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Brad Coombs, Fellow and President

The NZILA AGM and Conference opening the other week was a big day for Isthmus Principal Brad Coombs. On the same day that he took office as NZILA President, he was also awarded Fellowship of the NZ Institute of Landscape Architects for his two decades of contribution to practice and profession:

“Brad’s contribution to the wider profession, like his contribution within Isthmus, has been achieved in a quiet manner. He is not one to ‘blow his own trumpet’. Yet he has gained mana through his service to others, the quality of his work, and his wisdom.  For these reasons, he fully deserves election as a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects.”

Brad sees the President role as “an opportunity to take a fresh look at where the profession is at, and as an Institute, to confirm the priorities for the next three years and beyond.”

“My first priority will be to get my head around the projects that the Executive has already initiated – particularly the Governance Review and the Landscape Guidelines, and to put in place processes to deliver them for the benefit of our members.”

Farewell to Dan Males

Just over eleven years ago Dan joined Isthmus’ Wellington studio, fresh off the boat from the UK. As a senior landscape architect his first job was site observation for Kumutoto on Wellington’s waterfront. From there he went on to lead many of our landscape architecture projects, and rose to become the Wellington Studio Manager. Thanks to Dan’s creativity, tenacity, and his can-do attitude, the scope and scale of the studio’s projects grew incrementally, as did the team itself.

Dan leaves Isthmus this week to pursue a new, Wellington-based business opportunity in a smaller design studio. One of his last projects at Isthmus has brought him full circle, overseeing North Kumutoto, currently under construction. We wish him all the best.



Five Promotions

We review our team twice a year as part of our process of continual improvement. Today we promoted five people who take the initiative, are quick learners and most of all, are independent and self-confident. These traits have enabled them to make the most of opportunities to progress their careers. They are all pushing themselves, getting out of their comfort zones.

From Graduate to Intermediate:

Aaron Miller. Aaron graduated with Masters of Architecture from VUW in 2016. He’s worked on the Kumutoto North pavilion, Cadness Apartments, Porirua CBD’s canopies, Cobham Drive Cycleway, McKee Energy Centre and the Chimp Enclosure at Wellington Zoo. He brings both skill and passion to his work, surpassing expectations. He has a calm and open demenour, and regularly contributes to design conversations and studio culture in general.

Greta Christensen. Greta came to work for Isthmus a little over over two years ago. She’s worked on Richmond Stage 3 concept, developed and resource consent packages; Onehunga Mall resource consent package; Sunderland Gully concept design; and Clevedon North. Greta has the ability to work independently and is not afraid of a design challenge. She’s a proactive problem solver.

Alex Foxton. Alex has been with us for close to a year now, since he moved to NZ from the UK. In that time he has made a solid impression on the studio. Key projects he’s been involved with over that time are; Barry Curtis Pavilion Plaza, Browns Bay and Freyberg Place. He’s shown his ability to deliver major aspects of projects with autonomy – he’s a very safe pair of hands.

Intermediate to Senior:

Julia Wick. Julia joined isthmus a year and a half ago as a design planner. She has quickly proved herself on Farm Street; Half Moon Bay Marina Extension Assessment;  Puhoi to Warkworth; and The Western Firth of Thames Marine Farm. Julia keeps a calm head under pressure, supporting the design planning team on large scale strategic projects. She’s on the NZILA Executive as well as being involved with the Resource Management Law Association through the Young RMLA Group.

Marita Hunt. Marita is interested in everything; she is a Specialist Generalist. She’s worked on a huge range of projects since joining Isthmus. Going forward Marita will be focusing on design planning, which combines her analytical, logical, methodical mind with an innate ability to communicate ideas through writing and drawing. Marita loves learning. She’s working hard at Te Reo. And she knows how to keep herself in balance – she’s an isthmus yoga regular.

