We think Matariki should be a national Holiday

Isthmus first acknowledged Matariki in 2008 with a small after-work gathering with take-away hangi. It has grown in subsequent years to become a key feature of our studio culture. We deepened our collective engagement with mātauranga māori in 2010 when we introduced Matariki Day, an extra day of annual leave for all staff, with a dinner hosted in the studio for the whole team and their whanau.

We embedded Matariki as an additional ‘public holiday’ because we believe that Aotearoa should celebrate its own authentic events and seasons. We joined the call for Matariki to become an official holiday, a call which is becoming louder each year. As the collective momentum builds, so does our own; this year we are embracing Matariki more fully than ever, with a ‘festival’ of hikoi, talks and events that connect us with community, culture and place, as well as the day of itself.

There is an ancient logic in marking the transition from one year to the next by the maximum tilt of the earth, our furthest distance from the sun. As the planet tips away from the sun during mid-winter in Aotearoa a cluster of stars disappears beyond the horizon in April/May and rises back into view again in June/July. Matariki is the name given to the star cluster, and its rising is celebrated as the start of the new season of growth.

Hosting a Matariki dinner at each of our studios gives us a chance to appreciate the commitment and contribution that all of our staff have made over the past year and – importantly – to acknowledge their partners and families for the vital supporting role that they play in the success of our studio. We remember those who have passed away and celebrate new life. Most of all it is simply a time to be present, share kai, enjoy each other’s company and deepen the strong relationships that we have with each other.

Our Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch studios will be closed on Friday 24 July.

Thinking: Crisis Creates Opportunity

Right now city councils across Aotearoa need to make physical changes in the streets in order for us to safely re-inhabit our cities. This gives us an amazing opportunity to explore what city spaces designed for people would look like. Wellington CBD provides an ideal laboratory to prototype such an idea.

Coming out of lockdown gives us the opportunity to accelerate the mode shift away from private care; we have an opportunity to make a leap forward by quickly and temporarily reallocating street space to  prioritise cycling and walking as the city opens back up.

Design thinker Nick Kapica talks about how the current crisis creates an opportunity to quickly adapt our urban public spaces to support physical distancing, and suggests that we also try something much bigger; Crisis Creates Opportunity. 


Park(ing) Day 2018

PARK(ing) Day is celebrated globally when citizens, artists, activists and designers collaborate to temporarily transform metered car parking spaces into PARKs, sparking conversations about how our streets could become better ‘human habitats’.  

This year a keen team from Isthmus’ Auckland studio partnered with three Unitec Landscape Architecture students to lay claim to a carpark in lower Queen Street, intent on getting people to think about how they play in Auckland’s central city. Play is fundamental to how we experience cities, impacting how we enjoy the spaces we inhabit

PARK(ing) Day presents an opportunity to highlight the disparity between the amount of street space provided for cars compared to people, and to initiate conversation about how we play in the city centre. The team asked passersby to explore their associations with the word “park”, inviting them to identify on a map where they ‘park’ (i.e. arrive in the city by car, via public transport, or bicycle) and where they ‘park up’ (relax in the city). This encouraged people to think about the city spatially and their experience within it. While considering this, an apple was offered, representing a moment of pause to reflect on where they as individuals chose to play or find respite in the city. The apple became a metaphor to invite them to reflect and take their own opportunities to pause.

The outcome was a map dotted with pink and yellow stickers illustrating how people use the city. The placement of these stickers told a story but perhaps richer still, was the conversations that occured (with apple in hand) about the city we live in. Even in the busy and fast-paced environment of lower Queen Street, people embraced the opportunity to spend a moment to speak about the spaces they enjoyed spending time in, as well as the spaces they did not

Our hope is that the conversation continues; how could Auckland’s streets better meet the needs of the people?

The Isthmus team was Charlotte Warren, Matt Jones, Dale Harrop and Greer Oliver.
NZILA connected us with three Unitec students: Alex Luiten, Ge Shi and Yue Yu.

