Wānanga 2022.

Wānanga is our annual event to come together, strengthen our connections, celebrate our work, and share ideas. Circumstance has seen that we have not been able to do this since 2019. 

Wānanga 2022 was a special chance to slow down, connect, observe and reflect.  

As we settle back into our studios across the motu—we are taking the time to reflect on a big day spent together in Tāmaki Makaurau.  

An early morning at wharfs-end in the Waitematā was followed by hikoi tracing the path of the Waihorotiu, eventually arriving in 246 Queen—drawing a line under a period of time spent apart, and welcoming a time enriched by togetherness and collaboration. 

Seven Designers Promoted.

Graduate to Intermediate

Since joining us Liam has been discovering where he wants to position himself in design—the crossover of urbanism and brand. Liam is a juggler; he is always involved in many projects at once and provides everyone in the various teams the confidence that he will deliver—and he does. Liam is concept driven; he takes a rigorous intellectual approach to what he is doing. Liam’s a natural communicator, regardless of who he is talking to. He is confident in explaining his thinking to clients, and able to read their responses well.  

Kadin joined Isthmus just before the first lockdown in 2020; he has been resilient to change ever since. He’s had an excellent year, working across many projects across the studio, and has continued to grow his knowledge, ability, and delivery. Kadin has a keen interest in 3D modelling and script-writing software and is passionate about bringing digital innovation to his project teams. Kadin has a strong work ethic and willingness to succeed; we look forward to his continued development as a designer and innovator.   

Intermediate to Senior

Ellie studied Landscape Architecture at Lincoln and after a couple of years at Boffa Miskell she joined us in June 2019. Ellie has a passion for Urban Design and a no-boundaries approach to her work.  Ellie has contributed to many projects, spending time deep in suburban regeneration, parks, infrastructure projects.  Her tenacity, curiosity and can-do attitude is appreciated by clients and colleagues alike.   

Tom has an infectious personality and brings humour, laughter and positivity to the Ōtautahi studio. Tom recently got registered as an Architect, but lives happily in the overlap. He is a holistic designer who is honest and humble. He never comes across as being out of his depth or lacking confidence. Tom is excellent at working in cross discipline teams; and across project types/ stages from tactical trials, community engagement, conceptual thinking to detailed delivery.  

Azmon was one of the first Architectural Graduates at Isthmus some 8 years ago, and he has consistently embedded himself in the studio since. Azmon has a passion for ‘making’ and has a heart for designing through a cultural and community lens. In addition to being a talented craftsman, Azmon has strong technical knowledge. Azmon has taken on managing complex stakeholder and sub-consultant teams on his more recent projects and his communication skills have seen him establish a great rapport with clients and consultants.  

Irisbrings a transdisciplinary mindset to all the projects she’s involved in. With a proactive attitude to design, she is inquisitive and eager to learn alongside others and brings an enthusiasm that injects energy into our studio culture. Iris has worked on a range of projects that have been ambiguous and/or new types of work for Isthmus. She has shown curiosity to tackle these types of projects, creatively solving problems, authentically communicating with clients and team, and tenaciously navigating the barriers and challenges these projects have thrown at her.   

Shannon joined Isthmus in 2021.  She brought with her experience in education, residential, interiors and commercial projects, along with a positive frame of mind, can do attitude and a sense of adventure and fun. Shannon has consistently shown a drive to create great outcomes for our clients and their people. Shannon has proven herself to be a safe pair of hands for our clients and their projects, a great collaborator and bring a curiosity to everything she does. Her most recent success is becoming a mum to Freddy. 

Mīharo Sean!

Exhibits, anecdotes and oddities.

Earlier this week on the the 1st June we hosted an evening of kōrero, with exhibits, anecdotes and oddities from Sean Burke’s first two decades at Isthmus.  

Sean joined Isthmus as a graduate landscape architect in 2001 and has grown and evolved over the years in pace with the studio’s transformation from a small landscape architecture practice into an integrated design studio. 

A champion of the holistic view of land, people and culture—noted keeper of the project vision—Sean has a big reputation as a considered designer. Through his body of award-winning work Sean has advanced conversations of place, identity and human experience in Aotearoa.  

To mark this epic contribution Sean was awarded Study Leave—two extra weeks off and $2k expenses to gain new knowledge and fresh inspiration.  

Mīharo Sean! 

NZILA President Award Winner Gavin Lister.

We are proud to share that Isthmus Founding Principal Gavin Lister has been presented with the NZILA President’s Award for his contribution to the profession of Landscape Architecture through his work in developing the Landscape Assessment Guidelines. 

The inaugural NZILA President’s Awards recognise individuals and groups who have gone above and beyond, who have engaged with a wide range of issues, or who have worked diligently to provide benefits to and for the greater good of the profession. 

Ka pai Gavin!

