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. 

Studio 246.

Our Tāmaki Makaurau studio has arrived at Level 6, 246 Queen Street. 

Last year—guided by our belief in an Aotearoa Urbanism—we decided to move our Tāmaki Makaurau studio into the heart of the city. After seven months of being in-between studios, levels and lockdowns our Tāmaki Makaurau studio has arrived at Level 6, 246 Queen Street.

Seven months of working from kitchen benches, bedroom desks and pop-up spaces, has helped evolve a new way of working. For the physical studio to stay relevant it needs to adapt to these evolving behaviours. We know that when we come together, we generate our best work—so our studio has to be a place where our team feel safe and inspired. In an increasingly hybrid world—the studio needs to bring people together and create a community. The studio drives our purpose and helps us align with issues that matter to you and the communities we work for.

246 Queen has been designed to harness this shift, a space that will change according to the people and projects within it. This studio is a space for our clients, collaborators and Tāmaki Makaurau to come together to help shape a New Aotearoa.

We look forward to welcoming you to our new space at 246 Queen.

Matariki 2021.

Mānawatia a Matariki e te whānau!

On the 1st of July our three studios in Tāmaki Makaurau, Te Whanganui-a-Tara and Ōtautahi celebrated the rising of Matariki. Our whānau came together and celebrated Matariki over kai, shared stories and generally gott to know each other a little better. Every studio had its own spin on the night but we were all connected by the Kaupapa of reflection and sharing.

Matariki is a time of the year where our whānau and friends come together to reflect on the year been and look towards the year ahead. Isthmus has been celebrating this annual event since 2010. Every year we deepen our commitment to mātauranga māori by creating opportunities within our whare to connect with the community, culture, and place. We do this through kai, kōrero, waiata, manaakitanga and whanaungatanga.

We have dinner together and our own public holiday because it is part of our culture as a studio, and a sense of belonging and connection is important. We build on this tradition every year because it celebrates who we are as an Aotearoa design studio.

Me mātou ki te whetu, I mua te kokiri o te haere
Before you set forth on a journey, be sure you know the stars.

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! 

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.

Te Waipounamu Studio Opens.

Nau mai haere mai, ki te whare o Isthmus!

The doors of our Te Waipounamu shop front studio are open. Isthmus designed and built the shopfront fit-out, which was blessed in late October by Te Marino Lenihan (NgāiTūāhuriri, Ngāti Huirapa, Te Horomaka).

If you are passing by you might notice the mauri stone that sits at the front door. This stone was chosen from the high tide line at Te Onepoto/ Taylor’s Mistake by our Isthmus whānau, and the name Tupuwhenua was gifted by Te Marino, which symbolises growing of the land in order to prosper, but also to the placenta, from which new life sprouts. Tupuwhenua holds the mauri of our space and the positive energy of our team and our visitors.

As an Aotearoa design studio, our expansion into Te Waipounamu enables us to grow our potential and expand our reach—improving relationships between Land, People and Culture.

You can now find us at 227a High Street, Christchurch.

Drop by, we would love to see you.

Te Waipounamu. Introducing Isthmus South.

Isthmus are a national design practice. We always have been. While our physical studios are located where our people are concentrated (Auckland and Wellington), a number of us are a part of communities in other locations around Aotearoa. With our ‘One Studio’ approach, our people increasingly have the ability to live where they want, while being a fully-integrated part of the Isthmus whanau. This expansive approach has led us back to Te Waipounamu, where three of our experienced designers are now based.

Nik Kneale, Helen Kerr and Scott McKerrow bring a strongly inquisitive and collaborative approach to design, with overlapping core experience in Landscape Architecture, Urban Design and Architecture. Our presence in Ōtautahi Christchurch allows us to work at our best- with clients, communities and collaborators across Te Waipounamu, focusing on wellbeing, engaging with mātauranga māori and regenerative solutions. As an agile and nimble local team we are creatively invested in Te Waipounamu.

Ki te hoe!
To the paddle, let’s go!

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.

Responding Together

The Covid-19 pandemic has rapidly impacted how people go about their day-to-day lives around the world, and we are now experiencing the impact ourselves right here in Aotearoa. This is affecting everything and everyone, now is the time to really lean into our values of: curiosity, creativity, authenticity, and tenacity.  

