Unique and ambitious.

Tactical master planning in Timaru

Earlier this week Timaru District Council announced that Isthmus Group has been appointed to lead a 19-year multi-million-dollar plan to redevelop Timaru’s town centre. 

In collaboration with Gap Filler—a placemaking social enterprise—we will deliver an evidence-based master plan. Through a range of events and trials we will help people experience future ideas so they can be better informed about the long-term design proposals. 

“Isthmus/Gap Filler were selected based on their proven track record on relevant projects around New Zealand, good depth of experienced staff and having the project team leaders based in Christchurch enabling easy access to Timaru”— Timaru District Council. 

Timaru District mayor Nigel Bowen said a key aspect of the Isthmus proposal was their demonstrated ability to bring the community on the journey to get behind redevelopment projects. 

We are really pleased to be part of this project, helping a city that is backing itself by testing and enabling the untapped potential of the town and the bay. This is a unique and ambitious brief—a special opportunity to meaningfully evolve public spaces to catalyse investment and draw people in. We are urbanists and aim to be pioneers in our approach to community participatory design for towns and cities from Northland to Southland. 

Read more in the Timaru Herald

Talk—Auckland Climate Festival

Future Neighbourhoods:
Sustainability as wellbeing in a new generation of suburb.

On the 27th of October—alongside Kāinga Ora and AUT—we will be discussing the regeneration of our existing suburbs for the wellbeing of both planet and people, looking at examples within Auckland Housing Programme.

How can we ensure the mauri of our wai returns, and create an urban ngāhere? Why is the way we design streets so important? What carbon-neutral construction and waste minimisation practices are being implemented in the delivery of warm, dry, healthy homes? and how will we know if our communities are actually better off when these huge projects come to completion?

Auckland Climate Festival is an open platform bringing together communities, the private sector, government, youth and Māori across Tāmaki Makaurau as a coordinated response.

In its inaugural year the festival brings these actors together to enhance collaboration, harness collective energy and build climate action at an individual and societal level.

Join us by registering for Future Neighbourhoods: Sustainability as wellbeing in a new generation of suburb here.

Find out more, and explore the festival programme at

Eleven Designers Promoted

Yesterday, at a virtual studio meeting, we announced the latest round of promotions. This was the largest group that we’ve ever had, with eleven individuals from our studios in Tāmaki Makaurau and Te Whanganui-a-Tara recognised for their growth, and stepping up to new opportunities and challenges.

Graduate to Intermediate

Hannah joined us straight out of VUW in 2019; she jumped straight into complex infrastructure projects where her creativity has consistently shines through. Hannah is a confident communicator steadily deepening her cultural sensitivity. Always with a smile, Hannah continues to contribute and grow as an essential member of the Isthmus whānau. Miharo e hoa!

Abigail was born in the Philippines, grew up in Aotearoa and went on to study architecture. As a graduate she quickly became a very safe pair of hands contributing to multiple projects across the studio. With a hunger for knowledge Abi always asks good questions, keeping our design leaders on their toes. Abi sits on the NZIA branch committee and has entered a number of design competitions.

Salva was born in Afghanistan, schooled in New Zealand. As an architect she has a passion for design that positively impacts the community and has contributed to many regeneration projects within the Auckland Housing Programme. Outside work Salva tutoring migrant and refugee students in her community.

Harriet models our values in everything she does. Thoughtful and engaging, Harriet’s enthusiasm and intuitive eye for graphics and presentation make her a much sought after team member. She has quickly established a reputation for impeccable, high-quality delivery.

Intermediate to Senior

Sophie studied landscape architecture at the University of Edinburgh, and since third year dreamed of living and working in Aotearoa. Her vision and tenacity eventually paid off. Since joining us as a graduate Sophie has contributed to the design of schools, playgrounds, parks, waterfronts and transport infrastructure. She is working towards NZILA registration, and has just purchased her first home, at Hobsonville Point.

Brennan moved from the USA to Aotearoa and got two jobs. He worked half his time at Victoria University of Wellington, teaching in the landscape architecture programme, and half at Isthmus. Since he’s been full-time in the studio Brennan has been immersed in a space between theory, technology and design practice. Brennan is now stepping into a project management roles, his positive, can-do attitude appreciated by clients and colleagues alike.

Michael joined us in 2014 as a fresh landscape architecture graduate; his journey has seen him be challenged across many projects, spending time deep in suburban regeneration and across detailed design packages. Mike’s detail focus and strong eye for a quality-built outcome comes in very useful with solving tricky construction issues.

