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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.”

Story Telling at Te Hauāuru Reserve

Te Hauāuru Reserve is an integrated green space that takes its design takes cues from the site’s location within the network of upper Waitematā inlets and streams and the history of the kauri forests that once covered the area. From the park entrance and promenade extends a network of pedestrian paths –where the main paths meet, water from the clusters of jets laps over the stepped pavement surface, collecting in shallow pools. The form, pattern and text inlay etched into the base of these pools, and also applied to the sides of the seating plinths, is a subtle reference to the history of kauri in the area and to the imperilled future of Aotearoa’s mighty forest tree. The kauri imprint below our feet invites us to be aware of where we tread.

The industrious nature of Mana Whenua is represented through imagery that is revealed throughout the site. The graphics speak about about early occupation of the Waitematā coastal edge and its inland slopes. Early gardening activity is represented by supersized tools etched into the faceted walls. Brass inlays of representative shellfish are embedded within the promenade paving surface. Shellfish collected from the harbour remind us of the abundant food source relied upon by Mana Whenua.

Read the full story here:


Wellington Zoo’s new chimpanzee habitat

The chimpanzee enclosure upgrade – opened this week – is the latest collaboration between Isthmus and the passionate team at Wellington Zoo.  This major project has improved the environment for the chimps, the largest troupe in New Zealand, and given visitors a more immersive viewing experience.

Within the enclosure, the chimp’s habitat has been enriched with new climbing features as well as significant planting to create a more forest-like setting for the troupe. In line with the Zoo’s recognised focus on sustainability (it’s the first certified Carbon Zero zoo in the world), materials were carefully sourced; hardwood timber poles recycled from Wellington’s old trolley bus network; chunky ropes reclaimed from Centre Port’s tug boats; and swings and hammocks made from recycled hoses donated by the Fire Service.

The addition of a dense layer of vegetation within the enclosure benefits the chimps’ wellbeing as they are now immersed in the habitat, not all in plain view of each other and the enclosing boundary wall. They call-out to each other more now, as they would in their natural habitat. Over 2,000 plants have enriched the enclosure, some protected by special hot-wires to give the plants a better chance of survival. Big trees were specified for the same reason. On top of the tallest timber poles several indestructible steel nests have been installed for the chimps to climb up to and gain prospect from. From up high they not only survey their enclosure, but also a large part of Wellington’s cityscape.

The troupe were kept inside their house for seven weeks during construction, during which time a large hole was cut into the lower end of the concrete enclosure and a prefabricated steel frame was installed, followed by 50mm thick glass panels. This glazed wall brings human visitors face-to-face with our closest living relatives.

Adjacent to this, on the site of the old Chimp House, a custom playspace has been installed that mirrors the chimp’s environment of poles, enclosures and nests.

Chimpanzees are five times stronger than an adult human and highly dextrous, capable of unscrewing machine-fixed M20 bolts, so a seriously robust materials palette with special details was specially developed.

The upgrade has enhanced the captive environment of these intelligent apes as well as bringing people closer to them physically and emotionally, further strengthening Wellington Zoo’s commitment to education and conservation.