We are putting whānau first, ensuring that all of our people and their families are safe. Staff will be able to use their extra week of Wellbeing Leave to look after themselves, whānau and community.  

Isthmus’ purpose is to deepen the relationships between land, people and culture. Our people come to work each day because they all believe in helping leave this place a better one than we found it. By continuing to focus on projects we hope to generate a ‘new normal’ for our staff and clients. We will continue to meet our deadlines and maintain our studio culture as best we can.

We use integrated thinking, collaboration, talking, writing, sketching, making, to solve complex problems — this continues. We will continue to maintain our project-focussed design culture, some things may need to be done differently using different tools. From Wednesday 25 March all Isthmus staff will be working remotely. We will connect with you virtually and in the cloud through a multitude of tools that are the best match for you and your project: G-Suite with Hangouts, Office365 with Teams, Zoom, Facetime, Skype, Slack, Trello, Loomio, and VPN access to our servers. For maximum flexibility and resilience we operate on multiple platforms and choose channels that are the best-for-client and best-for-project.

Isthmus was founded on a strong ethos of collaboration and teamwork. We work together as ‘one studio’. Through this crisis all the things you know us for will continue to hold true, albeit delivered in a slightly different way.

Board Strengthening.

Independent Director Christine Spring brings industry-leading governance experience and human-centred business thinking onto the Isthmus Group Board.

Christine brilliantly integrates her experience and unique talents to pursue a career in governance as well as being an author and award-winning photographer. Her background is in civil engineering with a particular focus on strategic aviation planning and infrastructure development. Christine is an experienced Director and currently sits on the boards of Auckland International Airport Ltd, Western Sydney Airport Ltd, Unison Networks Ltd and Unison Contracting Services Ltd. 

Her values: Challenge, Trust, Respect, and Generosity, resonated with us and the journey we see ourselves on. In order to see from a different perspective, you need to challenge yourself. The Isthmus approach of No-Boundaries requires trust and respect in each other. Generosity to each other, with clients, with the land, will bring more than we can imagine. 

Christine has also a great fit with the Isthmus culture and values: Curiosity, Creativity, Authenticity, and Tenacity. Her commitment to innovation, creativity and strategic thinking aligns with the our ethos of connecting Land, People and Culture, together with our vision to become Aotearoa’s leading design studio.

Our Culture of Engagement

As a purpose-driven design studio Isthmus relies on the passion and energy of our people to deliver award-winning work. We put people first and focus on nurturing a healthy studio culture. Earlier this year we asked Aon to undertake a staff engagement survey so that we could understand what we are doing well, and what we still need to work on. What we found was an extraordinary level of staff engagement – at 77% our engagement score puts Isthmus in the Top 10% of organisations surveyed in NZ.

The results of the survey affirm that the investment we have made in flexible & remote working, diversity & inclusion and performance & development is enabling people to thrive within our dynamic studio. There is always room for improvement; the survey has helped us to identify aspects of our studio that we can focus on going forward to ensure that our team remain happy and keep growing.

Isthmus’ Matariki Day

There is a natural logic that the transition from one year to the next is marked by the maximum tilt of the earth, our furthest distance from the sun. Matariki is increasing in prominence as an authentic, homegrown celebration of the passing of the year. Isthmus first acknowledged Matariki in 2008 and it has grown in subsequent years to become a key feature of our studio culture.

In 2014 we introduced a Matariki Day for all staff, a special ‘public holiday’, with a dinner hosted by the Directors for the team and their whanau in the evening. This is a chance to appreciate the commitment and contribution that all of our staff make, and to acknowledge their partners and families for the supporting role that they play in the success of our studio. We share stories, and we look back in order to look forward.

Matariki provides a punctuation mark in the middle of the long dark winter; a time to both reflect and look forward, but most of all a time be present with one another, enjoy each other’s company and deepen relationships.

Our studios will be closed on Friday 21 June.

Last year, for the first time, we extended our Matariki season to include our clients, collaborators and friends. We will be hosting an evening of waiata, food, drinks and conversation in both our Auckland studio on 3 July and in our Wellington studio on 4 July.


