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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


Isthmus Matariki

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. In Europe the pagan mid-winter festival was combined with Christianity; the British Empire’s calendar was eventually overlaid on the opposite side of the globe, obscuring Aotearoa’s seasonal rhythms.

However, the old ways are resurfacing. Matariki is increasing in prominence as an authentic, homegrown celebration of the passing of the year. Isthmus first introduced Matariki in 2008 as one of a series of staff-initiated culture nights, which grew in subsequent years to become a dinner for the whole studio and their whanau.

Five years ago we lost a couple of public holidays to the weekend (before ‘mondayisation’) so Isthmus introduced Matariki Day for all staff, an extra day off and dinner with whanau in the evening.

This year, for the first time, we have extended our Matariki season to include our clients, collaborators and friends. Thanks to those that joined us in Auckland and Wellington for an evening of waiata, food, drinks and conversation.

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.

Todd Energy McKee Control Centre opens

Todd Energy has built a $12m state-of-the-art Operations Centre at the McKee Mangahewa natural gas production station in North Taranaki, one of the largest onshore natural gas production stations in New Zealand. The Isthmus-designed Tikorangi Building was opened by Megan Woods, Minister of Energy and Resources, this week.

The cross-laminated timber (CLT) building brings together fifty production station staff that were previously spread across three separate buildings within the site. The new 1000m2 facility has been designed to Importance Level 4 (IL4), the same level as a hospital. It is designed to withstand high wind events and a significant earthquake and return to operation immediately after.

The light weight of the CLT structure was a large factor in achieving IL4 design standard for critical infrastructure within a modest budget. The use of CLT also significantly reduced construction time compared to traditional steel and masonry construction methods. It also offers a warm environment in which to work.  

The project took 14 months to complete and was delivered on time and within budget by Taranaki contractor Clelands Construction. The building is Isthmus’ largest completed work of architecture in the region to date.

Freyberg wins Civic and Arts Property Award

While Isthmus were busy enjoying our annual Matariki night dinner in the studio, across town at the Spark Arena the Property Council Awards were happening. We were excited to hear that, from a long list of finalists from around the country, the Freyberg Place & Ellen Melville Hall project won the Warren & Mahoney Civic and Arts Property Award!

We’d like to congratulate our client Lisa Spasic from Auckland Council who received the award on behalf of the project, and extend our congratulations to the whole team; design partners John Reynolds and Stevens Lawson Architects; consultants Graham Tipene, Beca, Holmes Consulting, Traffic Design Group, eCubed, Arborlab, Plan.Heritage, H20 and MPM Projects; and the contractors JFC Ltd and Corbel Construction.

Freyberg Place & the Ellen Melville Centre offer an open invitation for Aucklanders to inhabit, occupy and claim the space for themselves. Freyberg’s due-north orientation allows for much-needed, sunny and sheltered space in the city; it delivers on aspirations for a vibrant, accessible and liveable city for the people of Auckland.

Isthmus Matariki Day

Seven years ago we embedded an additional ‘public holiday’ into the Isthmus culture and calendar – we call it Matariki Day. We think that in the future all New Zealanders will celebrate an authentic, home-grown winter holiday of seasonal and cultural significance; a public holiday for Matariki rather than Queens Birthday.

We give all of our staff an extra day off, and in the evening hold a dinner in the studio for all whanau. This is our way of recognising and thanking all staff in front of their partners and families.

We look forward to the year ahead and enjoy a uniquely New Zealand meal together. Afterwards, while the adults talk, the kids are kept busy with the ‘matariki tamariki design challenge’.

Both of our studios will be closed this Friday 15 June.

Three Projects Finalists in the Timber Awards

Three Isthmus projects have been announced as Finalists in the NZ Wood Resene Timber Awards.

The Habitat Markers, a series of interventions along the Hobsonville Coastal Walkway, include solid laminated tōtara blocks that have been CNC routed to create a labyrinth of holes and hollows for birds and insects to make their homes within, and for children to encounter nature.

Integrated into the folded (FSC-certified) purple heart deck of Kumutoto Site 8 a small pavilion offers a human-scaled sculptural landmark along the Wellington waterfront. In both form and texture it is the built interpretation of a large pōhutukawa tree. A matrix of cedar battens, almost 18km worth, hang lightly overhead offering shade and partial shelter for communal eating at the long bench within the shelter.

Touching the land/whenua lightly, the Hobsonville Point Coastal Walkway Bridges curve and give way to the existing trees and the topography. The design offers an enhanced elevated experience, one which conveys the forest canopy. The central deck uses recycled Australian hardwood while on the outer edges a lighter profile of native Totara has been used to weave the handrail detail together drawing on cultural tradition.

The winners will be announced at a dinner in Auckland on 20th September 2018.