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:


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 at the Urbanism New Zealand Conference

A wide range of work and thinking was represented by members of the Isthmus Group at the UrbanismNZ conference held in Wellington this week. It’s been well over a decade since the last big urban design conference in New Zealand was held, so there was plenty to talk about. And this is a good time to be talking about it.

On day one:

Haylea Muir spoke, with HLC’s Haylea Fitchett, about Child Centred Design for the New Generation of Auckland’s Suburbs

Andre de Graaf’s talk was titled Small Homes – Big Impact?

Ralph Johns discussed Bicycle Landscape: The Transformative Potential of Cycling Infrastructure in NZ.

On day two:

Gavin Lister presented Vinegar Lane: a NZ Urban Intensification Case Study.

And Duncan Ecob chaired a panel session about Northcote’s Suburban Regeneration with Isthmus principals David IrwinHelen Kerr, HLCs’ Mark Fraser and Panuku’s Morgan Reeve.


There were about 50 speakers altogether, with many sessions running in three parallel streams. The organisers boldly attempted to bring it all together in the summing up under the themes of Urban Form; Cultural Values; Resilient Cities and Well-being.

The Urban Design Group are now working up a position paper to take to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Phil Twyford, outlining an Aotearoa vision for people-centred, values-based urbanism.

Isthmus are right behind that.

Idea Log

Idealog magazine sent us, and some other creatives around town, a hunk of wood and asked us what we could do with it.

We gave the Idea Log to Architectural Graduate Azmon Chetty who has a reputation around the studio for his hands-on ability with timber. He took it down to our workshop and set to work, inspired to make a connection between land, people and culture. Azmon says,

“The Isthmus Idea Log offers opportunities for play and discovery for a variety of activities, whether it be indoors or outdoors. It’s adaptive nature allows it to provoke creativity and thinking from kids or adults in the environment they are in.

This project makes this connection more obvious in a curious and fun way; as a design for mixed use. The log can be flung in a tree or thrown into the water to see what critters come to inhabit it. Other possibilities could be a bird feeder, hanging pot for plants to be grown on or simply a picnic lamp.”

The Umbrella Experiment – Winner

Isthmus graduates Jia Ying-Hew, Ivy Llanera and Mihali Katsougiannis collaborated on a design for The Idealog + Blunt + Generator Umbrella Experiment. From hundreds of entries their design was recently announced as the people’s choice winner.

About the design, The Land We Are, Jia says,

“New Zealand’s landscapes are both just as marvellous and diverse as it’s people. Using the landscape as a medium, this design represents the culmination of NZ’s different people and cultures.

The land is something that binds us to Aotearoa. It has enabled us to accomplish wonders far beyond what others could envisage as we constantly draw upon it for inspiration resulting in truly bespoke design that could only have been conceived here.

We are fortunate to live in a country where we can gaze upon the stars, traverse across Middle-earth and enjoy the life’s simple pleasures in our own backyard.”

Small, but Smart

As part of the NZIA’s Festival of Architecture 2017, the Auckland Design Manual Team ran an interactive exhibition that explored what the ‘New Auckland Home’ could look like. In the past, the ‘Auckland home’ has been synonymous with the villa or the bungalow but today, with the emergence of the Unitary Plan and the evolution of the Auckland housing market the typical Auckland home is changing.

Visitors to the exhibition viewed exemplars of different new housing typologies and were asked to vote for the one they would choose as home. The most popular, beating all other typologies, was a standalone house on a freehold section; albeit a small house on a small section.

“At 40m2 the Axis Small Home (by Isthmus and Architecture Workshop) is tiny, but it’s also affordable, sustainable and can fit into an existing backyard.

Affordability weighed heavily on voters’ minds, but price wasn’t the bottom line. Good design was a strong selling point for this home, and for voters that didn’t mean grand architectural statements or expensive materials, it meant efficient use of space with a simple, but elegant design.

