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Three NZIA Auckland local award winners

Isthmus Group won three NZIA Local Architecture Awards in Auckland tonight for a diverse group of projects with shared roots in land, people and culture. We’d like to thank our clients and the extended inter-disciplinary teams with whom we have collaborated on these unusual projects.

Freyberg Place and the Ellen Melville Centre won an award in the Heritage category. Delivered together for Auckland Council, this project explored the overlaps between public art, landscape and architecture. Isthmus collaborated closely with artist John Reynolds’ and Stevens Lawsons Architects. The restored building and the new public square provide a unique place that Aucklanders have claimed for themselves.

The next project, Vinegar Lane for client Progressive Enterprises, was a winner in the Urban Design category. This Ponsonby project offers an authentic model for low-rise intensification. It’s an ‘urban subdivision’ of 32 individual freehold lots; the block is broken down into achievable portions individually owned and financed, and designed by a range of architects within a simple set of design guidelines.

The final award went to the smallest project in the Small Project category. The Habitat Markers were developed as part of HLC’s Te Ara Manawa, a coastal walkway designed around the neighbourhoods of Hobsonville Point. Taking the form of large posts, standing or lying down, the markers are micro-architecture, homes for critters. Solid wooden blocks were CNC routed to create a labyrinth of holes and hollows for birds and insects to make their homes within; and in turn for children to explore and encounter nature.

All three projects address the same basic theme; we have a critical responsibility as designers to design for tangata (people) while respecting whenua (land).


Awards night photos by David St George for NZIA.


Vinegar Lane wins NZPI Project Award

Progressive Enterprise’s Vinegar Lane development recently won the prestigious Rodney Davies Project Award at the annual NZPI National Planning awards. Isthmus Founders David Irwin and Gavin Lister joined the client and the consultant team of Russell McVeagh and Zomac Planning at the awards ceremony.

NZPI bestow just one Project Award each year, recognising excellence in:

– the processes which lead to the identification of the need for or justification of the project,

– the planning processes undertaken in formulating the project including research, consultation,

– the evaluation of alternatives and decision making, and

– any physical, economic, cultural or social change which has been result of the project.

Vinegar Lane’s consent mechanism was innovative. Each of the freehold lots in this ‘urban subdivision’ was sold with pre-arranged resource consent to construct a building that had not yet been designed. Architects of individual buildings work to the Vinegar Lane Design Manual which stipulates the building envelope, development controls and a design review process.

This award further recognises the importance of Vinegar Lane as an authentic model for low-rise intensification in Auckland. On average, it is estimated Vinegar Lane will yield 280 dwellings per hectare (net).

Te Hauāuru Park Opens

Adjacent to the award-winning Kopupaka Park the ‘town park’ at the centre of Westgate, known as Te Hauāuru, is officially open. Designed for Auckland Council, the 1.1ha park provides a green heart for the emerging town centre.

The park includes a large lawn for events, a playful water feature and a small building – also designed by Isthmus – that houses a plant room and public toilets.

The walls that structure the park and frame the lawns reference the upper harbour of inlets and bays, spilling out onto a lower level promenade space along the street edge, with shellfish motif inlays, a sheltered and flexible space designed to accommodate markets.  A multi-layered planting scheme throughout the park combines native and exotic species for year-round interest.

A kauri bark relief pattern is etched in a sequence of ground planes within the water feature. The idea evolved through series of meetings with iwi where stories of shared histories around milling and gum digging surfaced – then concerns about Kauri and dieback.

The amenity building is designed to complement a future café. Its materials are a combination of precast concrete panels and timber framing – a perforated anodised aluminium rainscreen unifies the form. The perforations represent Māori kites, known as manu tukutuku or manu aute. Manu means both kite and bird, and the word tukutuku refers to the winding out of the line as the kite ascends.

Now we wait for the rich palette of planting to bed-in, and for a community to arrive and make this their place.


client: Gemma Sandford, Auckland Council

core design team (as pictured L to R): Hayley Wright, Nada Stanish, Sarah Bishop, Grant Bailey, Rebecca Jerram. plus: Andrew Mirams, Marita Hunt, Azmon Chetty, Greta Christensen and Alex Foxon.

lead contractor: Hawkins Construction

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.

Chimpanzee habitat upgrade

Wellington Zoo’s chimpanzees (the largest troupe in New Zealand) will be seeing an update to their habitat in 2018. The upgrade will provide an improved environment for the chimps, as well as giving visitors the opportunity to have a more immersive experience. Plans are at the end of developed design stage, with construction expected to be completed mid to late 2018.