Isthmus Board appointment

Introducing Danny Tuato'o

When the Board of Isthmus decided to search for a second Independent Director last year we sought a specific combination of skills and experience – a legal background, a deep understanding and connection to Te Ao Māori, and a good understanding of risk management. We found all of those qualities in Danny Tuato’o.

Danny is a descendent of Tiakiriri Kukupa and Te Parawhau, a Whangārei based hapū affiliated to both Ngāti Whātua and Ngāpuhi. Danny brings a grounded approach and a connection to people and whenua from Dunedin to Whangārei, where he lives and works.

Danny’s values POU TOKOMANAWA (backbone – ridgepole of the meeting house), TIKANGA (Purpose. Motivation. Direction), AKO (to learn), MANAWANUI (Big heart), WHAKAPAPA (Connection to place and people—relationships) are a great fit with Isthmus.

Danny has a deep connection to his moana and his whenua; he lives his whakapapa through his work. Married with 4 kids, Danny is an equity partner with a Northland law firm. He is a Board member of Maritime New Zealand and is also the Chair of the Whangārei Heads Landcare Forum (he lives on a lifestyle block at Whangārei Heads which he is replanting in natives).

We are delighted to welcome Danny Tuato’o to our Board. In his own words:

Hei hōnore māku ki te whakauru ai i te whānau o Isthmus, arā, he kaitohu hou.
Its an honour for me to join the Isthmus family, as a new director.

Ehara tāku toa i te toa takitahi engari he toa takitini
My strength is not as an individual, but as a collective.

Welcome Return — Nik Kneale

We are really pleased to welcome Nik Kneale as a Principal Landscape Architect at Isthmus. Based in Ōtautahi Christchurch with a focus across Te Waipounamu Nik is a valuable addition to our design team.

Joining us at a time of global change and uncertainty Nik acknowledges it’s also a time of great opportunity: ‘Communities have never been more connected to each other and to their environments … Isthmus have a strong ethos of collaboration and teamwork, and actively blur the boundaries between traditional ‘disciplines’. This attitude, combined with the values of Curiosity, Creativity, Authenticity and Tenacity put us in great stead as we head into the unknown and I’m excited to be a part of it’.

Nik is a skilled and thoughtful designer — we are very happy that he has returned to Isthmus after a 12 year gap.

Experienced and Confident — 10 Promotions

Our team continues to grow in experience and confidence; this week ten individuals have been recognised for promotions at all levels.

Graduate to Intermediate:  

Tayler has been heavily involved in the community regeneration projects across Auckland with a particular focus on Northcote. She is a safe pair of hands who takes the initiative and is solution focussed. As well as her strong technical skills she has also been communicating and collaborating directly with clients and consultants. Tayler is thriving working in the overlap between architecture and urban design and consistently performs at a very high level.

Intermediate to Senior: 

Danny has been actively working to advance to senior over the last year. He is a committed landscape architect project manager; balancing time, cost and quality. Danny makes sure that things get delivered and has become a core part of the infrastructure team, bringing his collaborative skills to fast paced multi disciplinary projects. On the social side Danny plays a mean guitar and brings that and his vocal talents to Isthmus band — the oi oi’s. 

Zach has a really strong technical landscape architecture skill set and is adapting well to a more relaxed profession than he is used to from the USA. Zach is strong at design development, fully focused on smart solutions and has impressive technical skills across a variety of platforms. Zach has quietly developed into a safe set of hands and is a proactive collaborator with our external partners and clients. With roots in New Zealand as well as in the US it is great to see Zach find his feet as an Aotearoa based landscape architect. Fun fact — Zach’s dog eats socks and is called Shackleton. 

Frank has become an increasingly confident and trusted member of the team. He has been busy across a range of landscape architecture projects, often leading detailed design production and liaising with clients and consultants. Frank is very thorough and detail focussed. He always resolves issues and gets the job done.  

Lydia has settled into the Isthmus studio really well since returning to Aotearoa from Europe. She has a lot of experience and talent to offer; her positive, energetic and professional approach have seen her work across a range of projects. Communication and collaboration are real strengths; Lydia is a natural when it comes to community consultation and engagement. 

Senior to Associate: 

Travis sets the bar high; he drives himself to do the best for the project, from concept stage right through to construction. Travis has maintained a strong career trajectory since joining Isthmus as a landscape architecture graduate less than seven years ago. Incredibly trustworthy and committed, Travis has become one of our strongest design managers where his personable skills serve him well as he encourages the best out of the people around him for the benefit of our projects.

Andrew joined Isthmus as a graduate ten years ago; since then he has been constantly learning and finding his voice as a designer. He works really well with others to deliver public realm projects from master planning to construction. With such a broad depth of experience under his belt Andrew is well on his way to becoming one of Isthmus’ future design leaders. After taking a year to travel the world in 2016 Andrew returned to Isthmus, and while based in Tāmaki contributes his flair to our seamless studio.

