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Ūrunga Plaza, Wynyard Quarter.

Ūrunga Plaza, the newest public space in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter, has been officially opened with a karakia whakawātea by Taiaha and Clay Hawke from Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.

Wrapping around the south and east sides of the Park Hyatt Auckland the L-shaped plaza completes the promenade from the Viaduct Harbour to Karanga Plaza, stitching together the waterfront and viaduct harbour promenade for the very first time.

Drawing on the reflecting waters of the harbour, the dappled shade of coastal edge vegetation, and inspired by the timber milling history of the site, the plaza features a series of recycled and sustainably sourced timber stacks arranged in a wave-like formation. These playful stacks provide an opportunity for seating and are framed by native planted raingardens, including one carefully transplanted 6m tall pōhutukawa.

Designed by Isthmus for Panuku Development Auckland, Ūrunga Plaza creates space for people to stroll, and a dynamic and engaging place for visitors to meet and enjoy views to the harbour and city. The project represents a cornerstone public space project in the ongoing regeneration of Wynyard Quarter.


Maungawhau Boardwalk Opens.

New boardwalk the next step in preservation of Maungawhau

We are pleased to announce the opening of the new visitor boardwalk around the crater rim and lower tihi (summit) of Maungawhau / Mt Eden.

Commissioned by the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, the boardwalk was designed by Isthmus, together with Stellar Projects Engineers, the Tūpuna Maunga Authority team, HEB Construction and managed by Chester Consultants. Its completion provides long-overdue protection for Maungawhau, the volcanic cone which is a taonga in every sense of the word.

The previous tihi track was last upgraded over ten years ago with aggregate that had since washed away, leaving uneven surfaces and ruts which were highly prone to erosion.

The new boardwalk follows the contours of the Maunga tihi, carefully winding through the tūāpapa (terraces) where the houses and gardens of the pā once sat, and the rua (pits) which were roofed for storing crops. Culminating in a 4.8m wide viewing deck at the lower northern tihi, visitors can take in sweeping panoramic views over the CBD, Waitematā Harbour, and the network of Maunga across Tāmaki Makaurau.

“With around 1.2 million people visiting Maungawhau every year, a better solution was needed to both protect the pā features and enhance the experience that visitors expect from one of the country’s most iconic Maunga,” says Paul Majurey, Chair of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority.

The Tūpuna Maunga Authority has been a fantastic client with a clear vision and strong compass for their Maunga. The brief called for a design that did not detract from the experience of the Maunga, its complex of earthwork structures, expressive volcanic form, and to enhance the experience as a journey.

“The Maunga was to remain the main feature on the Hikoi to the tihi. It was an opportunity to be minimal with materiality and reduce the footprint of its structure as much as possible. Sections of boardwalk are kept narrow, changes in direction and angle respond to subtle earthworks on the ground, platform landings reflect adjacent terraces, the handrail is light and disappears from different perspectives – all of this was very intentional.” says Isthmus Landscape Architect Nada Stanish, adding that it was “a complex site and although the design was simple in principle it was a challenge to realise on site, the whole team rose to the challenge and where there is great collaborative effort there is a great outcome, everyone wins. Through design and build, every decision was made with full consideration of the significance of the site.”

The design uses materials that will naturally weather over time and are permeable to the elements, allowing grass growth and ground stability beneath. Allowing the flow of air, water and light through the boardwalk also helps restore the wairua and mauri of Maungawhau.

Minimal disturbance to the landscape was top priority in the boardwalk’s construction. Foundation footings are screwed into the ground using a hand tool meaning no digging was required, and it’s a reversible technique — the foundations can be removed in the future leaving no trace that the structure was ever there. Contractors carried materials by hand to locations onsite to ensure the lowest impact on the archaeology of the site. All materials can be fully recycled at the end of their life.

Isthmus is also proud to have contributed to the extensive planning for the project, which included a review of historic locations and World Heritage sites around the world. Today “Maungawhau and the other Tūpuna Maunga (ancestral mountains) of Tāmaki Makaurau are on a tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status,” says Majurey

To find our more visit the Our Auckland website or go and experience it for yourself and be sure to check out the Te Ipu Kōrero o Maungawhau / Maungawhau Visitor Experience Centre, next to the Whau Café below the tihi (summit). To read more about the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, visit

Auckland Botanic Gardens.

The Pacific Path, bringing the Master Plan to life.

Opened in late 2019, the Pacific Path, is the first move to be implemented from the Auckland Botanic Gardens Master Plan, completed by Isthmus in 2009.