While Aucklanders are ready to move on from the quarter acre section, they still want a backyard. Having just enough space to grow a few veges, have a BBQ, and enjoy some sun satisfied many voter’s outdoor needs.

Smaller homes weren’t just preferred by the singles amongst us. Voters with families also showed a trend of voting for compact, affordable homes, so long as they had some green space for the kids and pets.”


Bird of the Year

To celebrate the winner of Bird of the Year 2017 – announced by Forest & Bird earlier this week – here are some photos of the walk-through kea aviary at Wellington Zoo’s Meet the Locals He Tuku Aroha that we completed earlier this year. Sadly, with maybe as few as 3,000 kea left in the wild, this is possibly the closest many people will get to the cheeky, endangered mountain parrot.


Tokyo: Superdense Cyclecity.


Tokyo is a patchwork city-of-cities, home to 13 million people (the greater urban agglomeration has a whopping 38 million). It is composed of multiple, distinct communities, a megalopolis designed from the scale of the tatami mat outwards.
The self-contained neighbourhoods are well organised around daily, weekly and monthly needs. Housing is mixed tenure, low rise and high density, which creates socially cohesive communities with people of all ages and stages living together.
In many places, even remarkably close to the main centres, Tokyo streets have the feeling of being in a small town. That special quality comes from the social and functional diversity of each neighbourhood, the tightly packed buildings (each different to the other), the narrow streets and lack of traffic.
Tokyo was rebuilt twice in twentieth century, once after the 1923 earthquake and again after WWII – each time to the same fine-grained underlying pattern. In an an urban design sense, it is almost totally unplanned. But the fine grain is remarkably coherent and consistent, and small scale development is guided by a constant set of practices and rules of thumb that have made it very adaptable to change.


Being vast, flat and dense, Tokyo is ideal for cycling. I cycled in big loops through and around this city of cities over three days, with my daughter Frances. We hired two bikes for a ridiculously cheap $3 a day each from a well organised municipal hire office and bike storage place. They had a basket on the front, a stand, integrated lock, front dynamo light and one gear.
Tokyo’s streets are not noisy, dirty or dangerous. Apart from some of the new commercial and industrial areas and the arterial routes we found, the streets largely belong to pedestrians and bikes. They are naturally calmed, narrow so it’s difficult for two cars to pass. Footpaths are uncommon – the road space is shared between pedestrians, cyclists, and the occasional car. Under these conditions, and with strict liability laws which hold the larger party financially responsible for accidents, motorists tend to drive cautiously.
Once off the arterial roads there aren’t many cars anyway. Car ownership in Tokyo is very expensive, and really, you don’t need one; there is a station five minutes walk from anywhere and an amazingly efficient system of cross city trains. For local trips, cycling just makes sense, and the suburbs are full of bikes.
14% of all trips in the city are made by bike. Literally everyone is a cyclist. From mums portaging two pre school kids to kindergarten on a electric two-wheeled family wagon to grey-haired ladies picking up their vegetables on a tricycle. Most use their bicycles for short trips around their neighborhoods where almost all daily conveniences can be found within a kilometer or two. Tokyo bikes are nothing special; more like a pair of sensible shoes than a set of Nike trainers, made in China and designed for utility. Not many are electric; there are no hills, and no one seems to be in too much of a hurry.
Who’d have thought that cycling around a megalopolis would feel so safe and relaxed.

Connections Reflections: State @ Night.

This Saturday the 20th May of the outdoor photographic exhibition Connections Reflections Auckland opens on Queens Wharf, Downtown Auckland New Zealand. 
Isthmus are proud to announce that Haylea Muir is one of 7 photographers chosen to shoot and curate the exhibition under the guidance of top International Photographer Tom Ang.

Haylea’s 5 exhibited photographs extends, reflects and perhaps parallels her career as a landscape and urban designer with Isthmus.