Sophie is a lively and enthusiastic member of the studio who has gained the necessary confidence and experience to become an Associate. Sophie shines when it comes to the detailed design and delivery of landscape architecture projects. She has been a key member of the design team that has delivered several award winning projects in recent years. Sophie ensures that issues are resolved on site; her sharp eye and communication skills have ensured high quality built work. 

Associate to Principal: 

Nada joined Isthmus way back in 2004. Over that time she has exerted her quiet-but-strong design influence on a huge number of award winning projects as well as to the culture of our studio. With a background in both fine arts and landscape architecture Nada’s work is imbued with meaning; she is particularly good at translating the essence of a place into subtle but fundamental design moves across all scales. As a Principal, Nada will continue to influence the design thinking across all types of projects. With her assured style and strong compass Nada is making a significant contribution to the discourse on Land People and Culture within Aotearoa New Zealand and Isthmus in our leadership role in that area.

Matt joined the SMT late in 2018, and has had his fair share of challenges to deal with, all of which he has worked through with a combination of energy and grace. Matt recently celebrated his 10 year anniversary with Isthmus. His career in design planning is advancing rapidly; he is a well respected expert witness currently working on various projects across Aotearoa and is a member of Auckland’s Urban Design Panel. Matt also finds time to chair the Auckland branch of the NZILA.

Graduates Promoted

We are pleased to announce two mid-year promotions. Both are landscape architects and both are moving from Graduate to Intermediate roles.

Tessa Bradbury
Tessa graduated from the University of Western Australia and worked in Australia for a bit before moving to New Zealand a year ago to take up the opportunity at Isthmus. Her keen eye for graphic communication and document production mean that she is in demand across many types of projects. Tessa has been heavily involved in the Northern Townships project, and on Whangarei Streetscapes. She is a part of our CAD workgroup, helping to uplift our technical standards. Tessa shows great initiative, has a solid work ethic and is not afraid to question an offer alternative solutions.

Mihali Katsougiannis
Mihali came to Isthmus two years ago out of the Landscape programme at VUW. He has been heavily involved in a support role on the Alliance team on the Northern Corridor Improvement (NCI) project in Auckland as well as the Downtown Public Space on the waterfront. Mihali is a safe pair of hands – he takes work upon himself and delivers. He asks the right questions at the right time and is always eager to learn and pass on knowledge. He also captains the Isthmus futsal team and plays in our touch team too.


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 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.”


Congratulations to James Pattullo and Brennan Baxley who  have successfully passed the NZILA’s registration process! It’s been a long process and a lot of work. This is a big professional milestone.

10 Isthmus people promoted

Our whole team has grown in experience and confidence this year; ten individuals have been specifically recognised for promotions as they have crossed a threshold to take on their roles at a new level.

Graduate to Intermediate

Ivy has been a key team member on Roksill South neighbourhood masterplan, Eastern Porirua masterplan, and Buckley B precinct at Hobsonville Point. A landscape architect passionate about community, she’s well organised and conscientious under pressure. She’s been working out-of-hours on some interesting design competitions.

Hew is an up-and-coming architect who has contributed to too many projects to list. Her graphic and presentation skills are second to none. She has a hunger to learn and to succeed; this has led to her working with greater independence and self-direction. Hew has also entered a number of design competitions this year with her friend Ivy.

Sophie joined us from the UK in time for the Schools PPP3 – she was part of the competitive design tender and since then has been heavily involved in the developed design and documentation. Sophie has impressed us with her design thinking and thirst for knowledge.

Charlotte’s final year thesis explored ageing in place in rural communities. Her research has led her to a keen interest in designing for both ends of the community spectrum- from kids to oldies. Since she started at Isthmus where she has grabbed the opportunity to get into the middle of Northcote projects – the town centre masterplan and the Awataha greenway in particular – helping maintain integration and information flow between projects.

Intermediate to Senior

Wade took a decade out from landscape architecture to set up and run Sandwiches club, a Wellington institution. In his 4 years at Isthmus Wade has worked on numerous projects including Kenepuru, Civic and Riddiford Gardens, Porirua CBD and Cobham Drive Cycleway. He is now leading the next stages several projects; his eye for detail at site observation stage has led much of our recent work through to successful completion.

James started at Isthmus when still a student, quickly proving himself to be very helpful around the studio. Five years later he has worked on just about every project that has been through the studio, providing bullet-proof graphic support. This year he’s stepped up to take on bigger project roles, and he continues to cast his visualisation magic on many other projects. ‘Not a problem’ is James’ catchphrase.

Senior to Associate

Kamelia is qualified in both architecture and urban design. In her two years at Isthmus she has brought a sense of purpose, ambition and fun to the masterplanning work she has been involved with. She is passionate about trying to solve Auckland’s housing problems, and much of her work has been on the Auckland Housing Programme, including the spatial delivery strategies for Mangere and Mt Roskill Precincts and the Owairaka Neighbourhood masterplan. Kamelia is involved in women in leadership initiatives of the property council and the NZIA and is a committee member of the UDF. Kamelia has embedded herself in isthmus’ culture and become a critical part of the team not only on project work but also leadership and mentoring.