Designed to improve the Garden’s legibility and circulation the Master Plan provides a spatial framework for long term development. The Master Plan’s key moves focus on retrofitting accessible pathways that join the various collections in order to achieve a more coherent visitor experience and strong place brand.

The realisation of the Pacific Path offers an immersive experience that gently guides visitors into the heart of each of the themed gardens. A series of nodal ‘islands’ within the Pacific Path naturally control pedestrian flow, with each node responding to both the overall Pacific theme, as well as the nuances of its immediate surroundings and location along the pathway.

Te Ara Awataha. Northcote Greenway.

The Path of the Awataha

Te Ara Awataha is Northcote’s new greenway. A 1.5km long spatial corridor that will safely connect school children and the community to local destinations, including schools, homes, playspaces, and the town centre. Te Ara Awataha will link up Northcote’s network of existing and new reserves, and provide sheltered rest areas for relaxation and socialisation.

Te Ara Awataha‘s design has developed out of a series of cultural health indicators, with a strong focus on healthy people and healthy environments. “The most important thing is restoring the health of the environment because that will involve people and help grow a healthy community. This reinforces Māori cultural values for living systems, and the special qualities of this place.” says Isthmus Principal Landscape Architect Helen Kerr,who has worked closely with local schools and the community for the last few years to gather input into the design of the Greenway.

Design workshops with local schools were held to gather ideas for the greenway. As a result, an outdoor classroom along the portion of Te Ara Awataha that borders the schools has made its way into the plans.

The project team also worked closely with mana whenua iwi representatives and artists to ensure that Te Ara Awataha captures the unique cultural narratives and values of this place. Through a process of regenerative design, Mana whenua artworks and integrated cultural design elements explore the cultural and natural histories of Northcote.

Te Ara Awataha is currently under construction and will be delivered in phases from 2020 onwards.

Te Wānanga Under Construction.

Te Wānanga, Auckland’s new Downtown Public Space is currently under construction and slated for completion in late 2020. Stitching together the land and the sea, the design brings to life Te hā o Te Tangaroa, the breath of Tangaroa the sea god. This natural rhythm and space between high and low tides has driven the design.

For the last eleven months the Isthmus team has been on-site monitoring the construction progress. The sequences of images above were taken a week apart over a eleven-month period. They show how the construction of a suite of projects; the Downtown Public Space, Ferry Basin Redevelopment (also designed by Isthmus), Quay Street Enhancement, Sea Wall Strengthening and Lower Albert Street Interchange has unfolded.

A transformative project for Tāmaki, Te Wānanga represents an integrated approach to public space design. The project is set to become a vibrant public waterfront that weaves mātauranga Māori through its spaces and narratives offering a new invitation to the water’s edge.

A New Heart for Takapuna.

New concept design endorsed for Takapuna town square

The Devonport-Takapuna Local Board have endorsed Isthmus concept design for Takapuna Square. The design undertaken in partnership with mana whenua appointed representatives, Angell and Vern Rosier, references the underground springs flowing from Lake Pupuke to Takapuna Beach and builds upon the meaning of Takapuna—Taka; to collect, gather, assemble and Puna; spring, water, life

The town square will be a place where people can come together to meet and relax, children can play and celebrations can be held. The design is the result of local feedback and expert master-planning which will give Takapuna a new heart.

Aidan Bennett, Chair of the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board, says the design is fantastic and will further enhance the desire of locals to connect the town centre to the beach.

“It’s no secret I have been a big supporter of this type of progress for Takapuna, so it warms my heart to see plans such as this nearing fruition.”

Over June and July, Panuku Development Auckland in collaboration with the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board will undertake a public engagement process to seek views on whether the design meets the objectives that were identified through previous community engagement between 2017–2018. Following this, the plan will move into the final detailed design phase, with a target construction start date of early-mid 2021.

To find out more see Panuku Development Auckland

3 projects Finalists in the 2019 Best Awards

Three Isthmus projects have been announced as finalists in the 2019 Best Design Awards:

The Discovery Garden (for Wellington City Council): Finalist Public and Institutional Spaces.

Barry Curtis Park Pavilion (for Auckland Council): Finalist Colour Award Spatial.

The Chimpanzee Habitat (for Wellington Zoo): Finalist User Experience, Innovating.
All three projects express a distinct personality of place that has emerged from our design process and our land, people, culture ethos.
When we think about the land we consider everything that sits on it. When we consider the people we consider those that came before, those that are there now and those that will inhabit it in the future. When we think about culture we try to understand what the community have done, are doing, and could be doing in future.

