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The Umbrella Experiment – Winner

Isthmus graduates Jia Ying-Hew, Ivy Llanera and Mihali Katsougiannis collaborated on a design for The Idealog + Blunt + Generator Umbrella Experiment. From hundreds of entries their design was recently announced as the people’s choice winner.

About the design, The Land We Are, Jia says,

“New Zealand’s landscapes are both just as marvellous and diverse as it’s people. Using the landscape as a medium, this design represents the culmination of NZ’s different people and cultures.

The land is something that binds us to Aotearoa. It has enabled us to accomplish wonders far beyond what others could envisage as we constantly draw upon it for inspiration resulting in truly bespoke design that could only have been conceived here.

We are fortunate to live in a country where we can gaze upon the stars, traverse across Middle-earth and enjoy the life’s simple pleasures in our own backyard.”

Connecting with plants at the Akoranga Learning Pavilion

Changes in the way we live mean that today’s children have fewer opportunities to connect with nature, at the very time that we need to rekindle our relationship with the natural world (the future of our planet is at stake…).

Wellington’s new Discovery Garden, nestled within the Botanical Gardens, has been created to tell the story of the vital role that plants play in our lives, and our future. The experience focuses on the many ways that plants sustain human life – by providing food, fibre, construction materials and medicine. The resulting 1,500m2 Discovery Garden is a living classroom, shaped to a vision of bringing people and plants together.

Designed as part of the whole, by the same team that designed the landscape, the Akoranga Learning Pavilion offers a gathering space for clubs, school workshops and events. It allows making and doing, even when there is ‘proper weather’ outside. With its roofline echoing the natural slope of the site, architecture and landscape architecture are blended and aligned.

The form of the building is derived from the angular building platform nestled into the hillside beneath a grove of mature pōhutukawa trees. Anchored by masonry retaining walls, a simple monopitch roof rises towards the tree canopy, closely following the slope of the land.

The building works as both a departure point for a learning adventure – the series of ramps, steps and terraces encourage discovery and exploration – and a gathering place to share discoveries. Appropriate to the setting, the material choices are typically wood, with timber used for the structural frame, cladding and interior finishes. The bathroom and storage pods are clad in rough-sawn battens that reference the texture of the bark of the pōhutukawa tree.

The pavilion houses inspiring and creative hands-on education sessions that inspire a life-long connection between people and plants.

Homes for Creatures – Hobsonville’s Habitat Markers

The Hobsonville Coastal Walkway is a pedestrian route around the neighbourhoods of Onekiritea – a loop of approximately four kilometres. The coastal edge sustains a host of native plants and wildlife, from insects, tree lizards and terrestrial birds in the coastal forest, scrublands and long grass meadows, to fish, crabs and coastal birds in the mudflats, shellbanks and rocky shoreline. Many people would not be aware of the special form of kānuka (Kunzea linearis) or the Auckland green gecko, kakariki, that inhabits the scrublands.

To make connection with the local ecology, smaller interventions have been incorporated into the design of the coastal path. These ‘points of interruption’ to the linear path offer opportunities for play and discovery. Features are located at natural features, as well as remnant structures from the old air force base, to offer a rich and unique experience of place.

As part of this overall approach, several ‘habitat markers’ have recently been installed, designed by Isthmus and fabricated by long-time collaborator Phillip Meier. The wooden markers have carved elements with holes and hollows for birds and insects to make their homes within, and in turn for children to explore and encounter nature. The forms are intended to prompt curiosity; multiple holes of varying sizes provide a mixed habitat for all forms of wildlife, and the position of the cavities on the marker is dictated by the environment – whether it be forest floor, tree canopy, meadow, constructed pond or mudflat.

Not knowing what wildlife may occupy the markers is part of the appeal; they become a live and evolving thing. The children of Hobsonville may monitor and track signs of occupation over time, and come to know the wider community that they live amongst.

concept design: Azmon Chetty, Michael Chu, Helen Kerr, David Irwin

design/build/install: Philipp Meier (sculptor), Nick Pearson, Grant Bailey

Kumutoto North Construction

A decade ago, the first phase of work at Kumutoto tied the Wellington’s central city back to the waterfront and acknowledged the history and cultural importance of the area. Today the remainder of the site, North Kumutoto, is underway. A new series of public spaces has been catalysed by the construction of a significant building on Site 10, and proposals for Site 9, that will provide additional life to the waterfront.

The project extends the laneway, tracing the historic sea wall past the two new commercial buildings. At the water’s edge, a new open space – occupying ‘Site 8’ – extends our work on Kumutoto Plaza. The new space explores the interaction between water and land. Conceived as a reinterpretation of Wellington’s wharves, the public space ‘floats’ above the coastal edge to shield and create habitats for flora and fauna, including kororā – little blue penguins.

A small pavilion will offer shade and partial shelter; respite from the elements. It’s composed of a matrix of timber battens formed into cassettes and attached to steel-lattice trusses which hover lightly overhead before cascading down the pavilion edge – a carefully orchestrated move that preserves unobstructed views of Wellington’s harbour.