Welcome Damian Powley

Hutia te rito o te harakeke,
kei whea te kōmako e kō?
Kī mai ki ahau;
He aha te mea nui o te Ao?
Māku e kī atu,
he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata

We are proud to announce that this week we welcomed Damian Powley to Isthmus. He joins us from Auckland Council after 13 years working with the vibrant and diverse communities of South Auckland. Damian has delivered several projects with Isthmus over the years, including Randwick which was awarded ‘Community of the Year’ for 2017. Leading and facilitating Randwick Park, Damian has first hand experience in delivering projects of sustainable change, and the impact that engaged placemaking can have for the communities that live there.
The purpose of the mihi whakatau this week was to acknowledge the waka or transfer of a rangitira from Auckland Council to Isthmus. Not only did we enjoy hosting our manuhiri and bringing Damian on board, but we welcomed the opportunity to deepen our values of ‘land, people, culture’ and practice tikanga maori.
Damian is all about people, he understands the importance of face to face collaboration, and he brings a wealth of experience in meaningful community engagement and advocacy. He will bring fun, passion, music and creativity to our community service (and he’s a super nice guy).

Three Appointed to the Auckland Urban Design Panel

Isthmus designers Haylea MuirDuncan Ecob and Matt Jones have all been appointed to the Auckland Urban Design Panel (Haylea and Matt were nominated through the NZILA, and Duncan through the UDG).

The role of the panel is to provide independent urban design advice to promote good design and a quality environment. The panel is an independent advisory body and does not have statutory decision-making powers.

For Isthmus this is another way of supporting Auckland and influencing the future of its urban form. Design review really tests your ability to be analytical, and it challenges your ability to articulate design ideas, issues or relationships. It’s easy to have a gut feel about something, but it’s much harder to understand where that feeling comes from and then write it down and/or explain it at a meeting.

After several years on the panel Gavin and Andre are stepping down as part of this refresh. They have each put a huge amount of their time into the panel and in the process honed their analytical expertise and made their mark in the wider urban design network.


Our New Board

Isthmus are pleased to announce a new Board. With a mixture of youth and experience the Board will be firmly focussed on building upon recent change and growth, and leading the practice into the future.

We welcome Isthmus Founder David Irwin back to the Board. David brings a strategic focus combined with deep roots in our purpose and values.

We also welcome three new Board members:  Haylea Muir joined Isthmus a decade ago as a graduate and has grown to become one of our most valued design thinkers;  Helen Kerr has been with Isthmus since the early days and offers a mix of passion, creativity and intelligence; Sarah Bishop has been the lead designer on some of Isthmus’s most challenging design projects over the years, and she was a co-editor of our book Coast, Country, Neighbourhood, City.

Architect Andre de Graaf is the incoming Chair; this reinforces our focus as a design led practice. Andre has been on the Board since he joined Isthmus four years ago and in that time has grown architecture to be a key component of our service offering.

Andre replaces Dion Mortensen as the Chair. Dion will stay on as our Independent Director and continue to build on the transformational work that we have been doing together for the past seven years.

Our design-led CEO Ralph Johns remains on the Board and provides the connection to the Senior Management Team who have responsibility for the operation and management of the business. Ralph has been a Board member since 2009, and CEO since 2013.

And finally, we thank outgoing Board members Brad CoombsGrant Bailey and Duncan Ecob. Brad has been on the Board since 2009, Grant and Duncan since 2013. During that time our design practice has developed significantly.

With a new Board and management structure Isthmus will continue its design-led purpose to advance the relationships between land, people and culture.

Mid-year promotions.

Over the years we’ve observed some characteristics of people that thrive in our studio culture; these individuals are positive, proactive and collaborative. They are self starters. They take the initiative and are quick learners. But most of all, they are independent and self-confident.

In our studios there’s the opportunity to get involved in the work you want to do and to make your own opportunities. The following people have all progressed their careers this year, and are contributing at an even greater level. They are pushing themselves, getting out of their comfort zones and going the extra mile. Each of them embody our values of creativity, curiosity, authenticity and tenacity.

From Graduate to Intermediate:
Azmon Chetty. Azmon joined isthmus in late 2014 as a graduate architect. A furniture maker in his spare time; he’s handy with tools. Over the last 6 months Azmon has brought a new level of accuracy and speed to the work he has been doing. He‘s developing new skills around construction detailing and design. He is also becoming very adept at complex 3D digital modelling for documentation. You’ll also find him crafting physical models.