Te Ahu a Turanga: Manawatū Tararua Highway

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has identified a preferred option for a new State Highway 3 route to connect the Manawatū, Tararua District, Hawke’s Bay and northern Wairarapa, to replace the closed SH3 Manawatū Gorge route.

Isthmus are proud to be part of the team selected by the NZTA to deliver the Te Ahu a Turanga: Manawatū Tararua Highway project. The Advance consortium includes Fulton Hogan, HEB Construction Limited, Aurecon Limited and WSP-Opus.

Work on the project began in mid-2017 after a series of slips closed the old State Highway 3 through the Manawatū Gorge. After extensive consultation with the community and key stakeholders, the Transport Agency identified a preferred route option running to the north of the Manawatū Gorge in early 2018. A Notice of Requirement for the designated new transport corridor for the replacement route was issued earlier this year.

Enabling works for the new route are scheduled to commence in September 2019. Pending further resource consents, full construction is expected to get underway in 2020, with completion of the project in 2024.

Story Telling at Te Hauāuru Reserve

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

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

Read the full story here:


Wellington Zoo’s new chimpanzee habitat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Kumutoto public space blessed

The North Kumutoto public space on Wellington’s waterfront was officially opened this week by Mayor Justin Lester following a blessing and karakia by Kura Moeahu from Taranaki Whanui.

The ceremony was celebrated the completion of the $7m public space project and acknowledged the many contractors and consultants who collaborated with Wellington City Council to create it.

The revamp of the 6,000m2 area features a new timber boardwalk, improved access for visitors to the harbour’s edge, planting to attract wildlife, an award-winning timber pavilion, seating areas, covered walkways and restoration of many heritage features including the historic harbour board fences, gates.

The significance of the project, as one of the final pieces of the Wellington Waterfront Framework established nearly 15 years ago, was highlighted by the Mayor, as was the transformation of the North Kumutoto site from a car park to a high-quality public space.

“I urge Wellingtonians to get down on the waterfront to take a look at North Kumutoto – the space is truly outstanding and something we should all be proud of.”

Vinegar Lane wins national architecture award

Ponsonby’s Vinegar Lane was one of three winners in the Planning & Urban Design category at the NZIA’s New Zealand Architecture Awards held at Te Papa last Friday night;

“This is a leading, intelligent and innovative solution to a pressing contemporary challenge; the project is being progressively realised, and is resulting in a highly credible contribution to Auckland’s urban development”.

Brady Nixon of Progressive Enterprises – who’s day job is to deliver supermarkets – worked with Isthmus urban designers Gavin Lister and David Irwin, planner Mike Foster and lawyer Bronwyn Carruthers to conceive of a innovative development model for the balance land. The large lot not required for the Countdown development was subdivided into street facing sections with laneways opening up the interior of the site. A design guide was developed and individual resource consents granted for each of the freehold lots, prior to sale. Owners engaged their own architects who have worked within the urban design framework for Vinegar Lane to deliver individual buildings with 100% site coverage that collectively create a contemporary urban form for Auckland.

Vinegar Lane is a three-dimensional urban design framework made up from lines, words and a legal structure. It has been the individual owners and their architects that have created the variety and spontaneity of this authentic, mixed-use neighbourhood that fits with the fine-grain of the city-fringe suburb. We thank the NZIA judges for understanding this and awarding the project at this level.

Full project credits are on our website:

Auckland’s new Ferry Basin revealed

A vision of an accessible waterfront neighbourhood that prioritises people is driving efforts to transform downtown Auckland. In just three years Auckland’s waterfront will look dramatically different. The Downtown Programme will create a generous and welcoming destination along the water’s edge that better connects people to the Waitematā Harbour and turns the Quay Street area into a more vibrant destination.

Working closely with Council, Auckland Transport and other stakeholders, Isthmus are designing a new water’s edge public space, as well as a ferry terminal with six new berths. Combined with the enhancement of Quay Street (by LandLAB) this exciting new waterfront destination will accommodate growing numbers of people in the city centre who need more space to move, rest and play.

“The design of the dramatic changes afoot will reflect our unique Auckland identity and celebrate our place in the world,” says Councillor Chris Darby.

Rotorua Lakefront funded

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

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

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

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

Best Design Award 2018 Winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timber Design Award winner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three NZIA Auckland local award winners

Isthmus Group won three NZIA Local Architecture Awards in Auckland tonight for a diverse group of projects with shared roots in land, people and culture. We’d like to thank our clients and the extended inter-disciplinary teams with whom we have collaborated on these unusual projects.