Greg has been instrumental in setting up and managing our BIM server and coordinating project collaborations with other practices. In his two-and-a-half years at Isthmus he been working on varied projects, most recently the Ferry Basin. In addition to his project work, Greg has contributed to mentoring and knowledge sharing – especially on technical issues – and has demonstrated his ability to help actively manage the studio. As a new father, Greg is functioning surprisingly well for someone so seriously sleep deprived.

Associate to Principal

Earl came to Isthmus back in 2015 and quickly and quietly delivered Isthmus’ biggest building to date, the 1,000m2 McKee Mangahewa Control Centre for Todd Energy. It’s a simple looking building that belies great complexity. Earl is a go-to industry expert on pre-fabrication and modular construction, having built a solid reputation for innovative and delivery with both clients and constructors. Earl is successfully collaborating with leading designers in NZ to advance exciting new projects. His calm demeanour, enquiring mind, attention to detail and encyclopaedic knowledge of the world around us have earned him a position among Isthmus’ design leaders.

Haylea is one of those people that seem to have always known where they are going.  She joined us full time 11 years ago, working as an intern while studying at Unitec. Since then Haylea has progressed in a straight, steady line all the way to Principal. The one constant throughout that whole time has been Hobsonville Point. Haylea has pushed the boundaries of the landscape architect to the limit, and beyond. As a residential masterplanner she has a deep understanding of place, community and development strategy. Today Hobsonville Point is a thriving, proud community and as HLC has expanded beyond Hobsonville, so has Haylea. She’s currently working on suburban regeneration projects such as Mt Roskill and Mangere, among much more. Haylea was appointed to the Isthmus Board a year ago in recognition of her strategic thinking and innovative approach to top table projects.

Three Mid-Year Promotions

In our studios there’s plenty of opportunity to get involved in the work you want to do. Over the years we’ve observed some characteristics of people that thrive in our studio culture; these individuals are positive, proactive and collaborative. They are self-starters. And most of all, they are independent, self-confident and make their own opportunities.

The following three people have all progressed their careers this year, and are contributing at an even greater level. They are getting out of their comfort zones and going the extra mile.


Intermediate to Senior

HAYLEY WRIGHT graduated with a Masters of Architecture from VUW back in 2011, after which she worked for a while in London, before returned to Aotearoa and settling in Auckland.  Since joining Isthmus two and a half years ago she has worked on a number of key projects, including various Hobsonville houses, Te Hauauru (Westgate Town Park), Dominion & Valley Road Apartments and Northcote’s Everyday Homes. She’s been a member of the Auckland Branch of NZIA since 2017.

Hayley takes a proactive responsibility for all aspects of the projects she is running. She brings a calm, thoughtful and engaging presence to her work and the studio as a whole.


Graduate to Intermediate

BRENNAN BAXLEY holds a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. After working and teaching for three years in the US Brennan made the move to Wellington in mid-2016 to join Isthmus. Since than he has balanced his studio role with teaching in the landscape programme at VUW. Key projects at Isthmus include the Gisborne Land-use Study, Kenepuru Stage1 and the Upper Hutt Landscape Study.

Brennan shows initiative, is highly organised and committed. He contributes to practice, academia and the profession and has quickly established himself in a ‘go-to’ role in the studio with his ever helpful and positive, can-do attitude.


ASHLEY WEST graduated with a Masters of Architecture Professional from Unitec. She joined Isthmus’ Auckland studio at the start of 2017 after spending a year as an Architectural Designer in her home town of Christchurch. She’s worked on a huge list of projects over the last year or so, predominantly in the area of housing and residential masterplanning.

From the first moment she set foot in the studio, Ashley has displayed energy, enthusiasm and a keen desire to learn. She has proven to be a fast learner, always performing to the best of her ability, and seeks to get involved beyond the immediate task at hand.

Brad Coombs, Fellow and President

The NZILA AGM and Conference opening the other week was a big day for Isthmus Principal Brad Coombs. On the same day that he took office as NZILA President, he was also awarded Fellowship of the NZ Institute of Landscape Architects for his two decades of contribution to practice and profession:

“Brad’s contribution to the wider profession, like his contribution within Isthmus, has been achieved in a quiet manner. He is not one to ‘blow his own trumpet’. Yet he has gained mana through his service to others, the quality of his work, and his wisdom.  For these reasons, he fully deserves election as a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects.”

Brad sees the President role as “an opportunity to take a fresh look at where the profession is at, and as an Institute, to confirm the priorities for the next three years and beyond.”

“My first priority will be to get my head around the projects that the Executive has already initiated – particularly the Governance Review and the Landscape Guidelines, and to put in place processes to deliver them for the benefit of our members.”