From Intermediate to Senior:
Rebecca Jerram. It has been nearly two years since Rebecca moved back from Melbourne where she had been studying and working for a decade. Rebecca is Registered with AILA & NZILA. We hired her for her skills at the construction end of the design process – she has excellent technical knowledge of landscape construction. She delivers our work on site, dealing with contractors and negotiating the ins-and-outs of NZS3910. Rebecca has delivered a host of landscape projects including parts of Kopupaka Reserve, the Myers Splashpad, Kelston School and Airfields Stage 2. She is currently working on Westgate Town Park.

Travis McGee. Travis joined us nearly four years ago. He quickly showed himself to be very good at grabbing opportunities and running with them. Thrown in the deep end with the Schools PPP2, Trav took on the project management and quickly got his head above water. Trav’s skill at digging a little deeper into his projects and pre-empting the next move has set him up well as a project leader. His ability to take the lead when he needs to means he is a highly valued member of the of Isthmus team.

Brad Ward. Brad joined isthmus a little over 4 years ago. Known affectionately as ‘Brad the Grad’ when he started, he was the first new staff member we hired coming out of the GFC. Brad was quickly absorbed into the Hobsonville team as a safe pair of hands, learning very quickly, always going the extra mile. He did well in the “pressure-cooker” and his career accelerated. In just four years Brad has developed for himself a set of unique and specialist skills in residential masterplanning. Ka pai!

Sophie Jacques. After uni she headed overseas, gaining 6 years experience in the UK and Australia and becoming something of a skatepark construction specialist. She started with us in February 2014, a specialist in construction management. She has taken this role on a number of complex projects including the Children’s Garden, Wellington Zoo and Kotuku Apartments.

From Senior to Associate:
Alan England. Alan joined us in 2010 as our first visualisation specialist. With a background in architectural studies Alan had previously been working at Build Media. He’s been a backbone of our design planning team working behind the scenes assisting in major projects across the country. He’s been in planes, trains, boats and helicopters, and he’s a qualified pilot himself – of a drone. Over the last 6 months or so Alan has built and consolidated an expanded Geospatial team. He also plays an active role in the development of Isthmus’ Environmental Fund.

From Associate to Principal:
Lisa Rimmer. We hired Lisa in 2008. She has huge passion and really wide range of skills. She is a designer, first and foremost, but she also has rare talent and expertise in RMA planning. On the design side Lisa has contributed to Government House restoration, a host of Wellington Cycleway projects, the Children’s Garden and Christchurch Botanical Gardens masterplan, among many others. Her stand-out Design Planning project has been Kapiti Coast District Landscape Assessment. Lisa is uncompromising on quality.

Sean Burke. Sean joined Isthmus’ Auckland studio in way back in 2001. Since then he has worked on a multitude of projects, with a particular skill for merging planning, design and ecology. Over the years his projects have won the highest national awards from NZILA. And then last year the Taumanu Bridge won the World Architecture News Transport Award! Like his work, Sean is quietly authentic. He works with huge commitment and totally embodies our values. Sean is passionate about the environment and will be working to develop our services in designed ecologies.

16 Promotions for 2016

2016 has been an extremely busy year across the studios. In addition to hiring 28 new staff – at all levels and across all disciplines – we have made 16 promotions.

The twelve new promotions (added to the four announced in April) reflect the rapid qualitative growth of our team, in addition to growth in numbers. The following people have all progressed their careers this year, and are contributing at an greater level. Every one of them works with creativity, curiosity, authenticity and tenacity. 

From Associate to Principal:

Helen Kerr – Throughout her time at isthmus, which goes way back, Helen has produced outstanding work and contributed greatly to our design culture. Helen continues to add value in her ability to constantly challenge and advance our thinking. Her recent project work and overseas research has helped advance our approach to community engagement and social regeneration. Her promotion to Principal recognises these qualities and will allow her more space to develop as a leader.

Sarah Bishop – Sarah’s presence in the Auckland studio has grown steadily in recent years as the design leader of no boundaries, collaborative projects. Sarah made a massive contribution to our CCNC book and has been involved in Isthmus strategy team. She is one of the rare designers with the ability to capture the essence of the design early. Her promotion to Principal is recognition of her growing design portfolio, strong client relationships and confident design leadership.