Freyberg Place and the Ellen Melville Centre won an award in the Heritage category. Delivered together for Auckland Council, this project explored the overlaps between public art, landscape and architecture. Isthmus collaborated closely with artist John Reynolds’ and Stevens Lawsons Architects. The restored building and the new public square provide a unique place that Aucklanders have claimed for themselves.

The next project, Vinegar Lane for client Progressive Enterprises, was a winner in the Urban Design category. This Ponsonby project offers an authentic model for low-rise intensification. It’s an ‘urban subdivision’ of 32 individual freehold lots; the block is broken down into achievable portions individually owned and financed, and designed by a range of architects within a simple set of design guidelines.

The final award went to the smallest project in the Small Project category. The Habitat Markers were developed as part of HLC’s Te Ara Manawa, a coastal walkway designed around the neighbourhoods of Hobsonville Point. Taking the form of large posts, standing or lying down, the markers are micro-architecture, homes for critters. Solid wooden blocks were CNC routed to create a labyrinth of holes and hollows for birds and insects to make their homes within; and in turn for children to explore and encounter nature.

All three projects address the same basic theme; we have a critical responsibility as designers to design for tangata (people) while respecting whenua (land).


Awards night photos by David St George for NZIA.


Vinegar Lane wins NZPI Project Award

Progressive Enterprise’s Vinegar Lane development recently won the prestigious Rodney Davies Project Award at the annual NZPI National Planning awards. Isthmus Founders David Irwin and Gavin Lister joined the client and the consultant team of Russell McVeagh and Zomac Planning at the awards ceremony.

NZPI bestow just one Project Award each year, recognising excellence in:

– the processes which lead to the identification of the need for or justification of the project,

– the planning processes undertaken in formulating the project including research, consultation,

– the evaluation of alternatives and decision making, and

– any physical, economic, cultural or social change which has been result of the project.

Vinegar Lane’s consent mechanism was innovative. Each of the freehold lots in this ‘urban subdivision’ was sold with pre-arranged resource consent to construct a building that had not yet been designed. Architects of individual buildings work to the Vinegar Lane Design Manual which stipulates the building envelope, development controls and a design review process.

This award further recognises the importance of Vinegar Lane as an authentic model for low-rise intensification in Auckland. On average, it is estimated Vinegar Lane will yield 280 dwellings per hectare (net).

Te Hauāuru Park Opens

Adjacent to the award-winning Kopupaka Park the ‘town park’ at the centre of Westgate, known as Te Hauāuru, is officially open. Designed for Auckland Council, the 1.1ha park provides a green heart for the emerging town centre.

The park includes a large lawn for events, a playful water feature and a small building – also designed by Isthmus – that houses a plant room and public toilets.

The walls that structure the park and frame the lawns reference the upper harbour of inlets and bays, spilling out onto a lower level promenade space along the street edge, with shellfish motif inlays, a sheltered and flexible space designed to accommodate markets.  A multi-layered planting scheme throughout the park combines native and exotic species for year-round interest.

A kauri bark relief pattern is etched in a sequence of ground planes within the water feature. The idea evolved through series of meetings with iwi where stories of shared histories around milling and gum digging surfaced – then concerns about Kauri and dieback.

The amenity building is designed to complement a future café. Its materials are a combination of precast concrete panels and timber framing – a perforated anodised aluminium rainscreen unifies the form. The perforations represent Māori kites, known as manu tukutuku or manu aute. Manu means both kite and bird, and the word tukutuku refers to the winding out of the line as the kite ascends.

Now we wait for the rich palette of planting to bed-in, and for a community to arrive and make this their place.


client: Gemma Sandford, Auckland Council

core design team (as pictured L to R): Hayley Wright, Nada Stanish, Sarah Bishop, Grant Bailey, Rebecca Jerram. plus: Andrew Mirams, Marita Hunt, Azmon Chetty, Greta Christensen and Alex Foxon.

lead contractor: Hawkins Construction

Connecting with plants at the Akoranga Learning Pavilion

Changes in the way we live mean that today’s children have fewer opportunities to connect with nature, at the very time that we need to rekindle our relationship with the natural world (the future of our planet is at stake…).