“Our chimpanzees and their welfare are very important to us, the main aim of the new habitat design has been to increase the complexity of the chimp’s environment to better allow their natural behaviours to occur,” said Karen Fifield MNZM, Chief Executive of Wellington Zoo.

As a conservation organisation, Wellington Zoo aims to connect people with animals so that visitors are inspired to make choices in their own lives that help save animals in the wild.

“Chimpanzees are seriously affected by habitat loss, so one thing we encourage our visitors to do is look for the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) logo on paper and wood products, which guarantees that those products are sourced in a way that doesn’t threaten the habitat of animals in the wild,” said Karen.


IFLA Asia-Pacific Awards

The International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) Asia-Pacific Region held its Awards on last Friday night in Bangkok. The Awards aim to “create a stronger awareness and recognition of landscape architecture as one of the key professions that has played a key role in shaping our cities and our environments towards a better, more resilient future”.

Sean Burke travelled to Thailand representing Isthmus (and the Pacific). He picked up no less than five of these prestigious awards for two Auckland projects:

Cultural and Urban Landscape Category

Award of Excellence, Kopupaka Reserve


Infrastructure Category

Outstanding Award, Kopupaka Reserve

Outstanding Award, Taumanu Reserve

Parks and Open Space Category

Outstanding Award, Taumanu Reserve

Honourable Mention, Kopupaka Reserve

We thank IFLA for recognising what we are doing to unite land, people and culture. And we thank our clients and the many collaborators and contractors with whom we have worked to deliver these innovative and authentic spaces.

Small, but Smart

As part of the NZIA’s Festival of Architecture 2017, the Auckland Design Manual Team ran an interactive exhibition that explored what the ‘New Auckland Home’ could look like. In the past, the ‘Auckland home’ has been synonymous with the villa or the bungalow but today, with the emergence of the Unitary Plan and the evolution of the Auckland housing market the typical Auckland home is changing.

Visitors to the exhibition viewed exemplars of different new housing typologies and were asked to vote for the one they would choose as home. The most popular, beating all other typologies, was a standalone house on a freehold section; albeit a small house on a small section.

“At 40m2 the Axis Small Home (by Isthmus and Architecture Workshop) is tiny, but it’s also affordable, sustainable and can fit into an existing backyard.

Affordability weighed heavily on voters’ minds, but price wasn’t the bottom line. Good design was a strong selling point for this home, and for voters that didn’t mean grand architectural statements or expensive materials, it meant efficient use of space with a simple, but elegant design.

While Aucklanders are ready to move on from the quarter acre section, they still want a backyard. Having just enough space to grow a few veges, have a BBQ, and enjoy some sun satisfied many voter’s outdoor needs.

Smaller homes weren’t just preferred by the singles amongst us. Voters with families also showed a trend of voting for compact, affordable homes, so long as they had some green space for the kids and pets.”


Dominion & Valley Road apartments.

Just 4km from Auckland’s CBD, and within the established Mt Eden suburb, the 5,200m2 site on the corner of Dominion and Valley road has swift and frequent public transport services through to the city, and is well catered for with supermarkets, food & beverage and a range of other services. Isthmus has been working with Panuku Development Auckland to create a benchmark residential intensification proposal for this site.

Currently occupied by a series of small single story warehouse and shopfronts, the development gently intensifies this under-utilised space by mediating the transition between the dual conditions of commercial strip and leafy residential suburb. Hybrid typologies for living and working promise to enliven the area.

Four building blocks are arranged to maximise site potential, while fitting with its existing urban context. The blocks are arranged north-south to offer good solar access for each of the 102 units (one, two and three bedroom).

The buildings themselves reference the heritage and character of Dominion Road with the use of robust materials in a formal arrangement that has an overlay of ‘ad-hoc’ additions articulated on the exterior of the buildings to bring depth to the architecture. The design integrates extensive street character assessment and high levels of consultation with various stakeholders.

The project is currently lodged for resource consent with the Auckland Council and will be a notified application with a hearing date that is to be confirmed. It has been through consultation with both local board and the Auckland Urban Design Panel.

Opening up the harbour with a floating archipelago.

Welcome home to the Auld mug. The latest Paper Boy features the Isthmus design concept for the next Americas Cup.

The brief  was to choose a site for an America’s Cup event to be held, and suggest the amenities that could accompany it – be they parks, housing, transport links, or other more outlandish suggestions.

The theme of our concept was:
Ki te kahore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi – Without foresight or vision the people will be lost.

The Maori proverb urges a progressive future for the unification of our people. The America’s Cup is Now Aotearoa’s Cup – The quote made famous in 1995 is translated to give it new meaning, a new purpose and a new origin. America’s Cup has traditionally been an event that is participated by the world’s wealthy boating community – here an opportunity exists.