Penny McIntyre – Penny has been our Finance Manager for over 5 years. She has grown as Isthmus has grown. At times this year the growing pains have really hurt, but her positivity and tenacity have shone through. Penny moves up to Principal level in recognition of her accomplished management of our expanding finances (our turnover has increased by 400% in the last three years….). Delegation of accounts admin tasks will free Penny up to focus on financial planning and analysis, as well as board and management reporting. In addition to finance, Penny has a solid sense of fairness and is a guardian of the many threads that weave the Isthmus culture together.

Scott Donnell – Scott is one of the architect “pioneers” at isthmus. He has led the way on numerous key projects that are richer for their design integration across the studio. Scott’s always thoughtful, respectful and collaborative approach has earned him the respect of colleagues, consultants and clients alike. His promotion to Principal is in recognition of his contribution to growing our portfolio of work, the mana that he holds in multi-unit residential design, managing complex inter-disciplinary design projects and the reputation that he has built for always delivering.

Bruce McKenzie  Bruce joined Isthmus 2 years ago as a Design Planner. Since then he has flourished in our inter-disciplinary design environment. Bruce has a passion for the land, and a natural affinity with people. Together with his background in business studies this makes him a skilled and empathetic manager of people and projects. Bruce throws his considerable energy and positivity into project work, leading teams to deliver rich and deep design work with meaning. As a Principal Bruce will be even more involved with management, leadership and charting our course into new territory.

From Senior to Associate

Natasha Whitlock  Natasha joined isthmus just over three years ago. Her understanding of the complexities of urban design and residential masterplanning has made a significant contribution to projects across the studios. As a working mum, Natasha confidently balances work with family. Promotion to Associate will see Natasha move into more client facing and project leadership roles in which she will thrive.

Nada Stanish  Nada has particular skill in design development taking projects from concept to detail design. Her approach is grounded in the landscape and brings a softer hand and authenticity to the body of award-winning projects she has contributed to. Her thoughtful, creative and artistic approach is very much appreciated by those who work alongside her. Nada’s promotion to Associate is in recognition of the depth of experience and design thinking Nada has brings to the studio.

Matt Jones – Over the past 18 months Matt has consolidated his understanding of design planning in the challenging planning environment of the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan process. He has also recently applied this knowledge and practical experience in a number of key masterplanning projects. Matt’s unique combination of design planning and emerging master planning skills make him well placed to contribute to the growing demands of the Studio.

Graduates to Intermediate

Paggy Shen – Paggy brings her enthusiastic personality to every project she works on. Paggy’s development has been self-led and fostered by our project leaders, who have all supported her well-earned promotion to intermediate.

Emma Farmer – Since joining us just over two years ago, Emma has shown herself to have a wide variety of architecture and masterplanning skills. She has applied these on a broad range of projects, producing high quality work at all times.

James Patullo – Over the past couple of years the Wellington Studio has seen rapid growth changes and, with it, James has grown to be an established member of the team. James’ commitment and energising approach to work at Isthmus is clear to all, his promotion is well deserved. 

Michael Chu – With great drawing skills and a quiet, engaging manner, Michael has produced excellent work, presented to the Design Review Panels and grown in confidence. Michael’s promotion will help him share the skills he has developed with others and see him work more closely with clients and consultants.

Rewi Thompson 1953 – 2016.

It is with great sadness that we to acknowledge the passing of our esteemed colleague, Māori architect Rewi Thompson of Te Aitanga a Hauiti and Ngati Raukawa descent. Rewi’s relationship with Isthmus spans nearly thirty years of collaboration on a wide range of high-profile landscape projects across New Zealand. Over the last 12-months this collaboration became closer than ever as Rewi joined our inter-disciplinary studio as a permanent staff member.

While at Isthmus Rewi continued his role as adjunct professor at the University of Auckland and bought to us his ability to engage with projects with fresh eyes and an academic rigour. His influence on the studio over this short time has been profound. Rewi worked in a very tenacious and thoughtful way, always sharing his thinking and asking questions of the people working around him. He was very encouraging and generous with the young designers and also communicated a real satisfaction and joy about coming into the studio every day.

As a man who of the land, his enthusiasm about being at isthmus was fuelled by exploring the the relationship between landscape, architecture and people. Strongly values-based, Rewi brought clarity, depth, confidence and humility to every conversation. On housing, his philosophy was that all people deserve a connection with the land in a beautiful, well thought-out home. He was working to this end on his recent projects such as the ‘everyday houses’ for Northcote.