Wellington’s new Discovery Garden, nestled within the Botanical Gardens, has been created to tell the story of the vital role that plants play in our lives, and our future. The experience focuses on the many ways that plants sustain human life – by providing food, fibre, construction materials and medicine. The resulting 1,500m2 Discovery Garden is a living classroom, shaped to a vision of bringing people and plants together.

Designed as part of the whole, by the same team that designed the landscape, the Akoranga Learning Pavilion offers a gathering space for clubs, school workshops and events. It allows making and doing, even when there is ‘proper weather’ outside. With its roofline echoing the natural slope of the site, architecture and landscape architecture are blended and aligned.

The form of the building is derived from the angular building platform nestled into the hillside beneath a grove of mature pōhutukawa trees. Anchored by masonry retaining walls, a simple monopitch roof rises towards the tree canopy, closely following the slope of the land.

The building works as both a departure point for a learning adventure – the series of ramps, steps and terraces encourage discovery and exploration – and a gathering place to share discoveries. Appropriate to the setting, the material choices are typically wood, with timber used for the structural frame, cladding and interior finishes. The bathroom and storage pods are clad in rough-sawn battens that reference the texture of the bark of the pōhutukawa tree.

The pavilion houses inspiring and creative hands-on education sessions that inspire a life-long connection between people and plants.

Homes for Creatures – Hobsonville’s Habitat Markers

The Hobsonville Coastal Walkway is a pedestrian route around the neighbourhoods of Onekiritea – a loop of approximately four kilometres. The coastal edge sustains a host of native plants and wildlife, from insects, tree lizards and terrestrial birds in the coastal forest, scrublands and long grass meadows, to fish, crabs and coastal birds in the mudflats, shellbanks and rocky shoreline. Many people would not be aware of the special form of kānuka (Kunzea linearis) or the Auckland green gecko, kakariki, that inhabits the scrublands.

To make connection with the local ecology, smaller interventions have been incorporated into the design of the coastal path. These ‘points of interruption’ to the linear path offer opportunities for play and discovery. Features are located at natural features, as well as remnant structures from the old air force base, to offer a rich and unique experience of place.

As part of this overall approach, several ‘habitat markers’ have recently been installed, designed by Isthmus and fabricated by long-time collaborator Phillip Meier. The wooden markers have carved elements with holes and hollows for birds and insects to make their homes within, and in turn for children to explore and encounter nature. The forms are intended to prompt curiosity; multiple holes of varying sizes provide a mixed habitat for all forms of wildlife, and the position of the cavities on the marker is dictated by the environment – whether it be forest floor, tree canopy, meadow, constructed pond or mudflat.

Not knowing what wildlife may occupy the markers is part of the appeal; they become a live and evolving thing. The children of Hobsonville may monitor and track signs of occupation over time, and come to know the wider community that they live amongst.

concept design: Azmon Chetty, Michael Chu, Helen Kerr, David Irwin

design/build/install: Philipp Meier (sculptor), Nick Pearson, Grant Bailey

Kumutoto North Construction

A decade ago, the first phase of work at Kumutoto tied the Wellington’s central city back to the waterfront and acknowledged the history and cultural importance of the area. Today the remainder of the site, North Kumutoto, is underway. A new series of public spaces has been catalysed by the construction of a significant building on Site 10, and proposals for Site 9, that will provide additional life to the waterfront.

The project extends the laneway, tracing the historic sea wall past the two new commercial buildings. At the water’s edge, a new open space – occupying ‘Site 8’ – extends our work on Kumutoto Plaza. The new space explores the interaction between water and land. Conceived as a reinterpretation of Wellington’s wharves, the public space ‘floats’ above the coastal edge to shield and create habitats for flora and fauna, including kororā – little blue penguins.

A small pavilion will offer shade and partial shelter; respite from the elements. It’s composed of a matrix of timber battens formed into cassettes and attached to steel-lattice trusses which hover lightly overhead before cascading down the pavilion edge – a carefully orchestrated move that preserves unobstructed views of Wellington’s harbour.


Contractor: Peryer Construction

Photographer: Neil Price, WCC

Client: Wellington City Council

McKee Mangahewa Control Centre’s construction progressing well.

Construction of the new Operations Facility for Todd Energy is well advanced. Designed by Earl Rutherford of Isthmus’ Wellington Studio, the McKee Mangahewa Processing Plant is located 12km inland from the coastal township of Waitara at the boundary between two major North Taranaki natural gas fields. With the superstructure completed in late September 2017, the contractor, Cleveland Construction, are currently focusing on the exterior cladding systems to ensure the building is closed in before the expected autumn rains. Thanks to the Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) construction with sealed structural roof panels, interior services and linings are now well advanced.