Park(ing) Day 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isthmus Matariki

There is a natural logic that the transition from one year to the next is marked by the maximum tilt of the earth, our furthest distance from the sun. In Europe the pagan mid-winter festival was combined with Christianity; the British Empire’s calendar was eventually overlaid on the opposite side of the globe, obscuring Aotearoa’s seasonal rhythms.

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

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

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

Matariki provides a punctuation mark in the middle of the long dark winter; a time to both reflect and look forward, but most of all a time be present with one another, enjoy each other’s company and deepen relationships.

Isthmus Matariki Day

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

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

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

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

Inclusion and Diversity

Last week Isthmus’ Wellington studio hosted a talk entitled Driving Inclusion and Diversity with three speakers championing advocacy in this area. We had a very positive response and a great turnout from the NZIA and NZILA for the event. The event was organised by Isthmus Architectural Graduate Suchita Jain; here is her report:

Vanisa Dhiru, the President of the National Council of Women New Zealand, discussed the various ventures that organisations are undertaking to support Gender Equal NZ. Highlight: 74% of NZers don’t know or don’t think people should work full time if they want to progress their career. What does this say about our workplaces? How can we make our workplaces more inclusive towards people in need of flexibility- young parents etc.

Christina van Bohemen, president of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, spoke about the launch of the Diversity Agenda. She urged the audience to get their workplaces involved in the change-making process and how Isthmus is one of the founding partners for the Agenda. Highlight: Founding Partners of the Diversity Agenda will be reporting on how/ what they are doing to work towards the collective goal of 20% more women in engineering and architecture by 2021.

Haylea Muir, our young and spirited Board Director (amongst her many other roles) spoke about her journey at Isthmus and what motivated her to push for a Women in Leadership Group. Highlight: Haylea quoted Isthmus’ CEO Ralph Johns from earlier this year about Isthmus’ business culture – “We want to evolve our business to be led by a representative and diverse group of talented people. We think that’s good for business, as well as being firmly in line with our values”.

Love Cycling Regional Awards

Last week a group of us from the Wellington studio attended the Love Cycling Regional Awards; we rode our bikes en masse through the twilight city and along the windy waterfront for a progressive awards ceremony, finishing up at the cosy Bicycle Junction.

Isthmus were a finalist in the Best Employer (SME) category. The winners Garage Project (who also supplied the beery refreshments) were congratulated for their proactive bike culture.

Julie Anne Genter (Minister for Women, Assoc. Minister of Health, Assoc. Minister of Transport) was there to lend her support to the cycling community. With a Green MP in a transport role, we hope to see significantly more spending on urban cycling infrastructure over the next three years.

Keeping it Real in Te Atatu South

What sort of impact can 80 people have in a couple of hours, when deployed into the suburbs for ‘design research’? At this years Isthmus conference we set out to explore what ‘keeping it real’ means to us individually and collectively, and in our own backyard. All 80 of us sang a waiata and shared a personal thought about keeping it real means to us in our everyday lives; all 80 of us listened to Gael Surgenor form the Southern Initiative talk about real impact in South Auckland; and all 80 of us headed out to Te Atatu South to help the Heart of Te Atatu South (HOTAS) group figure out why the community is having trouble connecting. After 2 hours of intervention and observation around the hood, our ‘raw data’ was collected into a big pin-up session in the school hall, where we swapped stories with community leaders and school principals.

At the end of the day, nothing could be more important than healthy people supported by a healthy environment. It is what we really care about at Isthmus, embodied in Land, People, Culture. But when we put people first – things change, and things get real. We are instantly challenged about what we think we know about a place and its people. We are catapulted outside our comfort zone and forced to rely on our creative confidence to navigate human emotions and perspectives shaped by a myriad of cultural influences. ‘Keeping it real’ is largely about challenging our assumptions, and being open to the possibility that real impact in everyday situations could look different and manifest in different ways from one community to another. This is why design thinking is so helpful- it is fluid, iterative, and experimental. If we are curious enough, observe ‘with our hearts’, and collaborate with communities- then we can find local solutions to complex problems.