Congratulations to Haylea and good luck with the exhibition and we all look forward to seeing these on the wharf and wish you all the best with this exhibition.

Holidays and Making Memories

I have peppered of few of my holiday snap shots in here with this post. Aside from doing cool stuff, one thing I always eagerly anticipate over a holiday period is more discretionary reading time and thinking time. I was lucky enough to get through a few books this past break (long haul flights help).  It seemed no matter what I read and where I looked – some common threads of thinking kept recurring. I couldn’t help but put these into the context of where we are at as a design studio, our achievements these past few years and the aspirations we have for the future of Isthmus.

The modern day philosopher and thinker, Theodore Zeldin, argues that if we want to be innovative with our ideas and imagine a new future that is not simply an extension of the past then we need to understand the past in a new way also. Apparently our memories are formed in the same part of the brain where we think about the future and ideas.  All this interested me as I thought about new ways of formulating ideas and innovating in the way we work, communicate and design. If the past can have more of an influence on the future than we might imagine, do we then re-imagine a relationship between past and future.

This will be different for everyone but from a personal perspective I decided to formulate a series of propositions:
1 – Memories are important and if we can combine memories in new ways there is a chance that they could change how we think about the future.

The sharper our visual memories the more the future has a visual shape.

Zeldin argues: “Memory is therefore not only about the past; it provides the building blocks from which the future is constructed. The narrower the range of memories one has, the less one is likely to have broad and original ideas about the future”.

From a Maori perspective time is seen as a natural force (like wind or water) that moves around you. You are not the one journeying through time, you remain still and time flows past you eventually leaving you behind. In that way you see your past before you as it passes you by – and the future is sneaking up from behind.

Perhaps if we juxtapose people, places and ideas from different centuries and backgrounds we might find new answers to the problems we grapple with today.

 2 – Feeding your memory is as important as feeding your body.

Personal experiences are not enough and should be supplemented by vicarious memories we acquire from others, whether through conversation, reading, writing, visual media/arts etc. With poor memories we cannot imagine where we could be going next, apart from the places we have already been. Constructing and recording a richness of past personal experiences and facts thus becomes important.  It is also interesting that of the 3 original muses in Greek Mythology – Mneme – represented the art of memory.

 3 – The existence of memories is important, but what matters more is the relationship between them.

The French mathematician Henri Poincare (1854-1912), lauded intuition, by which he meant not guess work, but the ability to unit elements/facts well known but till then scattered and foreign to each other. The value, he argued, of an observation comes from its giving new value to old facts it unites. To do this he took an interest in almost everything because nothing was necessarily irrelevant. He argued the best training for a scientist was in the humanities. His favoured reading was of exploration and travel and when telling a story he seldom started at the beginning – his mind did not work in a straight line.

Poincare also valued incompatibilities, disagreements and uncertainties and argued that if you break up reality into fragments of truth and illusion it opens the door to invention. In fact when you think about it the majority of disagreements are about the past or the future – what did or did not happen or what could or should happen. If we shuffle the cards of what we remember, forget and anticipate we might hope, argue or create in a new way.

There are of course many forms of creative expression; music, drama, stories, poetry, philosophy, history, travelogues, lectures, art, dance etc. I am of the view that if we continue to have an interest in everything and find ways to make rich memories (good and bad), our no-boundaries philosophy will take on new meaning, have the potential to tap ever-richer seams of creativity and we will be booking a lot more tickets to Berlin.

That past year was challenging for us all in our own ways and for the reasons we already know – we lived through it, but seldom have I personally been so excited about the future given the foundations we have laid the past few years.



Kiwi & Kereru.