We have been privileged to have had Rewi in the studio for this period of time; his measured, experimental approach to his work will leave a lasting impression, as will his humour and inquisitiveness. We were lucky to experience his grandfatherly wisdom and his child-like playfulness. His presence will be sorely missed.

Our thoughts and condolences go out to his whanau, friends, colleagues and other collaborators.

Remembering William Jameson.

The other week we received the very sad news that long time Isthmus friend and collaborator William Jameson passed away. This came as a great shock to us; for those who worked with William it felt as though someone from our own studio had gone. Will was an integral part of the Cicada team that have worked with us to design and make the creatures, seedpods, kelp, flax and flowers that appear in our most successful play-spaces.

He was a creative genius, a warm friend, a carefree spirit, an artist and a master craftsman who cared about people before anything else. David, Helen, Haylea and Grant attended his funeral in Hawkes Bay, a truly bi-cultural expression of honour.

William’s work with Isthmus spans back to the Hastings CBD project 17 years ago. David Irwin wrote this:

On Wednesday the Ngaruroro River flooded with tears.

A lone Karuhiruhi, wing tips reflecting in the mirror-like water, led for a while before heading skyward. The casket made of hand woven steel and wood William had rescued from the floor of Ricks fire ruined house, was cradled by two joined waka being paddled by mates, followed by an escort of waka ama.

A Haka is heard from the far bank, young voices from the local primary school. A call was made from the bridge. Karakia whispered, feathers in hair and on flax flowers.

It was the first time for 100 years such an honour had been bestowed upon anyone. William was being honoured in a New Zealand way- paddled down the river by a fleet of waka. He was carried from the waka – metres from where Gavins’ grand fathers house stood- on to the local church on the banks of the Ngaruroro.

One would have thought the honour was for a chief, yet William was a pakeha. Regardless of his whakapapa, everyone who met him knew he was humble and genuine. He was being respected on this stunning Hawkes Bay, blue sky day.

While all death is tragic, this death was a true tragedy – as not all death is. At age 58 in the middle of the night he left without saying goodbye, he was gone with no warning.

Clarity comes with grief. He was a man that did what he felt was right, a man with immense skill, not only with his hands but in the way he related to people. He worked where my heart is – in his own workshop. He wore jeans and rough shirts wherever he went. He would rock up here with Ricks, with a load of crazy stuff loaded (often dangerously) on the back of the ute. A far-cry from computers and Audis, he was hard to get hold of by email or phone (any kind of phone).

He just made great shit. As Jacob Scott explained, they started projects “not knowing how to do it, but knowing they will find a way”. Anything we dreamed up, he could do it- and make it even better. No problem to build a birds nest, giant flax leaves, eggs, pukehos or kina, hermit crab shells, sea anemones, or nikau seeds, giant birds nests, sparrows or curling tendrils. All in giant scale.

The process was collaborative, we drew some crazy ideas and they (Cicada) would say ‘no problem’. Maquettes were made, and today they litter our office (in a good way). Then protoypes at full size, and then the real deal. We would often have to argue with our clients to trust the process, trust the people and trust us. Not once were they disappointed, and every time the project has won national awards.

The outcomes were unique in a global sense. New Zealand ecology at a giant scale, to be played on and learned from. It bypassed fine design and put the artisan craftsman in the centre of the creative process. I like this process, and from my experience the collaborative trust developed in these types of projects is built on long term relationships, and provides so much more depth than the refinement of an idea to ‘destruction’, to where the essence and soul are lost from the work.  This was something I argued in my interview to get on the Auckland Public Arts Panel and why I got the job above a whole pile of pseudo fine art snobs. And there are still plenty of those. But to be truly and authentically ‘New Zealand’, to be part of and contributing to the vernacular of New Zealand, you do not need to come from Elam or Ilam or Charlotesville or Sydney.

But from Clive.

William in many ways was our hands. He could make what we could think, and for that skill I was always envious. His workshop was our workshop. He worked in steel. Together his team -with ours -could bring ideas to life.

Last night as Ricks predicted, I looked carefully in the sky and sure enough I watched as the stars were rearranged, a new better composition.

I know damn well who did it.

Will, William, Wiremu.

William Jameson.