Running with this idea and just getting stuck in, we decided to work with our new friends in Te Atatu South who are working tirelessly to do good in their community. Their story is motivating and inspiring, and it shows what grassroots community initiative is all about- places to meet for playgroups and book shares, reasons to connect and have conversations with lonely people. But its exhausting doing this stuff day in and out, and sometimes its hard to see the big picture when you are changing lives one at a time. Big research projects are super important for understanding complex social issues, but design research can be quick-and-dirty, and effective too, especially when a catalyst for change is urgently needed. It sets up a ‘do-learn-do’ cycle of intervention and observation. Not scientific, but certainly perceptive –  and it builds a base understanding about public life that drives change from the inside- out.

Our ‘backpack challenge’ was designed to be a bit quirky and experimental – we didn’t really know what would happen. Teams of five or six were deployed into the neighbourhood with backpacks full of intervention and observation tools. Some random items were open to interpretation and could be used in inventive ways to complete the challenges  – bungy ropes, chalk, material, cones among other loose parts. Teams could also pick up large items from a ‘resource station’ van, parked in near the community centre and manned by HOTAS volunteers. Challenges were designed to put people out of their comfort zones and invite response from residents and passers-by. Each team was assigned one of three themes: ‘footloose’, ‘seriously fun’ and ‘beating heart’, closely related to issues HOTAS had described to us about lack of social cohesion, fun and support for families, and difficulty getting around the suburb.

Finding people in Te Atatu South is a challenge in itself. There is a population of around 15,000 people, but you don’t see many of these people on the streets. There are a lot of cars though, and we know that busy roads can divide communities. There are five schools, and potentially social networks that exist around those schools. We heard about people meeting in each others homes to cook food together or meet for playdates, and it challenged us to think about whether community needs to be visible to be functional. We noticed the small and simple things- like the impact of a pedestrian crossing, a seat and table or tree swing. We wrote on the footpath- things like ‘I wonder how many footsteps it will take to wear this away’. We noticed how much untapped potential there is, and the power of prompting people to slow down and think about it. Maybe the community needs to refocus back away from the busy ridgeline road to the land and the water to make this place a little bit special again.

It was a big day of little things, measured by smiles and tears- sometimes both at the same time. We sang together, we ate together, we made stuff together. And if thats not keeping it real, then what is?

Keeping it Real

Last Friday we held our annual Isthmus Conference – this is the one day a year when our whole studio gathers together. First, each one of our eighty strong team shared what ‘keeping it real’ means to them – what keeps us grounded. We laughed, and we cried.

We then heard from guest speaker Gael Surgenor about her work at the Southern Initiative to tackle the complex and interconnected challenges that face south Auckland communities. With that in mind we then spent the afternoon in teams engaged in hand-on design research in the ‘forgotten’ suburb Te Atatu South, coming up with ideas of how to reverse social isolation and celebrate the latent potential of its people. We built ten bikes which we gifted to the grassroots community group Heart Of Te Atatu South.

We finished up back at the studio for chilled Wellington-studio-brewed beers, amazing food from the Lucky Taco truck, prize-giving and the highlight of the evening; the debut performance from Aotearoa-alt-country collective The Oiois – all the musicians are members of Isthmus.

It was an inspiring day – fantastic to be able to give something back to the community and at the same time strengthen the shared purpose of our team – that’s what keeping it real looks like.



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).

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.

Isthmus ‘Matariki Day’ 2017.

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

We give all of our staff an extra day off, and in the evening hold a dinner in the studio for all whanau. This is our way of looking back and reflecting upon the successes and challenges of the previous year, as well as recognising all staff for their contribution. We tell some stories and look forward to the year ahead. We enjoy a uniquely New Zealand meal together, and afterwards, while the adults talk, the kids are kept busy with the ‘matariki tamariki design challenge’.

Our studios will be closed on the following dates:
Chews Lane studio, Wellington. Friday 23 June.
Sale Street studio, Auckland. Friday 30 June.

Isthmus conference: Great Barrier

We closed our studios last Friday to gather for the annual isthmus conference; it was the biggest and most adventurous gathering in our 28 year history. We decided to get out of town and fully engage with each other and with the environment. We chose Great Barrier Island as the place to get in touch with the land, sea and sky.