The following is a TXT conversation between Rewi Thompson and David Irwin over the weekend. The two of them discussed the meaning of land and NZ culture by SMS.
It’s an illustration that ideas are not confined to the weekday and often come at different times of the day and night and sometimes it is important to share these. It’s an example that thoughts and ideas can be described using analogies. It’s an example that design ideas can be generated using words not just through drawing. In fact ideas and design can be communicated in any form from a pile rocks to sketches, to a moving image, to an essay or txt exchange. It is also important that we understand the values we as kiwis bring to our design work, that we understand them and can articulate them.
Following the development of the Northcote project David and Rewi were discussing the qualities of the outdoor space of the smallest lot and house they had previously designed into stage two of Northcote, a 4.2m x 22m = 92m² lot, a 2 bed terrace house of 4.2m x 10m making it 42m² per floor or 84m² and private open space of 4.2m x 5m = 21m² basically the smallest unitary plan complying house.
The question at play was the quality of private open space on the ground.
“So, there it is a New Zealand way of thinking about how we live in the sky. It’s not ground, and like our bird friends, we are being forced there. We need to learn to live in a new way like a Kereru does. Once this is accepted, we can go higher and higher and enjoy our lifestyle in the sky, high in the branches of our conceptual tree.”
– David & Rewi

Culture Shift.

At Isthmus we share a common purpose: Design that advances Land, People and Culture.

But what is culture, and how is it created by the interaction of land and people? On a personal level, lately I have been thinking more about what it means to be ‘Welsh pakeha’. It raises all sorts of interesting questions about my identity, place and culture. However, so far I conclude that my two nationalities (Welsh and New Zealand) are more similar than they are different:

1. Beer & Rugby
The Welsh are mad about rugby. I grew up literally on the edge of town, the last street in Cardiff before suburbia gave way to fields. From my bedroom window I could hear singing, carrying through the ever present drizzle, from the Arms Park in the city centre five miles away (that in the ‘golden era of Welsh rugby’ of the 1970s – it got quieter after that). While the Welsh can undisputedly sing better – and possibly drink more beer – than New Zealanders, they have lost 27 of their 30 encounters with the All Blacks, despite being coached by New Zealanders Henry, Hansen and Gatland.
2. Sheep Destruction
Wales has 10 million sheep and 3 million people. NZ has 30 million sheep and 4.5 million people. While the Welsh ratio is up there in international terms, Aotearoa has twice as many sheep for each and every one of us, and is a world leader in that regard. In George Monbiot’s excellent book Feral, he says “Sheep farming in this country (Wales) is a slow-burning ecological disaster which has done more damage to the living systems of this country than either climate change or industrial pollution.” If you are interested, read sheepwrecked. It’s fair to say sheep that while they have become ‘cultural icons’ sheep have trashed very large parts of the land and ecology of both Wales and Aotearoa.
3. Language Revival
The Welsh language was very nearly totally eradicated by the English. Sound familiar? In industrial South Wales where I grew up almost no-one spoke Welsh. My Grandparents were from the small mining village of Cwm Ffrwd-Oer; they both had strong Welsh accents even though they had lived in London since the 1930s, but they couldn’t speak a word of Welsh. Interest in saving the language picked up through the 1970s. I learnt it at primary school and early years of high school and even won a minor prize for Welsh recitation at the youth Eisteddfod. Since then the language has made a slow but steady comeback – we got a Welsh TV channel in 1982, the Super Furry Animals released an entire album in Welsh in 2000, and today every public document, sign and piece of information is written in both Welsh and English. Today about 20% of people in Wales can converse in Welsh, many of them first generation Welsh speakers. The language’s comeback story has become a model for language revival in minority cultures around the world, including New Zealand. For example, our Kohanga Reo, or ‘language nests’, were modelled on Welsh language immersion pre-schools, Maori TV was launched in 2004, and the new bank notes have Te Reo on them as well as English. My favourite Welsh word is, archfarchnad*.
In summary, I do not get all that excited about rugby (but I do like beer), I feel sad when I see sheepwrecked land, and I do not count myself as a speaker of either Welsh or Te Reo. So where does that leave me? Welsh people are proud of their culture. They are easy going, a bit introverted, independent of spirit, and they can be a bit contrary. In many ways, not unlike New Zealanders; which might explain why I have always felt so at home here. Aotearoa is more Welsh than you might think (or is it the other way round?).
* supermarket

3 Big Cities: Pt.3 – Paris.

Central Paris still owes much of its urban design to the radial programme of urban upgrading commenced in the early 1850s. Under Haussman Paris’ streets became much wider, tree-lined avenues were sliced through tightly packed neighbourhoods, fronted with new buildings under strict design controls. New schools, hospitals and public parks were built, infrastructure such as the water supply and sewers were upgraded, and gas street lighting was installed to create a safer and more healthy city.