Inspired by Christo’s floating piers, a promenade is draped over the Waitemata Harbour meandering towards a scaffolded floating pavilion. The pavilions create a new cultural and spectator experience accessible by everyday people. Playfully the promenade moves back and forth connecting land, sea and people. The promenade democratises the water and becomes an extension of the public realm. A synthetic archipelago challenges perception and provokes contemplation. Sitting on the edge between manmade, nature and the spectacle that is the Americas Cup.


Children’s garden – a living classroom.

Recently Wellington City Council held an open day at the Children’s Garden in the Botanic Gardens. The project is still a little way off completion so this was not the offical opening – that will be in the spring.

The Children’s Garden is going be a hands-on, playful landscape where children are free to explore and interact with nature with a focus on learning through enjoyment about plants for food, fibre, construction and medicine.

“When the garden is fully up and running, there will be hands-on activities that help students understand the importance of plants in our lives. These education sessions will be based around themes of sustainability, interconnectedness and culture to encourage respect for the natural environment and the importance of plants – now and for the future.” – Councillor Peter Gilberd

Dealing with complex levels, and carefully working around exisiting trees, the design has woven a multi-layed sequence of spaces that will delight and educate children (and adults) for generations to come. A pavilion building for indoor education sessions is integrated into the garden.

This project is the largest investment in the Wellington Botanic Garden since the duck pond was built more than 18 years ago.

Vinegar Lane tipping point.

The new urban quarter of Vinegar Lane has reached a tipping point – more of it is built than unbuilt.

Masterplanned by Isthmus, owners of the 30 freehold lots have been free to select their own architects to design buildings that slot into the urban design framework. Designs are informed by the Vinegar Lane Design Manual which seeks to provide variety within the whole. Each lot is permitted 100% site coverage and a 4 storey (15m) height limit. Resource consents for each lot were pre-approved; leaving detailed designs to pass through the Vinegar Lane Design Review Panel and ACs’ building consent process. If the pre-approved resource consent envelope was challenged, new consents had to be applied for (this has happened in a couple of cases).

So, while construction is yet to begin on a number of lots, it’s now possible to imagine what Vinegar Lane will feel like when complete. When fully built-out the site will yield a density of 190 dwellings per ha gross (including lanes within the site), or 280 dwellings per ha net. High density mixed-use achieved within a mostly 4-storey height envelope.

We believe this ‘kiwi urbanism’ approach can be adopted elsewhere across the city. Such development could increase the density of the inner suburbs massively while maintaining the fine-grained variety that feels right for Auckland. Choosing the right sites, without resorting to bulk and height, and dividing them up into small and affordable parcels, puts development in the hands of small-scale private investors. Most of the lots will be owner-occupied, while also generating an income from commercial and residential rents. At Vinegar Lane baby boomer savings are being used to build a new Auckland.

Kopupaka Reserve awarded as World Landscape of the Year for 2016.

From among ten finalists from around the globe, Kopupaka Park was selected by the jury as World Landscape of the Year 2016 at the World Architecture Festival in Berlin. David Irwin and Grant Bailey attended to present the scheme – each team had 10 minutes to present.

The jury said:

“Inspired by woven baskets for catching eel, Isthmus has developed an innovative river-wall system of interlocking timbers,”

“Simple yet sophisticated engineering allows the baskets to retain silt and create habitats which will shift and change over time.”

We’d like to thank the whole design team, and especially our client, Auckland Council, for always believing in the potential of the project.

As featured on Dezeen.

World Architecture Winner – Transport Award

The pedestrian bridge that links Onehunga to the newly created Taumanu Reserve has beaten dozens of projects from across the world to win the 2016 WAN Transport Award. It is a joint winner with Denmark’s busiest transport hub.

Isthmus Group won the award with for Taumanu Reserve Bridge in Auckland, and Gottlieb Paludan Architects and Cobe Architects joined them in first place with their design for Nørreport Station in Oslo.

Taumanu Reserve Bridge restores a connection to a re-imagined coastal landscape created after motorway development in the 1970s severed the local populace from the sea. To resolve the problem of a park in two parts, a bridge of sufficient form and experience was required to stitch the halves together, with a legibility that was of the park and not the motorway. Beautifully balanced and proportioned, the bridge moves into the adjacent constructed and planted landforms and abutments and is bookended by basaltic concrete panels. The jury praised the resulting seamless integration of the bridge with the landscape. Catherine said: “I think the design is innovative. It stands out, it does exactly what it says it’s going to do. It links to the beach, it looks like the beach. Beautiful to walk across, beautiful to look at, with function & form – it ticks all the boxes for me.” Artwork on the bridge’s interior timber panelling was commissioned with guidance from the project’s Maori advisors. The resulting contemporary design was carved by machine, while in counterpoint anodized aluminium shells adorn the gateway upstands. Anthony appreciated the intricacy of the design, stating: “The detailing is fantastic. I think this project is beautiful and a very unusual and sensitive solution to a problem.” 