The 940m2 building centralises the control, handling and emergency response requirements of the adjacent natural gas processing plant. Nestled into a hillside, the modular building will dramatically improve safety and operational efficiency for all those that work on site. CLT was chosen for strength, sustainability, economy of scale, speed of construction and construction safety. Largely exposed on the interior, the timber provides a robust alternative to more industrial finishes and contributes to a healthy working environment.

Completion is scheduled for late May 2018.

Chimpanzee habitat upgrade

Wellington Zoo’s chimpanzees (the largest troupe in New Zealand) will be seeing an update to their habitat in 2018. The upgrade will provide an improved environment for the chimps, as well as giving visitors the opportunity to have a more immersive experience. Plans are at the end of developed design stage, with construction expected to be completed mid to late 2018.

“Our chimpanzees and their welfare are very important to us, the main aim of the new habitat design has been to increase the complexity of the chimp’s environment to better allow their natural behaviours to occur,” said Karen Fifield MNZM, Chief Executive of Wellington Zoo.

As a conservation organisation, Wellington Zoo aims to connect people with animals so that visitors are inspired to make choices in their own lives that help save animals in the wild.

“Chimpanzees are seriously affected by habitat loss, so one thing we encourage our visitors to do is look for the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) logo on paper and wood products, which guarantees that those products are sourced in a way that doesn’t threaten the habitat of animals in the wild,” said Karen.


IFLA Asia-Pacific Awards

The International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) Asia-Pacific Region held its Awards on last Friday night in Bangkok. The Awards aim to “create a stronger awareness and recognition of landscape architecture as one of the key professions that has played a key role in shaping our cities and our environments towards a better, more resilient future”.

Sean Burke travelled to Thailand representing Isthmus (and the Pacific). He picked up no less than five of these prestigious awards for two Auckland projects:

Cultural and Urban Landscape Category

Award of Excellence, Kopupaka Reserve


Infrastructure Category

Outstanding Award, Kopupaka Reserve

Outstanding Award, Taumanu Reserve

Parks and Open Space Category

Outstanding Award, Taumanu Reserve

Honourable Mention, Kopupaka Reserve

We thank IFLA for recognising what we are doing to unite land, people and culture. And we thank our clients and the many collaborators and contractors with whom we have worked to deliver these innovative and authentic spaces.

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.”


Dominion & Valley Road apartments.

Just 4km from Auckland’s CBD, and within the established Mt Eden suburb, the 5,200m2 site on the corner of Dominion and Valley road has swift and frequent public transport services through to the city, and is well catered for with supermarkets, food & beverage and a range of other services. Isthmus has been working with Panuku Development Auckland to create a benchmark residential intensification proposal for this site.

Currently occupied by a series of small single story warehouse and shopfronts, the development gently intensifies this under-utilised space by mediating the transition between the dual conditions of commercial strip and leafy residential suburb. Hybrid typologies for living and working promise to enliven the area.

Four building blocks are arranged to maximise site potential, while fitting with its existing urban context. The blocks are arranged north-south to offer good solar access for each of the 102 units (one, two and three bedroom).

The buildings themselves reference the heritage and character of Dominion Road with the use of robust materials in a formal arrangement that has an overlay of ‘ad-hoc’ additions articulated on the exterior of the buildings to bring depth to the architecture. The design integrates extensive street character assessment and high levels of consultation with various stakeholders.

The project is currently lodged for resource consent with the Auckland Council and will be a notified application with a hearing date that is to be confirmed. It has been through consultation with both local board and the Auckland Urban Design Panel.

Opening up the harbour with a floating archipelago.

Welcome home to the Auld mug. The latest Paper Boy features the Isthmus design concept for the next Americas Cup.

The brief  was to choose a site for an America’s Cup event to be held, and suggest the amenities that could accompany it – be they parks, housing, transport links, or other more outlandish suggestions.

The theme of our concept was:
Ki te kahore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi – Without foresight or vision the people will be lost.

The Maori proverb urges a progressive future for the unification of our people. The America’s Cup is Now Aotearoa’s Cup – The quote made famous in 1995 is translated to give it new meaning, a new purpose and a new origin. America’s Cup has traditionally been an event that is participated by the world’s wealthy boating community – here an opportunity exists.