Paris has never been afraid of thinking big or doing radical things. Seeing the Pompidou Centre in 1978 opened my mind to architecture. After that came I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre, one of the late 20th Century ‘Grand Projects’ which also included a huge art gallery in an old railway station (the Musee d’Orsay), the new National Library, the Parc de la Villette and the Opéra Bastille.

While Paris still likes a grand project – the new Philharmonie, above, by Jean Nouvel, went completely over the top in terms of design, and budget – in the new millennium the city has been leading urban change through, people-focussed systems / projects.

Urban Cycling

Paris is one of a growing number of cities that have realised that spending money on cycle infrastructure not only makes the streets more liveable by reducing congestion and pollution, but also more social (and in Paris’ case, stylish). Storing a bike when you live in a tiny 3rd floor apartment can be a challenge, as I found out. But in Paris you don’t need to own a bike to ride one.

The subscription based bike-sharing scheme, Velib, was introduced in 2007 and now there are close to 20,000 bikes across the city. The whole system is well designed and well maintained, so locals use them, a lot. Interestingly the whole thing is operated by JCDecaux at no cost to the city. JC make their money from the advertising on the bike stations.

Electric Cars

Following the success of the bike-share scheme in 2011 Paris introduced the world’s first large-scale city car-sharing service to use only electric vehicles – Autolib. Like the bikes they are available for public use on a subscription basis. A city-wide infrastructure of parking and charging stations has been squeezed into the streets. Spots can be leased for use by private electric cars, such as the BMW below.

The custom designed Velib cars have an unpainted aluminium exterior. Most of the ones I saw were covered in a couple of years worth of dust and pigeon shit, but oddly that didn’t seem to matter to the normally fastidious Parisians.

Places for People

Over the last few decades Paris has generally had a socialist agenda and a focus on providing places for the people. The city is well served by big parks, from the traditional Jardins Luxembourg to the avant garde Parc de la Villette and the newer Bercy and Citroen. And not many people know that Paris has an elevated linear park built on top of obsolete railway infrastructure; The Promenade Plantee preceded New York’s Highline by about 15 years.

Every summer since 2002 roads are closed along the river Seine and the canal of la Villette to create temporary artificial beaches, the Paris Plages. Along with temporary outdoor pools, these are very popular with Parisians unable to escape the summer heat of the city. Finally, in Paris it totally culturally acceptable to drink in public places. Down by the river people wash their food down with a bottle or two of wine and games of petanque are lubricated with a box of Kronenbourg. It’s all very civilised.


Up and Down the Main Trunk Line.

It is my privilege to travel up and down the North Island each week, dividing my time, as I do, between the super city of Auckland and the creative capital of Wellington.

Earlier this year, or was it last (?), I made the trip from Wellington to Auckland by train, along the main trunk line. The original think-big project, this ‘engineering miracle’ took over 30 years to complete, opening in 1908 in time for Wellington’s politicians to get up to Auckland and meet the Great White Fleet. It’s an 11 hour journey, joining, for me, the dots between viaducts, tunnels, settlements and spirals familiar from road trips, and ordering them into a coherent infrastructure network: Palmerston North, Taihape, National Park, Taumarunui, Te Kuiti, Hamilton, Papa…..