Selected for their experience and expertise in the field of transport design, the judging panel discussed the shortlisted projects at length in order to come to a decision. This year’s jury were: Catherine Hallett, Technical Sponsor for River Crossings at Transport for London, Anthony Leslie, Vice President of HOK, Bridget Rosewell OBE, founder and senior partner at Volterra Parners, Steen Trojaborg, Managing Director and Partner at DISSING+WEITLING, and Chris Williamson, co-founder of WestonWilliamson+Partners.

The other 4 shortlisted projects were:

  • Porto Cruise Terminal, Portugal
  • Train Control Centre Utrecht, Netherlands
  • Siilitie Metro Station, Finland
  • Bowen Place Crossing, Australia

Te Rangi Hiroa Youth Park

In October kaumatua from Ngati Whatua o Kaipara blessed the Te Rangi Hiroa Youth Park and officially opened this new community space.

The design concept is based on a consolidated diamond shape of activity called Waharua kōpito. Tāniko is a traditional method of decorative maori weaving used especially to decorate the borders of fine garments, based on geometric triangle and diamond shapes. The literal translation is ‘a point where people or events cross’. The pattern is a reminder that change occurs at such meeting points. The concept relates to the wedge of the youth facility forming a diamond pattern with the triangular shaped wedge of the Cycle Hub, with the Whanau Area at its heart. It also reflects the idea of bringing youth (and whanau) together in a purpose built space, and opening up opportunities for adventure and challenge.

In consultation with the Auckland Council and the local community board the youth space was designed to reflect it’s people and place. The theme of “found object” runs through the reserve giving it a rustic aesthetic in a refined way while sticking to a selected colour palette. Transformed from previously unusable land to a destination that maximises play experiences the reserve has quickly become a destination of choice for local youth.

Isthmus Design Team: Helen Kerr, David Gregory, Sean Burke, Alfred Chan
Other Consultants: Thomas Civil
Contractor: Dempsey Wood
Client: Auckland Council
Playground Supplier: Playrope

Porirua Kiosk wins NZIA Award.

Our team was excited to receive a Small Project Architecture Award at last week’s NZIA Local Awards in Wellington for the Porirua Kiosk. This small, strategic building is part of a much larger picture of urban revitalisation and in many ways symbolises a new lease of life for Porirua’s city centre.

Citation: “The building accommodates two small food and beverage outlets as well as public bathrooms; amenities which are not typically closely coupled. However, through clever planning and screening this finely crafted ‘object’ works. Timber, glass and metal combine to create a very robust yet welcoming facility in what has been a challenging area. Through the deployment of simple patterns and bright colour, a subtle Pacifica theme is evoked, especially when shadows from the glass canopy fall across the structures timber skin”.

Volcanic play at Otahuhu

A few months ago Auckland Council completed Tōia, a multi-purpose facility which includes a new library, aquatic centre, outdoor water play area, community garden and a new playground. Isthmus were engaged as the designers of the playspace portion and basketball court within the new recreation precinct, in close coordination with Bespoke landscape architects.

Inspired by the craters of extinct volcanoes in the Otahuhu area and wider Auckland isthmus, a series of ‘play craters’ provide creative play opportunities for a range of ages. Play is based around; climbing, jumping, balancing, scrambling, swinging, spinning and sliding. Each crater contains a specific play element selected to be reflective of volcanic activity. For example, the trampolines spring you from the ground, the pipes form tunnels or ‘tubes’, there are balancing games where the ground rocks and moves, even the crater edges are designed to be playable.

“Along with the library ramp, it’s the landscaping by Bespoke Landscape Architects that brings this leisure complex together. The skilful integration of the outside basketball court and the adjacent children’s playground (Isthmus Group) breathes new life into the David Lange memorial.” – , Metro


The existing site contour, sloping from the road into the park, is used to advantage with the craters terracing down the slope into the site. Water and sand play is incorporated into the space in a series of stone edged craters stepping down the hill, providing a visual connection to the splash pad and pools beyond.

A looped pathway, concrete with white shell within the aggregate mix, connects the craters and provides a platform from which to discover and explore the different play craters, with a grass bank providing an informal connection to the civic space where social basketball players can be observed from the new terraces.