We’ve all been working really hard this year, and growing fast. It was valuable to get to know each other’s stories – everyone gave a mihi. Then we looked back and took stock of the challenges and successes of 2016 (which are many and varied) before discussing new initiatives and investments for 2017. Being on the island expanded our horizons, but at the same time focussed us in on what’s really important to us; land, people and culture.

Study Leave

Isthmus has a long tradition of recognising people who have served the practice for 10 years. Long-serving staff have been given extra leave and expenses to support work-related study and/or travel. Study Leave is intended to refresh and inspire, and applies to all staff.

This year Helen Kerr studied eating, cycling, playing and much more in the happiest country on earth, Denmark.

Brad Coombs went to Japan to walk, cycle, study historic gardens and speak Japanese.

And Nada Stanish and Sarah Bishop went to New York together on a “pilgrimage to the most iconic metropolis” where they kept quite busy (sketches below).

Each of them returned full of inspiration & ideas, with a greater sense of context and perspective for our position in Aotearoa, and a renewed passion for place. We look forward to celebrating their next decade at Isthmus.

Te Motu A Ihenga.

Isthmus recently completed our annual planting day on Te Motu a Ihenga (Motuihe Island).  It all felt so familiar but with new faces.

We got a huge amount done; quantified below:

48 volunteers

356 hours of work

600 nursery plants processed

4 tamariki

3186 dollars

54 bagels

2 Tuatara

3 Kiwi calls

4 Weta

1 Korora and egg

1 angry Kingfisher

2 movement activated night vision cameras

1 injury

1 Wellingtonian in formal attire

4 tender shuttles

600m² area planted

1000m² area weeded

12 cans of beer

5 hours of bush bashing (kiwi hunting)

Isthmus wins the Supreme Commute Award

This year Isthmus entered Auckland Transport Commute Awards; as part of an organisation wide approach, Isthmus has made it easier for staff who choose to cycle, walk, train or bus to work by providing facilities that encourage these behaviours. Isthmus is an inner city studio with limited parking facilities on site and in the immediate vicinity.

Our entry highlighted the steps we’ve taken to make it easier for staff to leave their car at home and commute to work by cycling, walking, carpooling or using public transport. Another great initiative was providing access to a Cityhop vehicle in the company car park. This gives those who don’t bring their car to work the ability to meet with onsite clients, travel to meetings and manage emergencies effectively. Notably, Gavin Lister sacrificed his car space so the City  hop vehicle could be a permanent resident.

Isthmus Touch Team

A group of athletic designers from our Auckland Studio have been competing this season in a weekly touch tournament at Victoria Park. While two or three had played touch before, most had no experience at all at the start of the season. Last Monday saw the final game, a play off game for 7th and 8th position in the league (out of 8 teams).

“What a game! We defended with honour and attacked with structure, this was by far our best game. Crafty tries to Brad W, Grant and the Travs keep us in the running but unfortunately they managed to get a girl to score (worth 2 points) and pipped us 5-4. We celebrated our near win with a few field side beers as all professional athletes do.” – T. McGee

Isthmus Environment Fund – Motuihe Island

In September 2010 the Isthmus Board of Directors agreed to measure the main areas of carbon use within the running of the business and to set up an Environment Fund in order to provide resources for carbon sequestration projects that will help to off-set our carbon consumption.

Every month we record the electricity, line losses, fuel, flights, waste and refrigerant losses and we report them to our Board of Directors.  Then we apply the international price of carbon and  set aside the money into our Isthmus Environment Fund.  The fund is available for staff and clients to apply for contributions towards environmental projects that are within the communities where out staff and clients work and live.

For the past three years Isthmus has sent a group of volunteers to Motuihe Island under the supervision of the Motuihe Trust and the Department of Conservation to further their mission; “…restore, enhance and protect the indigenous flora and fauna and the significant Maori and historic sites of Motuihe Island…“.

This past weekend an Isthmus and community workforce of around 20 people made their way to the island.

Once there the team worked hard to transplant around 450 pīngao seedlings, around 1400 kahikatea seedlings and cleared an area of around 30 acres from the invasive weed solanum mauritianum (woolly nightshade).

Isthmus accepted an invitation to be involved with the restoration and re-purposing of the last remaining building on the Island, the “Surgeon’s cottage”. The building once housed the family of the island’s surgeon and over time has been used by fisherman and sea cadets.  The building is not in great shape, so it will be interesting to see which direction this project takes.