Unfortunately our train only made it as far as Papakura before suffering from terminal mechanical failure, but that is another story. These days trains are strictly for tourists (and those with aviophobia). The real, everyday travelers are 32,000 feet above, following a more direct route unencumbered by terrain. Either festooned within a silver Jetstar. or, with marginally more legroom and better cabin service, inside an all-black, or all-white, aircraft of our national carrier. We are the travellers of the new main trunk line.


You’ll usually find me seated, there and back again, in a window seat not far from the pilot. Next to me might be the guy with the size 14 workboots who does something special on the transmission lines (that I don’t quite understand), a pinstriped lawyer reading crime novels on his kindle, a telecom middle manager with a half finished PowerPoint presentation, a fellow urban designer or architect. or occasionally, a well-heeled Auckland university student heading home after exams.

Although I have been doing this trip weekly for two and a half years I never take it for granted. Coming home – Auckland to Wellington is by far my favourite direction. I gaze out of the window and let my thoughts drift like the Tasman’s tides below.

After enduring the latest Hobbit or Bear Grylls themed safety video we taxi onto the runway, then fire up the jet engines and take off into the prevailing westerly breeze, rising sharply over the muddy waters and spreading mangroves of the Manukau harbour,  speeding towards the heads and the sand bar that wrecked the Orpheus a century and a half ago, before suddenly banking ninety degrees to the south.

We pass through a low cloud layer, upwards and onwards over the green pastures of the Waikato, and out over the west cost waves that have travelled all the way across the Tasman ocean from New South Wales (or, like me, maybe they have come all the way from old South Wales across many oceans …….?)

See how thoughts drift when removed from the ground……

Now we are getting up high, towards our cruising altitude of 32,000 feet. The Captain usually comes on the intercom about now to tell us about the weather in Wellington. More often than not it is described as “brisk”, “interesting”, “rather fresh”, “strong, and cool” or some other euphemism for windy-as.

All going to plan we’re offered a drink, and some cheese or a “cookie time cookie”.

After that snacky distraction I look back out the window and find that, reassuringly, the land has reappeared, the north facing coastline of New Plymouth clearly visible. Then comes into view the great volcanic cone of Taranaki, its six-mile-radius bush cloak and snow clad peak announcing we’re half way home.

On past Wanganui, river and town, then over the Tasman again. Now the South Island comes into view and, as our Airbus 320 descends, we skirt the flooded valleys of the Marlborough Sounds. Endless layers of ridges fade gently into the distance while the sinuous Cook Straight currents rip at the headlands.

And onwards we glide, aiming directly now towards the eye of the fish of Maui.

The mood changes as we line up into the mouth of the harbour. Wellington seems to amplify the weather, the land picking an argument with the sea and sky just for the sake of it, like a Palmerston North local fighting students or soldiers on a Friday night.

The plane banks again and lines itself up to face squarely Into the wind tunnel, grits its teeth and braces itself, twitching and pitching its gravity assisted way towards the short strip of asphalt that was only recently reclaimed from the sea by man and earthquakes. Sometimes, when the wheels touch the ground, there is a short, spontaneous burst of applause. We’re home.

I like this trip up and down the main trunk line. But I am looking forward to exploring Aotearoa at ground level for a week or three this summer.

(written on my iPhone at altitude)

Things come apart.

Bicycle Cycling.

At Isthmus we have a healthy interest in ‘bicycle cycling’, a dangerous but healthy pastime which has been known to fuel a slight obsession in bicycles themselves, many variants of which you will see our staff arriving at work on and propped up inside our studios, or out and about on the streets or in the forests of Aotearoa at the weekends. Collectively we have many types of bikes, and there are many ways in which we enjoy them, which includes sometimes just looking at them…..

In this new book Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living photographer Todd McLennan offers us a radically new way of looking at 50 things, including a splendid 1980s Raleigh 10-speed. McLennan disassembles mechanical objects of all types before laying them out and photographing them in meticulously detailed arrangements. Then he drops them and captures them in an exploded form. Brilliant.