Five Promotions

We review our team twice a year as part of our process of continual improvement. Today we promoted five people who take the initiative, are quick learners and most of all, are independent and self-confident. These traits have enabled them to make the most of opportunities to progress their careers. They are all pushing themselves, getting out of their comfort zones.

From Graduate to Intermediate:

Aaron Miller. Aaron graduated with Masters of Architecture from VUW in 2016. He’s worked on the Kumutoto North pavilion, Cadness Apartments, Porirua CBD’s canopies, Cobham Drive Cycleway, McKee Energy Centre and the Chimp Enclosure at Wellington Zoo. He brings both skill and passion to his work, surpassing expectations. He has a calm and open demenour, and regularly contributes to design conversations and studio culture in general.

Greta Christensen. Greta came to work for Isthmus a little over over two years ago. She’s worked on Richmond Stage 3 concept, developed and resource consent packages; Onehunga Mall resource consent package; Sunderland Gully concept design; and Clevedon North. Greta has the ability to work independently and is not afraid of a design challenge. She’s a proactive problem solver.

Alex Foxton. Alex has been with us for close to a year now, since he moved to NZ from the UK. In that time he has made a solid impression on the studio. Key projects he’s been involved with over that time are; Barry Curtis Pavilion Plaza, Browns Bay and Freyberg Place. He’s shown his ability to deliver major aspects of projects with autonomy – he’s a very safe pair of hands.

Intermediate to Senior:

Julia Wick. Julia joined isthmus a year and a half ago as a design planner. She has quickly proved herself on Farm Street; Half Moon Bay Marina Extension Assessment;  Puhoi to Warkworth; and The Western Firth of Thames Marine Farm. Julia keeps a calm head under pressure, supporting the design planning team on large scale strategic projects. She’s on the NZILA Executive as well as being involved with the Resource Management Law Association through the Young RMLA Group.

Marita Hunt. Marita is interested in everything; she is a Specialist Generalist. She’s worked on a huge range of projects since joining Isthmus. Going forward Marita will be focusing on design planning, which combines her analytical, logical, methodical mind with an innate ability to communicate ideas through writing and drawing. Marita loves learning. She’s working hard at Te Reo. And she knows how to keep herself in balance – she’s an isthmus yoga regular.

Welcome Damian Powley

Hutia te rito o te harakeke,
kei whea te kōmako e kō?
Kī mai ki ahau;
He aha te mea nui o te Ao?
Māku e kī atu,
he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata

We are proud to announce that this week we welcomed Damian Powley to Isthmus. He joins us from Auckland Council after 13 years working with the vibrant and diverse communities of South Auckland. Damian has delivered several projects with Isthmus over the years, including Randwick which was awarded ‘Community of the Year’ for 2017. Leading and facilitating Randwick Park, Damian has first hand experience in delivering projects of sustainable change, and the impact that engaged placemaking can have for the communities that live there.
The purpose of the mihi whakatau this week was to acknowledge the waka or transfer of a rangitira from Auckland Council to Isthmus. Not only did we enjoy hosting our manuhiri and bringing Damian on board, but we welcomed the opportunity to deepen our values of ‘land, people, culture’ and practice tikanga maori.
Damian is all about people, he understands the importance of face to face collaboration, and he brings a wealth of experience in meaningful community engagement and advocacy. He will bring fun, passion, music and creativity to our community service (and he’s a super nice guy).

Three Appointed to the Auckland Urban Design Panel

Isthmus designers Haylea MuirDuncan Ecob and Matt Jones have all been appointed to the Auckland Urban Design Panel (Haylea and Matt were nominated through the NZILA, and Duncan through the UDG).

The role of the panel is to provide independent urban design advice to promote good design and a quality environment. The panel is an independent advisory body and does not have statutory decision-making powers.

For Isthmus this is another way of supporting Auckland and influencing the future of its urban form. Design review really tests your ability to be analytical, and it challenges your ability to articulate design ideas, issues or relationships. It’s easy to have a gut feel about something, but it’s much harder to understand where that feeling comes from and then write it down and/or explain it at a meeting.

After several years on the panel Gavin and Andre are stepping down as part of this refresh. They have each put a huge amount of their time into the panel and in the process honed their analytical expertise and made their mark in the wider urban design network.


Our New Board

Isthmus are pleased to announce a new Board. With a mixture of youth and experience the Board will be firmly focussed on building upon recent change and growth, and leading the practice into the future.

We welcome Isthmus Founder David Irwin back to the Board. David brings a strategic focus combined with deep roots in our purpose and values.

We also welcome three new Board members:  Haylea Muir joined Isthmus a decade ago as a graduate and has grown to become one of our most valued design thinkers;  Helen Kerr has been with Isthmus since the early days and offers a mix of passion, creativity and intelligence; Sarah Bishop has been the lead designer on some of Isthmus’s most challenging design projects over the years, and she was a co-editor of our book Coast, Country, Neighbourhood, City.