Contractor: Peryer Construction

Photographer: Neil Price, WCC

Client: Wellington City Council

McKee Mangahewa Control Centre’s construction progressing well.

Construction of the new Operations Facility for Todd Energy is well advanced. Designed by Earl Rutherford of Isthmus’ Wellington Studio, the McKee Mangahewa Processing Plant is located 12km inland from the coastal township of Waitara at the boundary between two major North Taranaki natural gas fields. With the superstructure completed in late September 2017, the contractor, Cleveland Construction, are currently focusing on the exterior cladding systems to ensure the building is closed in before the expected autumn rains. Thanks to the Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) construction with sealed structural roof panels, interior services and linings are now well advanced.

The 940m2 building centralises the control, handling and emergency response requirements of the adjacent natural gas processing plant. Nestled into a hillside, the modular building will dramatically improve safety and operational efficiency for all those that work on site. CLT was chosen for strength, sustainability, economy of scale, speed of construction and construction safety. Largely exposed on the interior, the timber provides a robust alternative to more industrial finishes and contributes to a healthy working environment.

Completion is scheduled for late May 2018.

Keeping it Real in Te Atatu South

What sort of impact can 80 people have in a couple of hours, when deployed into the suburbs for ‘design research’? At this years Isthmus conference we set out to explore what ‘keeping it real’ means to us individually and collectively, and in our own backyard. All 80 of us sang a waiata and shared a personal thought about keeping it real means to us in our everyday lives; all 80 of us listened to Gael Surgenor form the Southern Initiative talk about real impact in South Auckland; and all 80 of us headed out to Te Atatu South to help the Heart of Te Atatu South (HOTAS) group figure out why the community is having trouble connecting. After 2 hours of intervention and observation around the hood, our ‘raw data’ was collected into a big pin-up session in the school hall, where we swapped stories with community leaders and school principals.

At the end of the day, nothing could be more important than healthy people supported by a healthy environment. It is what we really care about at Isthmus, embodied in Land, People, Culture. But when we put people first – things change, and things get real. We are instantly challenged about what we think we know about a place and its people. We are catapulted outside our comfort zone and forced to rely on our creative confidence to navigate human emotions and perspectives shaped by a myriad of cultural influences. ‘Keeping it real’ is largely about challenging our assumptions, and being open to the possibility that real impact in everyday situations could look different and manifest in different ways from one community to another. This is why design thinking is so helpful- it is fluid, iterative, and experimental. If we are curious enough, observe ‘with our hearts’, and collaborate with communities- then we can find local solutions to complex problems.

Running with this idea and just getting stuck in, we decided to work with our new friends in Te Atatu South who are working tirelessly to do good in their community. Their story is motivating and inspiring, and it shows what grassroots community initiative is all about- places to meet for playgroups and book shares, reasons to connect and have conversations with lonely people. But its exhausting doing this stuff day in and out, and sometimes its hard to see the big picture when you are changing lives one at a time. Big research projects are super important for understanding complex social issues, but design research can be quick-and-dirty, and effective too, especially when a catalyst for change is urgently needed. It sets up a ‘do-learn-do’ cycle of intervention and observation. Not scientific, but certainly perceptive –  and it builds a base understanding about public life that drives change from the inside- out.

Our ‘backpack challenge’ was designed to be a bit quirky and experimental – we didn’t really know what would happen. Teams of five or six were deployed into the neighbourhood with backpacks full of intervention and observation tools. Some random items were open to interpretation and could be used in inventive ways to complete the challenges  – bungy ropes, chalk, material, cones among other loose parts. Teams could also pick up large items from a ‘resource station’ van, parked in near the community centre and manned by HOTAS volunteers. Challenges were designed to put people out of their comfort zones and invite response from residents and passers-by. Each team was assigned one of three themes: ‘footloose’, ‘seriously fun’ and ‘beating heart’, closely related to issues HOTAS had described to us about lack of social cohesion, fun and support for families, and difficulty getting around the suburb.

Finding people in Te Atatu South is a challenge in itself. There is a population of around 15,000 people, but you don’t see many of these people on the streets. There are a lot of cars though, and we know that busy roads can divide communities. There are five schools, and potentially social networks that exist around those schools. We heard about people meeting in each others homes to cook food together or meet for playdates, and it challenged us to think about whether community needs to be visible to be functional. We noticed the small and simple things- like the impact of a pedestrian crossing, a seat and table or tree swing. We wrote on the footpath- things like ‘I wonder how many footsteps it will take to wear this away’. We noticed how much untapped potential there is, and the power of prompting people to slow down and think about it. Maybe the community needs to refocus back away from the busy ridgeline road to the land and the water to make this place a little bit special again.

It was a big day of little things, measured by smiles and tears- sometimes both at the same time. We sang together, we ate together, we made stuff together. And if thats not keeping it real, then what is?