Inspired by Christo’s floating piers, a promenade is draped over the Waitemata Harbour meandering towards a scaffolded floating pavilion. The pavilions create a new cultural and spectator experience accessible by everyday people. Playfully the promenade moves back and forth connecting land, sea and people. The promenade democratises the water and becomes an extension of the public realm. A synthetic archipelago challenges perception and provokes contemplation. Sitting on the edge between manmade, nature and the spectacle that is the Americas Cup.


Children’s garden – a living classroom.

Recently Wellington City Council held an open day at the Children’s Garden in the Botanic Gardens. The project is still a little way off completion so this was not the offical opening – that will be in the spring.

The Children’s Garden is going be a hands-on, playful landscape where children are free to explore and interact with nature with a focus on learning through enjoyment about plants for food, fibre, construction and medicine.

“When the garden is fully up and running, there will be hands-on activities that help students understand the importance of plants in our lives. These education sessions will be based around themes of sustainability, interconnectedness and culture to encourage respect for the natural environment and the importance of plants – now and for the future.” – Councillor Peter Gilberd

Dealing with complex levels, and carefully working around exisiting trees, the design has woven a multi-layed sequence of spaces that will delight and educate children (and adults) for generations to come. A pavilion building for indoor education sessions is integrated into the garden.

This project is the largest investment in the Wellington Botanic Garden since the duck pond was built more than 18 years ago.

Vinegar Lane tipping point.

The new urban quarter of Vinegar Lane has reached a tipping point – more of it is built than unbuilt.

Masterplanned by Isthmus, owners of the 30 freehold lots have been free to select their own architects to design buildings that slot into the urban design framework. Designs are informed by the Vinegar Lane Design Manual which seeks to provide variety within the whole. Each lot is permitted 100% site coverage and a 4 storey (15m) height limit. Resource consents for each lot were pre-approved; leaving detailed designs to pass through the Vinegar Lane Design Review Panel and ACs’ building consent process. If the pre-approved resource consent envelope was challenged, new consents had to be applied for (this has happened in a couple of cases).

So, while construction is yet to begin on a number of lots, it’s now possible to imagine what Vinegar Lane will feel like when complete. When fully built-out the site will yield a density of 190 dwellings per ha gross (including lanes within the site), or 280 dwellings per ha net. High density mixed-use achieved within a mostly 4-storey height envelope.

We believe this ‘kiwi urbanism’ approach can be adopted elsewhere across the city. Such development could increase the density of the inner suburbs massively while maintaining the fine-grained variety that feels right for Auckland. Choosing the right sites, without resorting to bulk and height, and dividing them up into small and affordable parcels, puts development in the hands of small-scale private investors. Most of the lots will be owner-occupied, while also generating an income from commercial and residential rents. At Vinegar Lane baby boomer savings are being used to build a new Auckland.

Kopupaka Reserve awarded as World Landscape of the Year for 2016.

From among ten finalists from around the globe, Kopupaka Park was selected by the jury as World Landscape of the Year 2016 at the World Architecture Festival in Berlin. David Irwin and Grant Bailey attended to present the scheme – each team had 10 minutes to present.

The jury said:

“Inspired by woven baskets for catching eel, Isthmus has developed an innovative river-wall system of interlocking timbers,”

“Simple yet sophisticated engineering allows the baskets to retain silt and create habitats which will shift and change over time.”

We’d like to thank the whole design team, and especially our client, Auckland Council, for always believing in the potential of the project.

As featured on Dezeen.

World Architecture Winner – Transport Award

The pedestrian bridge that links Onehunga to the newly created Taumanu Reserve has beaten dozens of projects from across the world to win the 2016 WAN Transport Award. It is a joint winner with Denmark’s busiest transport hub.

Isthmus Group won the award with for Taumanu Reserve Bridge in Auckland, and Gottlieb Paludan Architects and Cobe Architects joined them in first place with their design for Nørreport Station in Oslo.

Taumanu Reserve Bridge restores a connection to a re-imagined coastal landscape created after motorway development in the 1970s severed the local populace from the sea. To resolve the problem of a park in two parts, a bridge of sufficient form and experience was required to stitch the halves together, with a legibility that was of the park and not the motorway. Beautifully balanced and proportioned, the bridge moves into the adjacent constructed and planted landforms and abutments and is bookended by basaltic concrete panels. The jury praised the resulting seamless integration of the bridge with the landscape. Catherine said: “I think the design is innovative. It stands out, it does exactly what it says it’s going to do. It links to the beach, it looks like the beach. Beautiful to walk across, beautiful to look at, with function & form – it ticks all the boxes for me.” Artwork on the bridge’s interior timber panelling was commissioned with guidance from the project’s Maori advisors. The resulting contemporary design was carved by machine, while in counterpoint anodized aluminium shells adorn the gateway upstands. Anthony appreciated the intricacy of the design, stating: “The detailing is fantastic. I think this project is beautiful and a very unusual and sensitive solution to a problem.” 