Architect Andre de Graaf is the incoming Chair; this reinforces our focus as a design led practice. Andre has been on the Board since he joined Isthmus four years ago and in that time has grown architecture to be a key component of our service offering.

Andre replaces Dion Mortensen as the Chair. Dion will stay on as our Independent Director and continue to build on the transformational work that we have been doing together for the past seven years.

Our design-led CEO Ralph Johns remains on the Board and provides the connection to the Senior Management Team who have responsibility for the operation and management of the business. Ralph has been a Board member since 2009, and CEO since 2013.

And finally, we thank outgoing Board members Brad CoombsGrant Bailey and Duncan Ecob. Brad has been on the Board since 2009, Grant and Duncan since 2013. During that time our design practice has developed significantly.

With a new Board and management structure Isthmus will continue its design-led purpose to advance the relationships between land, people and culture.

Mid-year promotions.

Over the years we’ve observed some characteristics of people that thrive in our studio culture; these individuals are positive, proactive and collaborative. They are self starters. They take the initiative and are quick learners. But most of all, they are independent and self-confident.

In our studios there’s the opportunity to get involved in the work you want to do and to make your own opportunities. The following people have all progressed their careers this year, and are contributing at an even greater level. They are pushing themselves, getting out of their comfort zones and going the extra mile. Each of them embody our values of creativity, curiosity, authenticity and tenacity.

From Graduate to Intermediate:
Azmon Chetty. Azmon joined isthmus in late 2014 as a graduate architect. A furniture maker in his spare time; he’s handy with tools. Over the last 6 months Azmon has brought a new level of accuracy and speed to the work he has been doing. He‘s developing new skills around construction detailing and design. He is also becoming very adept at complex 3D digital modelling for documentation. You’ll also find him crafting physical models.

From Intermediate to Senior:
Rebecca Jerram. It has been nearly two years since Rebecca moved back from Melbourne where she had been studying and working for a decade. Rebecca is Registered with AILA & NZILA. We hired her for her skills at the construction end of the design process – she has excellent technical knowledge of landscape construction. She delivers our work on site, dealing with contractors and negotiating the ins-and-outs of NZS3910. Rebecca has delivered a host of landscape projects including parts of Kopupaka Reserve, the Myers Splashpad, Kelston School and Airfields Stage 2. She is currently working on Westgate Town Park.

Travis McGee. Travis joined us nearly four years ago. He quickly showed himself to be very good at grabbing opportunities and running with them. Thrown in the deep end with the Schools PPP2, Trav took on the project management and quickly got his head above water. Trav’s skill at digging a little deeper into his projects and pre-empting the next move has set him up well as a project leader. His ability to take the lead when he needs to means he is a highly valued member of the of Isthmus team.

Brad Ward. Brad joined isthmus a little over 4 years ago. Known affectionately as ‘Brad the Grad’ when he started, he was the first new staff member we hired coming out of the GFC. Brad was quickly absorbed into the Hobsonville team as a safe pair of hands, learning very quickly, always going the extra mile. He did well in the “pressure-cooker” and his career accelerated. In just four years Brad has developed for himself a set of unique and specialist skills in residential masterplanning. Ka pai!

Sophie Jacques. After uni she headed overseas, gaining 6 years experience in the UK and Australia and becoming something of a skatepark construction specialist. She started with us in February 2014, a specialist in construction management. She has taken this role on a number of complex projects including the Children’s Garden, Wellington Zoo and Kotuku Apartments.

From Senior to Associate:
Alan England. Alan joined us in 2010 as our first visualisation specialist. With a background in architectural studies Alan had previously been working at Build Media. He’s been a backbone of our design planning team working behind the scenes assisting in major projects across the country. He’s been in planes, trains, boats and helicopters, and he’s a qualified pilot himself – of a drone. Over the last 6 months or so Alan has built and consolidated an expanded Geospatial team. He also plays an active role in the development of Isthmus’ Environmental Fund.

From Associate to Principal:
Lisa Rimmer. We hired Lisa in 2008. She has huge passion and really wide range of skills. She is a designer, first and foremost, but she also has rare talent and expertise in RMA planning. On the design side Lisa has contributed to Government House restoration, a host of Wellington Cycleway projects, the Children’s Garden and Christchurch Botanical Gardens masterplan, among many others. Her stand-out Design Planning project has been Kapiti Coast District Landscape Assessment. Lisa is uncompromising on quality.

Sean Burke. Sean joined Isthmus’ Auckland studio in way back in 2001. Since then he has worked on a multitude of projects, with a particular skill for merging planning, design and ecology. Over the years his projects have won the highest national awards from NZILA. And then last year the Taumanu Bridge won the World Architecture News Transport Award! Like his work, Sean is quietly authentic. He works with huge commitment and totally embodies our values. Sean is passionate about the environment and will be working to develop our services in designed ecologies.

