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Rotorua Lakefront funded

Rotorua’s lakefront is both magical and mystical. It is steeped in the history of Te Arawa and forms the city’s civic soul. The lake’s scalloped bay forms, the history of migration, stories connecting the lake and the land and the beautiful love story that embraces Mokoia Island all go into creating the conceptual framework for Rotorua’s new lakefront.

The design re-orients the movement along the natural arc of the bay as a tracing of the movement of human and mahinga kai species as they move along the waters edge. The concept aims to feed the souls of the residents, and inspire visitors. It builds on what is Rotorua.

Developed in consultation with Ngāti Whakaue and Te Arawa Lakes Trust, the design has been guided by the Rotorua District Council’s steering group and a project advisory group alongside the team’s cultural design co-ordinator.

Yesterday the Government announced that Rotorua will receive $20million from the Provincial Growth Fund for the lakefront to match the $20m allocated by council. The grant will help fund several developments including a play area, new boardwalk, car parking, a new wharewaka, lakeside terraces and buildings to house cafes and restaurants.

Best Design Award 2018 Winners

The Design Institute of New Zealand’s annual Best Design Awards took place on Saturday night at the Viaduct Events Centre. The fast-paced event covered all aspects of design incorporating categories from graphic and product through to spatial design.

Isthmus filled a table with designers and collaborators, plus of course our clients from Auckland Council, Wellington City Council and HLC. This year we received awards for three projects in four categories:

North Kumutoto Pavilion won a Gold Pin in Public and Institutional Spaces.

Hobsonville Habitat Markers won a Silver in Exhibition & Temporary Structures.

Freyberg Place & Ellen Melville Centre won a Silver in Public Good and was also a Finalist in Public and Institutional Spaces. 

The Best Awards is always a big night – apparently more than a thousand entries were submitted this year. It’s refreshing to see our work not only amongst our peers in the architecture world, but also in dialogue with a whole range of design disciplines.

Timber Design Award winner

The Kumutoto Pavilion on Wellington’s waterfront won the Exterior Innovation category at the 2018 Timber Design Awards last night.

The Pavilion is composed of a matrix of 9,860 cedar battens that laid end-to-end would stretch from the Wellington to Lower Hutt. The builidng anchors the North Kumutoto public space and offers shade and an invitation to rest. The effect is of the mass of timber is lightless, not weight; the form hovers lightly overhead before cascading down the pavilion edge in a move that preserves unobstructed views of Wellington’s harbour.

The texture, form and placement of the pavilion abstracts the characteristics of our much loved coastal tree – the pōhutukawa – reinforced through the pavilion’s crafted steel support structure that splays clear of a community dining table. This is a place for people to gather where the land meets the sea.

Accepting the award our client Mike Faherty from Wellington City Council spoke of the collaboration behind the project and shared an African proverb;

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

We extend our thanks to the whole team that worked to develop, design and build this project, and offer our congratulations to all the other Timber Design Award winners.

Small. Smart. Affordable.

With New Zealand – and particularly Auckland – suffering from a housing affordability and space problem, Andre de Graaf sees small homes as the answer to many of the questions being raised. He tells Idealog’s Georgina Harris about the benefits of small homes and why they should be seen to be desirable for reasons other than just affordability.

Read the conversation in the Thinking section of our website:


Resene Total Colour Landscape Award

The Kea Enclosure at Wellington Zoo was announced as the winner of the landscape category at last night’s Resene Colour Awards in Auckland.

New Zealand is home to a diverse range of environments which support a stunning array of plants and habitats, each with its own unique combination of species. Part of the He Tuku Aroha (Meet the Locals) exhibit at Wellington Zoo, the walk-through aviary is a place for guests to enjoy the aerial antics of kea as they fly above and interact with their environment.

Kea are endemic to New Zealand and the world’s only alpine parrot; however due to threats from introduced predators and conflict with humans, they are considered nationally endangered in the wild.

The aviary has proven successful with high visitor numbers in the first 6 months. A second aviary accessible through a small hatch allows the Kea to have some quiet time when crowd volumes are too high.