Selected for their experience and expertise in the field of transport design, the judging panel discussed the shortlisted projects at length in order to come to a decision. This year’s jury were: Catherine Hallett, Technical Sponsor for River Crossings at Transport for London, Anthony Leslie, Vice President of HOK, Bridget Rosewell OBE, founder and senior partner at Volterra Parners, Steen Trojaborg, Managing Director and Partner at DISSING+WEITLING, and Chris Williamson, co-founder of WestonWilliamson+Partners.

The other 4 shortlisted projects were:

  • Porto Cruise Terminal, Portugal
  • Train Control Centre Utrecht, Netherlands
  • Siilitie Metro Station, Finland
  • Bowen Place Crossing, Australia

Te Rangi Hiroa Youth Park

In October kaumatua from Ngati Whatua o Kaipara blessed the Te Rangi Hiroa Youth Park and officially opened this new community space.

The design concept is based on a consolidated diamond shape of activity called Waharua kōpito. Tāniko is a traditional method of decorative maori weaving used especially to decorate the borders of fine garments, based on geometric triangle and diamond shapes. The literal translation is ‘a point where people or events cross’. The pattern is a reminder that change occurs at such meeting points. The concept relates to the wedge of the youth facility forming a diamond pattern with the triangular shaped wedge of the Cycle Hub, with the Whanau Area at its heart. It also reflects the idea of bringing youth (and whanau) together in a purpose built space, and opening up opportunities for adventure and challenge.

In consultation with the Auckland Council and the local community board the youth space was designed to reflect it’s people and place. The theme of “found object” runs through the reserve giving it a rustic aesthetic in a refined way while sticking to a selected colour palette. Transformed from previously unusable land to a destination that maximises play experiences the reserve has quickly become a destination of choice for local youth.

Isthmus Design Team: Helen Kerr, David Gregory, Sean Burke, Alfred Chan
Other Consultants: Thomas Civil
Contractor: Dempsey Wood
Client: Auckland Council
Playground Supplier: Playrope

Porirua Kiosk wins NZIA Award.

Our team was excited to receive a Small Project Architecture Award at last week’s NZIA Local Awards in Wellington for the Porirua Kiosk. This small, strategic building is part of a much larger picture of urban revitalisation and in many ways symbolises a new lease of life for Porirua’s city centre.

Citation: “The building accommodates two small food and beverage outlets as well as public bathrooms; amenities which are not typically closely coupled. However, through clever planning and screening this finely crafted ‘object’ works. Timber, glass and metal combine to create a very robust yet welcoming facility in what has been a challenging area. Through the deployment of simple patterns and bright colour, a subtle Pacifica theme is evoked, especially when shadows from the glass canopy fall across the structures timber skin”.

Volcanic play at Otahuhu

A few months ago Auckland Council completed Tōia, a multi-purpose facility which includes a new library, aquatic centre, outdoor water play area, community garden and a new playground. Isthmus were engaged as the designers of the playspace portion and basketball court within the new recreation precinct, in close coordination with Bespoke landscape architects.

Inspired by the craters of extinct volcanoes in the Otahuhu area and wider Auckland isthmus, a series of ‘play craters’ provide creative play opportunities for a range of ages. Play is based around; climbing, jumping, balancing, scrambling, swinging, spinning and sliding. Each crater contains a specific play element selected to be reflective of volcanic activity. For example, the trampolines spring you from the ground, the pipes form tunnels or ‘tubes’, there are balancing games where the ground rocks and moves, even the crater edges are designed to be playable.

“Along with the library ramp, it’s the landscaping by Bespoke Landscape Architects that brings this leisure complex together. The skilful integration of the outside basketball court and the adjacent children’s playground (Isthmus Group) breathes new life into the David Lange memorial.” – , Metro


The existing site contour, sloping from the road into the park, is used to advantage with the craters terracing down the slope into the site. Water and sand play is incorporated into the space in a series of stone edged craters stepping down the hill, providing a visual connection to the splash pad and pools beyond.

A looped pathway, concrete with white shell within the aggregate mix, connects the craters and provides a platform from which to discover and explore the different play craters, with a grass bank providing an informal connection to the civic space where social basketball players can be observed from the new terraces.