16 Promotions for 2016

2016 has been an extremely busy year across the studios. In addition to hiring 28 new staff – at all levels and across all disciplines – we have made 16 promotions.

The twelve new promotions (added to the four announced in April) reflect the rapid qualitative growth of our team, in addition to growth in numbers. The following people have all progressed their careers this year, and are contributing at an greater level. Every one of them works with creativity, curiosity, authenticity and tenacity. 

From Associate to Principal:

Helen Kerr – Throughout her time at isthmus, which goes way back, Helen has produced outstanding work and contributed greatly to our design culture. Helen continues to add value in her ability to constantly challenge and advance our thinking. Her recent project work and overseas research has helped advance our approach to community engagement and social regeneration. Her promotion to Principal recognises these qualities and will allow her more space to develop as a leader.

Sarah Bishop – Sarah’s presence in the Auckland studio has grown steadily in recent years as the design leader of no boundaries, collaborative projects. Sarah made a massive contribution to our CCNC book and has been involved in Isthmus strategy team. She is one of the rare designers with the ability to capture the essence of the design early. Her promotion to Principal is recognition of her growing design portfolio, strong client relationships and confident design leadership.

Penny McIntyre – Penny has been our Finance Manager for over 5 years. She has grown as Isthmus has grown. At times this year the growing pains have really hurt, but her positivity and tenacity have shone through. Penny moves up to Principal level in recognition of her accomplished management of our expanding finances (our turnover has increased by 400% in the last three years….). Delegation of accounts admin tasks will free Penny up to focus on financial planning and analysis, as well as board and management reporting. In addition to finance, Penny has a solid sense of fairness and is a guardian of the many threads that weave the Isthmus culture together.

Scott Donnell – Scott is one of the architect “pioneers” at isthmus. He has led the way on numerous key projects that are richer for their design integration across the studio. Scott’s always thoughtful, respectful and collaborative approach has earned him the respect of colleagues, consultants and clients alike. His promotion to Principal is in recognition of his contribution to growing our portfolio of work, the mana that he holds in multi-unit residential design, managing complex inter-disciplinary design projects and the reputation that he has built for always delivering.

Bruce McKenzie  Bruce joined Isthmus 2 years ago as a Design Planner. Since then he has flourished in our inter-disciplinary design environment. Bruce has a passion for the land, and a natural affinity with people. Together with his background in business studies this makes him a skilled and empathetic manager of people and projects. Bruce throws his considerable energy and positivity into project work, leading teams to deliver rich and deep design work with meaning. As a Principal Bruce will be even more involved with management, leadership and charting our course into new territory.

From Senior to Associate

Natasha Whitlock  Natasha joined isthmus just over three years ago. Her understanding of the complexities of urban design and residential masterplanning has made a significant contribution to projects across the studios. As a working mum, Natasha confidently balances work with family. Promotion to Associate will see Natasha move into more client facing and project leadership roles in which she will thrive.

Nada Stanish  Nada has particular skill in design development taking projects from concept to detail design. Her approach is grounded in the landscape and brings a softer hand and authenticity to the body of award-winning projects she has contributed to. Her thoughtful, creative and artistic approach is very much appreciated by those who work alongside her. Nada’s promotion to Associate is in recognition of the depth of experience and design thinking Nada has brings to the studio.

Matt Jones – Over the past 18 months Matt has consolidated his understanding of design planning in the challenging planning environment of the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan process. He has also recently applied this knowledge and practical experience in a number of key masterplanning projects. Matt’s unique combination of design planning and emerging master planning skills make him well placed to contribute to the growing demands of the Studio.

Graduates to Intermediate

Paggy Shen – Paggy brings her enthusiastic personality to every project she works on. Paggy’s development has been self-led and fostered by our project leaders, who have all supported her well-earned promotion to intermediate.

Emma Farmer – Since joining us just over two years ago, Emma has shown herself to have a wide variety of architecture and masterplanning skills. She has applied these on a broad range of projects, producing high quality work at all times.

James Patullo – Over the past couple of years the Wellington Studio has seen rapid growth changes and, with it, James has grown to be an established member of the team. James’ commitment and energising approach to work at Isthmus is clear to all, his promotion is well deserved. 

Michael Chu – With great drawing skills and a quiet, engaging manner, Michael has produced excellent work, presented to the Design Review Panels and grown in confidence. Michael’s promotion will help him share the skills he has developed with others and see him work more closely with clients and consultants.

Rewi Thompson 1953 – 2016.

It is with great sadness that we to acknowledge the passing of our esteemed colleague, Māori architect Rewi Thompson of Te Aitanga a Hauiti and Ngati Raukawa descent. Rewi’s relationship with Isthmus spans nearly thirty years of collaboration on a wide range of high-profile landscape projects across New Zealand. Over the last 12-months this collaboration became closer than ever as Rewi joined our inter-disciplinary studio as a permanent staff member.