The staff who elected to stay overnight in the DoC hut were able to meet the Island’s permanent residents, Tuatara. These amazing creatures seemed to have little fear of humans and were seen frequently during the night time walk.  The group also heard little spotted kiwi calling in close proximity.

We are hoping to get back to the Island soon either as part of the cottage restoration or for another planting day. The island is truly a forgotten paradise on Auckland’s door step.

Wellington Zoo planting day

Isthmus’ Wellington studio were out in force last Saturday to coordinate a massive planting day at the Zoo’s new ‘meet the locals‘ area, currently under construction. The work took place within the Bush Builders zone, a space that will celebrate our native bush with an exploratory journey through regenerating forest.

“We want our visitors to think about the bush in a different way; as a place to discover, have fun and learn about ecosystems, animals and plants. Bush Builders will attract our Wellington locals, birds that fly in and out of the Zoo and reptiles that live all around us.”

The Isthmus team coordinated waves of volunteering visitors, and the Zoo Crew, to get 1,700 plants in the ground over a four hour period. This not only saved some money, but it also gave the public a hands-on experience and an opportunity to get involved with the exciting new zoo development. The weather on the day was perfect. And the plants have been well watered in this week.

Nederland (Re) Cycle and (E) Cycle.

Our Architecture Director, Andre de Graaf, is in Holland right now combining a family visit with some urban research. He’s been looking at sorts of things, including how the Dutch design for cycling. There are plenty of simple and practical lessons NZ communities could learn as we transform our towns and cities to accommodate bicycles.

Here’s Andre’s report:

We all know the Dutch do the bike priority thing really well, but they are not resting on their laurels as they continue to reprocess existing infrastructure for more equitable multi-mode travel. Take the following local street for example. Until a few years ago these streets simply had a single carriageway in each direction (cyclist simply shared the road) as they might do in similar situation in NZ.

In the last few years all the local streets have/are being converted – with only PAINT making the the difference – no widening or re-curbing has occurred.  The shot in the gallery I located on google street view in the same place as I was yesterday where I took another shot.

The street is now essentially a widish single carriageway for cars in both directions that pinch from the cycle lane (between cyclists) on either side as they pass one another. This all requires a sense of sharing the road no matter what transport device you are on or in. This of course helps to keep vehicle speeds in check as they are continually slowing to intersperse with cyclists. The mental shift in drivers is a big factor to consider in less cycle friendly countries but overall its these initiatives, that in my view, lead to driver behaviour/expectation changing. All local streets are currently getting this makeover and one has to wonder about the potential in Auckland or Wellington, where it is possible to re-prioritise so much road space with just paint and texture – easy wins that can transform neighbourhoods.

I will do some more careful recording of actual dimensions, but the other thing to note is that the carriageways (kerb to kerb) are no wider than our typical local street condition at between 6 – 8m.  The reality is that cars and cyclist share the road in much the same way (whether the cycle lines are there or not) – BUT the difference is that it signals to a driver that they don’t have carte blanche, that cyclists have just as much right to be on the street, and visually helps scale the road width to mitigate excessive speed.

Once you enter the town centres the priority changes further in favour of cyclists where cars are effectively “guests” in the street.

The interesting thing is that when I am on the bike my intuitive reaction is to pull over and let cars through (I don’t though), but cyclists in Holland would not dream of doing this AND importantly drivers do not expect that – they seem very happy to wait until it is safe to overtake.

The other interesting bit of info’ on bicycles is that they have now become so popular and the issue of bike storage so problematic that all rail stations (other than really small ones) are constructing underground storage facilities.  This recently constructed one is in Beverwijk. They are security controlled and aim to remove the visual blight of excessive bicycles everywhere at town centres/rail stations (these are always proximate).  Where these facilities have been constructed you now get fined if you park your bike above ground. Storage is free.

The storage facility is financed and constructed by the NS (Netherlands Railways) and then leased back to the local community boards. The storage racks are double decker.  For the top level storage, the channel slides out and lowers to the ground at an angle – pop your bike on and through clever weight distribution its easy to lift up and slide back in.

What an enviable problem to have – accommodating excessive amounts of bicycles in our cities!

