Fifteen years after establishing the studio Isthmus’ three founders agreed they would each take a sabbatical. The intent was to step out of the day-to-day leadership of projects to reflect, learn and return with new knowledge and energy. For one reason and another, David never had the opportunity to take his time out—until now.

David is currently on sabbatical, or as he prefers to call it, ‘designers leave’. His project—Portraits of a Lost Landscape—has seen him travelling around the coast of Aotearoa to gain a new perspective on landscape. ‘Slowing down time’ and observing coastal processes through documentary photography, David is delving deeper into landscape, culture, coast, journey and change. As a designer, David has long argued for the importance of observation as a core part of the design process; understanding a place by engaging all the senses, then designing with purposeful lines that draw out the inherent qualities of the site.

Rising sea levels caused by global warming add impetus to David’s study of the dynamic interface between land and sea. What ecologies will be lost to the land, and what habitats will be gained by the sea? What will this change mean for land, people and culture? What can the rise and fall of the tide, the action of the wind and tectonic processes tell us about how the landscape transforms over time? How are these natural processes affected by humans? And what influence can we exert as designers to balance our impact?

David recently shared the results of his first phase of documentation; images of beaches, harbours and estuaries that a sense of evanescence (soon passing out of sight, memory or existence). We are excited to see how his project evolves over the next few months.

Ngā Ūranga ki Pito-One construction begins later this year.

With increased funding approved this exciting regeneration project is set to become an extraordinary addition to Te Whanganui-a-Tara. A collaboration of resilience and function–this 4.5-kilometre sea wall also serves as a shared coastal pathway massively improving the connection between Ngā Ūranga and Pito-One for pedestrians, people on bikes, and micro-mobility devices!

The complexities in this extraordinary resilience project coupled with increased cost of materials and impacts of COVID-19, called for further resource to see it realised. We are incredibly pleased with the increased support of the Waka Kotahi Board and look forward to seeing the restoration of this cultural coastal landscape.

This project will be delivered in partnership with Waka Kotahi, Downer, HEB, and Tonkin + Taylor, supported by Boffa Miskell, Isthmus, and Holmes Consulting–working closely with Taranaki Whānui ki te Upoko o te Ika. 

To find out more about the funding and delivery team click here.

Three wins—NZIA Auckland Architecture Awards.

We are thrilled to have received three awards last night at the NZIA local Architecture Awards in Tāmaki Makaurau.  
The Isthmus projects selected this year explore the interface between land, sea and sky—all uniquely Aotearoa responses. They are moving Auckland to Tāmaki Makaurau. These projects were realised in partnership with mana whenua, with a joint vision to make space for people in our city. 

Te Wānanga Downtown Public Space—blending the boundary of city and sea.  
An elevated tidal shelf for human and coastal ecologies—Te Wananga creates space for people, flora and fauna to flourish at the interface of city and harbour. Celebrating the landscape, urban, social, environmental and cultural qualities of the people and place of Tāmaki Makaurau. It welcomes visitors with respect, generosity and care, providing a place to pause—to breathe.

Te Ngau o Horotiu—Auckland’s new ferry berthing facility at the gateway to Tāmaki Makaurau.  
The Ferry Landing together with Te Wānanga (the Downtown Public Space) forms the Downtown Ferry Basin Redevelopment project; Auckland’s most significant urban waterfront development where visitors arrive and are welcomed to Tāmaki. The project responds to sea level rise and is designed to promote mode shift to more sustainable travel choices.

Maungwhau Tihi Boardwalk—tracing the contours of the maunga. 
The boardwalk follows the contours of the Maunga crater, carefully winding through the tūāpapa (terraces) where the houses and gardens of the pā once sat. 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 Tāmaki Makaurau’s network of Maunga.


In response to the rapidly increasing cost of living Isthmus has temporarily introduced quarterly salary reviews. This week everybody got a pay rise! And as part of the process we are happy to announce four promotions:

Graduate to Intermediate

Shanika joined us in March 2021, in a small window between lockdowns. She quickly stepped into her role, delivering a high standard of work highly regarded by her peers. Shanika works across project scales and typologies. She exudes a natural effortlessness and is always calm under pressure—something she ‘just learnt’ at university. Shanika’s thesis ‘Envisaging a Predator Free Miramar’ is shortlisted in the student category for the 2022 NZILA Awards!

Jess joined Isthmus as a graduate a few months ago, having worked in a small Auckland practice for a year before. She brings an amazing attitude as well as an eagerness to learn to all her project work. Jess has demonstrated great commitment and strong performance. She can lead and own packages of work and apply critical thinking across all her projects all the while immersing herself in Revit.

Intermediate to Senior

Kate brings significant project experience and a wealth of technical knowledge to her work. A consummate designer, Kate brings a distinct approach to design along with a fascination in working out the detail and an understanding of what makes a great space. Kate has demonstrated an eagerness to mentor less experienced colleagues through technical details and construction issues whenever she can.

Senior to Associate

Noni joined Isthmus a couple of years ago and has demonstrated outstanding performance from the beginning. He brought with him significant experience in large scale project work from previous time spent at practices such as West 8 and Powerhouse and has leveraged that into his work at Isthmus. Able to work at scale, Noni can see the bigger picture on a project while able to focus on the smaller technical detail when he needs to. A proven team leader he has managed a significant team on Jimmy’s Point, juggling deadlines while mentoring and coaching the less experienced team members through the technical intricacies of apartment design along the way. A high performer with great attitude and strong technical skillset, Noni models great project management and delivery.

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. 

Rotorua Lakefront mahi toi.

Rotorua Lakefront continues to grow with the opening of mahi toi designed by local master carver and artist, Lyonel Grant.

Unveiled at a dawn ceremony last Thursday, the mahi toi deepens the connection to Ngāti Whakaue and Te Arawa heritage, establishing Rotorua Lakefront as an outstanding cultural experience. 

The mahi toi, integrated with the Isthmus landscape design, takes many forms across the lakefront site. Te Toka Māpuna—the seat for contemplation and reflection sits at the Eastern end of the boardwalk. Patterning representing Tokorangi—the twelve heavens of Māori cosmology has been etched into the platform beneath it, utilising an innovative vapour blasting method.  

Three series of pou tumu have been erected reflecting nō namata (ancient times), onāianei (contemporary times) and anamata (future times). 

The half basketball court design is inspired by a Te Arawa centric pattern known as puhoro. The attributes of strength, agility and speed are symbolic in the design and are commonly seen incorporated in moko a tinana thigh patterns and on the underside bows of waka. 

Lyonel, supported by carvers and students of The New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts institute (NZMACI) at Te Puia, blended traditional methods and materials with high-tech solutions—furthering the conceptual narrative of past, present and future, says Lyonel. 

“The artwork is special to this area because the inspiration has been derived from actual historical events, using technology as vast as chisels and mallet through to high tech laser cutters to create each series. There is also a fundamental representation of people and whānau. 

“I’m pleased that these works have originated and have been largely crafted locally. I believe that the strength and integrity of the artwork has created aesthetic landmarks that our manuhiri can appreciate and enjoy, and more importantly, I hope they are well received by the locals.