While at Isthmus Rewi continued his role as adjunct professor at the University of Auckland and bought to us his ability to engage with projects with fresh eyes and an academic rigour. His influence on the studio over this short time has been profound. Rewi worked in a very tenacious and thoughtful way, always sharing his thinking and asking questions of the people working around him. He was very encouraging and generous with the young designers and also communicated a real satisfaction and joy about coming into the studio every day.

As a man who of the land, his enthusiasm about being at isthmus was fuelled by exploring the the relationship between landscape, architecture and people. Strongly values-based, Rewi brought clarity, depth, confidence and humility to every conversation. On housing, his philosophy was that all people deserve a connection with the land in a beautiful, well thought-out home. He was working to this end on his recent projects such as the ‘everyday houses’ for Northcote.

We have been privileged to have had Rewi in the studio for this period of time; his measured, experimental approach to his work will leave a lasting impression, as will his humour and inquisitiveness. We were lucky to experience his grandfatherly wisdom and his child-like playfulness. His presence will be sorely missed.

Our thoughts and condolences go out to his whanau, friends, colleagues and other collaborators.

Remembering William Jameson.

The other week we received the very sad news that long time Isthmus friend and collaborator William Jameson passed away. This came as a great shock to us; for those who worked with William it felt as though someone from our own studio had gone. Will was an integral part of the Cicada team that have worked with us to design and make the creatures, seedpods, kelp, flax and flowers that appear in our most successful play-spaces.

He was a creative genius, a warm friend, a carefree spirit, an artist and a master craftsman who cared about people before anything else. David, Helen, Haylea and Grant attended his funeral in Hawkes Bay, a truly bi-cultural expression of honour.

William’s work with Isthmus spans back to the Hastings CBD project 17 years ago. David Irwin wrote this:

On Wednesday the Ngaruroro River flooded with tears.

A lone Karuhiruhi, wing tips reflecting in the mirror-like water, led for a while before heading skyward. The casket made of hand woven steel and wood William had rescued from the floor of Ricks fire ruined house, was cradled by two joined waka being paddled by mates, followed by an escort of waka ama.

A Haka is heard from the far bank, young voices from the local primary school. A call was made from the bridge. Karakia whispered, feathers in hair and on flax flowers.

It was the first time for 100 years such an honour had been bestowed upon anyone. William was being honoured in a New Zealand way- paddled down the river by a fleet of waka. He was carried from the waka – metres from where Gavins’ grand fathers house stood- on to the local church on the banks of the Ngaruroro.

One would have thought the honour was for a chief, yet William was a pakeha. Regardless of his whakapapa, everyone who met him knew he was humble and genuine. He was being respected on this stunning Hawkes Bay, blue sky day.

While all death is tragic, this death was a true tragedy – as not all death is. At age 58 in the middle of the night he left without saying goodbye, he was gone with no warning.

Clarity comes with grief. He was a man that did what he felt was right, a man with immense skill, not only with his hands but in the way he related to people. He worked where my heart is – in his own workshop. He wore jeans and rough shirts wherever he went. He would rock up here with Ricks, with a load of crazy stuff loaded (often dangerously) on the back of the ute. A far-cry from computers and Audis, he was hard to get hold of by email or phone (any kind of phone).

He just made great shit. As Jacob Scott explained, they started projects “not knowing how to do it, but knowing they will find a way”. Anything we dreamed up, he could do it- and make it even better. No problem to build a birds nest, giant flax leaves, eggs, pukehos or kina, hermit crab shells, sea anemones, or nikau seeds, giant birds nests, sparrows or curling tendrils. All in giant scale.

The process was collaborative, we drew some crazy ideas and they (Cicada) would say ‘no problem’. Maquettes were made, and today they litter our office (in a good way). Then protoypes at full size, and then the real deal. We would often have to argue with our clients to trust the process, trust the people and trust us. Not once were they disappointed, and every time the project has won national awards.

The outcomes were unique in a global sense. New Zealand ecology at a giant scale, to be played on and learned from. It bypassed fine design and put the artisan craftsman in the centre of the creative process. I like this process, and from my experience the collaborative trust developed in these types of projects is built on long term relationships, and provides so much more depth than the refinement of an idea to ‘destruction’, to where the essence and soul are lost from the work.  This was something I argued in my interview to get on the Auckland Public Arts Panel and why I got the job above a whole pile of pseudo fine art snobs. And there are still plenty of those. But to be truly and authentically ‘New Zealand’, to be part of and contributing to the vernacular of New Zealand, you do not need to come from Elam or Ilam or Charlotesville or Sydney.

But from Clive.

William in many ways was our hands. He could make what we could think, and for that skill I was always envious. His workshop was our workshop. He worked in steel. Together his team -with ours -could bring ideas to life.

Last night as Ricks predicted, I looked carefully in the sky and sure enough I watched as the stars were rearranged, a new better composition.

I know damn well who did it.

Will, William, Wiremu.

William Jameson.