsch also mentioned that the biggest threat to the huge pallet maze came not from vagrants or precocious children, but instead “drunken revelers.” He admits that the kids were manageable, and mostly supervised, but the after-hours crowd would usually try to test their gymnastic attributes by using the maze as an oversized jungle gym. During the maze’s three-week display, though, there were no reports of serious damage to the structure.


Pallets Add Color,
Symbolism to Maze Art

   Fleur also demonstrated how pallets, as artistic media, enlighten bystanders by bringing consumerism and logistics management to the forefront of conversation. While Fleur had artistic differences with the color scheme, CHEP pallets proved favorable due to CHEP’s pooling program, as well as the pallets’ overall structural integrity.

   “I leased them quite reasonably from CHEP,” admitted Fleur. “It’s quite interesting having the CHEP name all through the pallet maze. It’s not something that I would have favored; it brings in sort of a commercial aspect into the overall experience. Although, I think that since the pallets are so big, and the word CHEP is so small that the commercial aspect doesn’t become apparent.”

   Pitsch had no reservations with using CHEP pallets.

   “The criteria for why we actually used these pallets from a design perspective, was actually color, as opposed to no color,” Pitsch clarified. “So color was the criteria, in that they are blue, and all the other pallets are just timber color. And we said let’s do color, because it gives us better impact, and it looks neater; it looks tidier.”

   The shape of CHEP pallets made them perfect for simulating construction
materials. “A lot of pallets have a very open structure, but CHEP pallets have
a flat top,” she observed. The pallets could then be readily converted into flooring for the installation, and the flat top also made them more desirable for unorthodox placement, like spiraling pallet towers 

   CHEP’s successful use of color has been one of the things that has made its pallets stick out for years. By painting the pallets, CHEP has been able to make pallets recycled through its system look new even after repair. It’s amazing what a little paint can do to improve the aesthetics of a pallet. Maybe the white wood pallet industry can learn from this marketing approach used by Big Blue.


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