BTW – Part of why cycling numbers continue to increase so much is the popularity of e-bikes. The reality is with an e-bike people cycle more frequently and for longer.  I have observed in three large cycle shops now that effectively half of all display space is given over to an extensive range of e-bikes.  My dad’s newspaper subscription features daily full page bicycle sales promotions (as summer begins), 80% of which are all e-bikes.

It’s all about the bike: Duncan Ecob.

Why do you ride a bike?
Joy (and practicality)

What are you riding at the moment, and why do you like it?
Brompton SL3, British Racing Green with a Brooke’s leather Saddle and S bag on the front. A wonderfully crafted piece of engineering that folds small enough to fit into the boot of my car or easily carried onto a train for exploring further afield. I love it for being built and conceived in Chiswick, just round the corner from where I lived and continuing the line of innovative small UK bikes that started with the Moulton.

What types of riding do you do?
Commuter and fun – usually combined.

How many bikes do you own?

Your best/worst recent bike experience?
Best – Buying the Brompton. It used to be cycling to work through Barnes Common, watching the seasons change and the wildlife – Foxes, Woodpeckers, Jays, Redwings. Now it is riding to Narrow Neck beach for many of the same reasons. The worst – big hills and being forced by legislation to wear a helmet rather than my flat cap!

Weekly kms?
70 -100

It’s all about the bike: Ralph.

Why do you ride a bike?

Ralph Johns, Director. Wellington.

Mostly to get to work, and home again. Compared to taking the car or the bus it saves me money, keeps me fit without joining a gym and the ride home helps me leave work stress behind.

What are you riding at the moment, and why do you like it?

When it gets wet and windy i tend to ride a mountain bike for comfort. When the sun is shining I ride my favourite road bike.

What types of riding do you do?

Mostly urban; commuting and getting across town to meetings. The bike is much quicker than walking and cheaper than a taxi.

At weekends I get out a bit with the family on the waterfront, around the harbour or up the rimutaka incline.

How many bikes do you own?

Six. Three old road bikes with all campagnolo gear (early 1970s Bertin, mid 80s Peugeot and late 80s Vitus) and three old school mtbs (a couple of old Marin workhorses and a mid 90s Scott Comp Racing).

Your best/worst recent bike experience?

Last year we hired bikes in New York to get around Central Park but ended up cycling the length of Manhattan on the new Hudson river trails, then right back up 8th Avenue. We had two trailer bikes with the little kids on, while our eldest handled it on her own. It wasn’t all easy new bikes lanes, but it still felt safer than cycling in Wellington. It was the just best way to see the city.

Weekly kms?


It’s all about the bike: Alan

Alan England, Visualisation Technician, Auckland

Why do you ride a bike?

There is nothing quite like the simple pleasure of riding a bike.

What are you riding at the moment, and why do you like it?

I have just returned from holiday at Otama Bay in the Coromandel Peninsula, we drove there from Auckland and I took my 20 (Raleigh20, 1970s ish).  She’s a great old bird, and everything still works. It was perfect for a kiwi summer bach bike.  Good for riding to and from the beach and shops – it was heaven.

What types of riding do you do?

I commute as much as I can, and try to get out for a lunchtime cruise to keep the blood flowing. Every Tuesday evening go for a social ride around Auckland with friends, which is really an excuse to ride to a pub and then eat pizza.  Very occasionally I will do the odd 100km+ ride on the weekend with my roadie friends.

How many bikes do you own?

Too many.  At the moment, I have 4 complete bikes, and 2 frames which I am restoring.  One of the frames is an old NZ made Healing tandem mixtie, which has really got me excited.  It has been stripped and is now ready for powder coating.  I am new at the bike building game, but am learning hand over fist from my friends and Sean Burke (bike guru) from the Auckland studio.

Your best/worst recent bike experience?

My best recent bike experience was on a Tuesday night social ride where we rode across Auckland from town to Half Moon Bay where we jumped on the last ferry back to downtown.  Not only was it a great ride, but there were plenty of new faces which is what made it extra special.  My all time worst bike experience was being run over from behind by a 4WD while I was struggling up a hill in a marked bike lane.

Weekly kms?

It changes quite a lot but I usually ride about 150-300km per week.