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Te Ahu a Turanga: Manawatū Tararua Highway

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has identified a preferred option for a new State Highway 3 route to connect the Manawatū, Tararua District, Hawke’s Bay and northern Wairarapa, to replace the closed SH3 Manawatū Gorge route.

Isthmus are proud to be part of the team selected by the NZTA to deliver the Te Ahu a Turanga: Manawatū Tararua Highway project. The Advance consortium includes Fulton Hogan, HEB Construction Limited, Aurecon Limited and WSP-Opus.

Work on the project began in mid-2017 after a series of slips closed the old State Highway 3 through the Manawatū Gorge. After extensive consultation with the community and key stakeholders, the Transport Agency identified a preferred route option running to the north of the Manawatū Gorge in early 2018. A Notice of Requirement for the designated new transport corridor for the replacement route was issued earlier this year.

Enabling works for the new route are scheduled to commence in September 2019. Pending further resource consents, full construction is expected to get underway in 2020, with completion of the project in 2024.

Design Thinker: Nick Kapica

At Isthmus we take an open-minded, inquisitive and inter-disciplinary approach to design. We start without knowing the answer and we pay careful attention to the creative process. Our studio culture incubates ideas; the closer and more collaboratively we work together, the more chance ideas have of spreading, growing, cross-pollinating and transforming.

We are very pleased to welcome into our studio the design thinker Nick Kapica. Nick is a problem solver, a connecter and a communicator who is totally at home in the overlap of our dynamic, inter-disciplinary design studio. He joins us as as Principal, based in Wellington.

Nick studied Visual Communication at Ravensbourne College in the UK then worked as a designer at The Independent newspaper before moving to Berlin in 1989 where he founded SV Associates. Over a 20 year period his work evolved from visual communication to experience design with a strongly human-centered focus.

Nick moved to New Zealand in 2009 to take up the post of Senior Lecturer in Design at Massey University. As a design researcher he operated within two distinct yet related areas of design practice: visual communication design within spatial environments, and the use of spatial environments to enhance and affect users’ experiences within them. In 2017 he joined Wellington City Council as the Design Lead responsible for Brand Experience and pushing ‘design as a process’ deeper into the city council.

Nick is happiest when bringing different people together to build diverse teams that try to understand complex problems and search for unusual solutions. He is already adding his experience in place branding, community collaboration, wayfinding and environmental graphic design into the mix of Isthmus projects across New Zealand.

Penny McIntyre – Isthmus’ new COO

A qualified Accountant, Penny has been a valued and trusted member of the Isthmus team for over a decade now. During that time she has risen from company accountant to Principal of Finance. As a key member of our Studio Management Team, Penny brings 30 years of accumulated professional and life experience to bear on the decisions we make for the business, as well as a cracking sense of humour. She works collaboratively across the studio providing clear financial support to our project managers, financial analysis for the Board and management team as well as process improvements that help the studio perform at its best.

Penny has grown as Isthmus has grown; our turnover has increased by 400% in the last five years. She is authentic, courageous, empathetic and extremely loyal. In addition to finance, Penny has a solid sense of fairness and is a keen supporter of the many unique threads that weave the Isthmus culture together. All of this has set Penny up for success as she steps into the Chief Operating Officer (COO) role to head our business operations.

As COO Penny will lead our team including Finance, IT, HR and Admin as well as manage our relationships with external suppliers such as Legal, Insurance and Health & Safety. Penny is excited about the opportunity and is, as always, ready for the next challenge.

Isthmus’ Matariki Day

There is a natural logic that the transition from one year to the next is marked by the maximum tilt of the earth, our furthest distance from the sun. Matariki is increasing in prominence as an authentic, homegrown celebration of the passing of the year. Isthmus first acknowledged Matariki in 2008 and it has grown in subsequent years to become a key feature of our studio culture.

In 2014 we introduced a Matariki Day for all staff, a special ‘public holiday’, with a dinner hosted by the Directors for the team and their whanau in the evening. This is a chance to appreciate the commitment and contribution that all of our staff make, and to acknowledge their partners and families for the supporting role that they play in the success of our studio. We share stories, and we look back in order to look forward.

Matariki provides a punctuation mark in the middle of the long dark winter; a time to both reflect and look forward, but most of all a time be present with one another, enjoy each other’s company and deepen relationships.

Our studios will be closed on Friday 21 June.

Last year, for the first time, we extended our Matariki season to include our clients, collaborators and friends. We will be hosting an evening of waiata, food, drinks and conversation in both our Auckland studio on 3 July and in our Wellington studio on 4 July.


