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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?

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.



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.


Keeping it Real

Last Friday we held our annual Isthmus Conference – this is the one day a year when our whole studio gathers together. First, each one of our eighty strong team shared what ‘keeping it real’ means to them – what keeps us grounded. We laughed, and we cried.

We then heard from guest speaker Gael Surgenor about her work at the Southern Initiative to tackle the complex and interconnected challenges that face south Auckland communities. With that in mind we then spent the afternoon in teams engaged in hand-on design research in the ‘forgotten’ suburb Te Atatu South, coming up with ideas of how to reverse social isolation and celebrate the latent potential of its people. We built ten bikes which we gifted to the grassroots community group Heart Of Te Atatu South.

We finished up back at the studio for chilled Wellington-studio-brewed beers, amazing food from the Lucky Taco truck, prize-giving and the highlight of the evening; the debut performance from Aotearoa-alt-country collective The Oiois – all the musicians are members of Isthmus.

It was an inspiring day – fantastic to be able to give something back to the community and at the same time strengthen the shared purpose of our team – that’s what keeping it real looks like.



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.