The Isthmus design team undertook extensive research of the elements in the Kea’s natural environment and replicated these learnings within the enclosure. A number of Resene products were specified for the structural steel frame through to timber stains. The exit trap is painted a bright Thunderbird red to contrast with the underlying dark natural tones. Only non-toxic paints were used – the kea love to get their beaks into anything and everything.

Citation: “The robustness of products and colours aptly reflect the nature of the inhabitants, with a pop of colour anchoring a focal point. The diversity and toughness of materials and the depth of the colour palette brings an appreciation for life in the wild.”

Silent Noise


I stood at an intersection and just stopped
The cacophony was overwhelming
Street lights
Traffic lights
Power poles
Painted lines
Windows / Doors
Rubbish bins
Trucks, Buses, Cars, bikes and people

There was noise.

The city groaned and screamed as if hurt so loud that it was hard to hear oneself think.

Not just sound but a full-blown assault on the senses, sound, smell, and visual.

I had gone to stand for a short time on the corner of Beaumont and Victoria Street West where Victoria Street ends and College Hill starts. I go through this intersection in my car, on my bike and by foot everyday of every week. But to just stand and take some time, as if I was savoring the urban environment was an eye opener.

I shut my eyes.

In doing so I reduce the noise although interestingly I could still see. Momentarily just the outlines and with time my mind adjusted and filled in the detail that moments before I was struggling to see. Struggling to see as I was over whelmed by the noise.


My ears need muffs.

I have taken to wearing noise cancelling headphones. I sit in cafe’s writing with white noise being invisibly thrown at me to cancel out the surrounding discordant sounds.


Noise + White Noise = approximate silence.

Or perhaps

Noise + White Noise = the possibility of some clarity.

It seems to me that, we as people need to reduce the noise and search for more stillness and with that comes some sense of calm, a sense of peace and wellbeing. We often experience these feelings, seek this or perhaps value it more when we are within natural environments. An environment in such stark contrast to the urban although interestingly no less complex.  But somehow the natural environment seems able to assemble itself with a sense of calm and diversity, when compared to its urban brethren.

In doing so, somehow we are able to hear ourselves think.
Our cities need to calm, we need to calm, slow and with that we will be able to think.
Think about ourselves and find peace,
Think about our families and find love,
Think about our neighbors and find community,
Think about our environment and find health.

The idea of making less noise, allows us to pursue silence. A phenomenon unto itself, a thing that is hard to grasp, yet at its purist provides an unfathomable depth.



Silence one thinks is absolute. But like all things in life there are no absolutes. I don’t know if silence is even a thing; if silence is a gap between things or a thing in its own right. If it were a gap it implies it is part of something else. If it were nothing and something was something, then nothing needs to exist to allow something to exist. Philosophers have been debating these meanings for millennia and while I find it interesting what is most important is that silence has a role in our lives and our cities.

What I know is that with less noise there is more. While the idea of subtracting creates more is not new, the old design adage Less is more rings true on this occasion.

Something – something = something more

In my pursuit of more stillness, a calm a silence perhaps, I find at least a level of quietness is required. It is interesting to consider if quietness stems from the external or the internal environment and whether they are linked.

Meditation seems a way of to obtain a level of internal quietness, yet obtaining a quietness, a silence within one’s head has escaped me so far, thoughts seem to bang around in the clutter. But there is no doubt that the pursuit of that elusive quietness, stillness and calmness does pay a dividend. Not a dreary slowness, but a quiet clarity and energy to pursue everyday life.

I wonder if reducing the noise in our world is as important as seeking a silence from within. Perhaps the pursuit of some silence from within can help us better design the outside world, or understand the qualities our cities need to better empowering us as human beings.

Pursuing a silence, seeking a stillness however small, is designed in music. An entire language is created to describe, speed and space, gap in the sound, without which the sound would be continuous and monotonous, without meaning or effect. Gaps in the cities soundscape and spaces in our landscape can provide us with these pauses. The gaps in the intensity, the varying of scales create respite and give meaning in an otherwise over-powering reality.


The silence in the noise

I seek this silence, space to create.

I feel the need to design these moments in our environments in our everyday environments, our homes communities and cities. In doing so I think we will create better places, better habitats for us to thrive and allow us to live with more humility in our cities.


David Irwin
Creative Director