Isthmus Promotions

Our team continues to grow in experience and confidence; seven individuals have been recognised for promotions as they are taking their career to the next level.

Graduate to Intermediate

Caroline Sollerhed came to Isthmus from Sweden. She works across a range of projects from our Wellington studio as an urban designer and planner. She thinks about the big picture and is very good at telling the story of a project.

William Brooks is a talented architect who has brought his quiet enthusiasm and commitment to public projects such as the Auckland Ferry Basin. Will loves a challenge, and is always thoughtful and considered in his work.

Simon Nicholson gained a BA in Accounting and Finance from AUT before starting at Isthmus. He has shown exceptional growth in the past year and has become a trusted and valued member of our team.

Intermediate to Senior

Alex Foxon is a landscape architect with green fingers and a safe pair of hands. Alex always delivers; he has a natural ability to manage people and projects which makes him a trusted member of our studio.

Dale Harrop has demonstrated exceptional personal and professional growth in the couple of years he has been at Isthmus. Dale combines his career as a landscape architect and urban designer with being a key member of NZ’s national Ice Hockey team.

Senior to Associate

Brad Ward has risen quickly and steadily through the ranks since he joined Isthmus as a graduate six years ago. Thanks to his dedicated work ethic, his ability to learn fast and deal with complexity while remaining clear and calm, Brad has become a master of his craft in a remarkably short period of time. Brad is a quiet and humble high achiever, working on community regeneration projects across Auckland.

Ben Scott came to Isthmus four years ago as our first dedicated ‘IT guy’. In that time he has made sure that the digital infrastructure of the studio has kept pace with our rapid growth. Ben keeps everything ticking along nicely, with no surprises.




Ralph Johns NZILA Fellow

The NZILA President’s cocktail evening was held last night. Ralph Johns was awarded his Fellowship of the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects for his contribution to practice and profession:

Ralph Johns has contributed significantly to landscape architecture in Aotearoa through teaching, design, publishing and leadership. The common theme through each of these pursuits is Ralph’s vision of the influential and meaningful role landscape architecture has to play. 

Ralph came to New Zealand in 2001 when he was appointed, with programme director Dr Catherine Alington, to establish the new landscape architecture course at Victoria University. Ralph helped design the programme, lead the studios, lecture, supervise research, and guide the course through academic committee approvals and accreditation with the NZILA. He had a fundamental influence on the course’s urban and design-focussed character, thereby adding to the depth of landscape architecture education in this country.  

Ralph joined the Isthmus Group in 2006 as leader of what was then a small Wellington studio. He grew the capability of the team and led a range of design projects.  Several of these won NZILA awards including Government House, Ferndale, High Street Lower Hutt and Ngaio School. In particular he helped deliver Kumototo, a project he had earlier master-planned with Studio of Pacific Architecture, which went on to win the George Malcolm Award.

During this time Ralph served as chair of the NZILA Wellington branch, on the NZILA Registration Panel, and had earlier helped organise the 2002 NZILA Landscape Conference.

In 2013 Ralph was appointed Isthmus CEO – arguably the role in which he has exerted the most influence within the profession. His conviction is that a design practice is best led by designers. Importantly, one of his missions is growing staff capability and influence on projects. The practice has increasingly taken leadership roles in major housing, public place, transport, and infrastructure projects. In this way Ralph has helped change what people understand as possible within landscape architecture. He has had a significant influence on the careers of many people, and increased the standing of the profession.  

Along the way Ralph promoted landscape architecture through publishing. He has a body of articles and conference papers to his name, and has been instrumental in winning awards with other professional bodies. Notably, he also instigated and produced ‘Coast. Country. Neighbourhood. City.’ (CCNC) to mark Isthmus’s 25 year anniversary. Rather than a ‘glossy’ book, Ralph chose a ‘chunky’ format to suit his purpose of recording the ideas and thinking behind the projects. CCNC won the Charlie Challenger Award in 2017.  The citation reads: “Mighty in its ambition, its clarity in delivery, and its context in capturing not only influential projects, but also their essence that New Zealanders can all identify with.…. ‘Coast. Country. Neighbourhood. City.’ stands tall, at the forefront showcasing a New Zealandness, on a local, national, and global stage.”

Ralph is therefore one of a select group of landscape architects to have won both of the NZILA’s George Malcolm and Charlie Challenger Awards.

In summary, Ralph is a leader, innovator, and ambassador. He adds mana to the ranks of the Fellows of the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects.”