Aaron has grown in confidence and knowledge since he joined us as a graduate in 2016. An architect by qualification, his first big project was detailing the award-winning pavilion at North Kumutoto. Aaron has helped to design multiple cycleways in Pōneke and is currently part of the Te Ara Tupua alliance, bringing a considered approach to design and a thoughtful attitude. Outside work Aaron is very active in the community and is studying te reo. Ka rawe Aaron!

Hew was born in Malaysia, and grew up in Aotearoa. She embraces every project with passion, commitment and rigour. Over her five years at Isthmus Hew has worked on many of our largest residential master planning projects. She is actively involved in the wider architectural profession, holding a portfolio on the NZIA Auckland Branch committee as well as finding the time to enter multiple design competitions.

Senior to Associate

James joined us as a graduate with a positive, can-do attitude. With a passion for technology James looks beyond the project in order to understand the context and the wider opportunity, guided by his strong moral compass. He has worked extensively on active modes projects around Pōneke (including some challenging public engagement) and is key to our work for Kāinga Ora in the region. James has commitment, drive and the ability to draw the best out of everyone.

Tessa is totally committed, incredibly organised and maintains a steady presence within the studio. Her contribution to our culture, health and safety network and design discussions mark her out as an emerging leader within Te Whanganui a Tara studio. Tessa understands what it takes to gain support for a project, from initial ideas to the realities of funding and decision making. Her mentoring presence, tenacity for quality outcomes, and ability to grow relationships are all recognised in this promotion.

Sustainable Business Awards—Finalist.

Isthmus are among 75 finalists announced for the Sustainable Business Awards.

Good businesses operate with a conscience, making sure people involved in or affected by their activities are better off than they would be otherwise. They bring about positive outcomes for the environment and economy. They create change for good for the people and planet around them.  

In 2016—Ralph Johns—our CEO wrote: “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.”  

We are really pleased to be finalists for the Social Impactor awardThis award will be presented to an organisation that is deliberately and consistently improving people’s lives through its day-to-day business practices—one where social good is integrated throughout the whole organisation 

We are committed to closing the diversity gaps that exist in our industry through many interlinked and overlapping initiatives with an environmentally and socially conscious studio culture. We are a founding partner of The Diversity Agenda. The evolution of our business leadership to a representative and diverse group of people began with our Women in Leadership discussion which began in 2016.  

We developed a navigational design tool—Te Kāpehu—to help make conscious choices about how our work can uplift the mauri of people and the environment.  

Engagement with mātauranga māori grew from our purpose: Advancing the relationships between land, people and culture. This kaupapa is core to all our actions. It saw the introduction of Matariki celebrations in 2008 and has become a more strategic focus in recent years. In 2013 we introduced Matariki Day—an extra day of annual leave for all staff.  

With Auckland Council’s He Maunga He Tangata internship programme we provide opportunities for Māori and Pacific Design graduates.  

Our focus on wellbeing comes from recognising and taking responsibility for stress, as one of our industry’s key workplace health and safety risks. We also support and include neuro-diversity and people who are struggling with their mental health.  

Rachel Brown ONZM—founder and CEO of the Sustainable Business Network—says: “The latest IPCC report on climate change has left no doubt about the imperative to change our ways of living and working. Businesses need to step up—their customers, employees and the planet are demanding it. The 75 finalists in these Awards are leading the way. They include corporates, small enterprises and individuals from the public and private sector, showing that whoever you are you can play your part.” 

The winners will be announced on 25 November.

Rotorua’s new lakefront boardwalk opens.

Karakia marks opening of the new lakefront boardwalk and terracing as part of world-class lakefront redevelopment in Rotorua.

The ceremony was led by Ngāti Whakaue representative, Bryce Murray, with representatives from project partners Ngāti Whakaue, the Gifted Reserves Committee (Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust), Te Arawa Lakes Trust and Kānoa – REDIU, the New Zealand Government’s regional economic development and investment unit.

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick says the karakia signals the completion of another stage of this important project and acknowledges the joint effort of partners to redevelop the lakefront for the long-term benefit of the community.

The new lake edge provides a fresh and innovative space for the community to spend time with friends and whanau or picnic on the new terracing. The terraces also provide protection from changing lake water levels and weather damage and will reduce the risk of erosion. To read more about the design click here.

“It’s wonderful to have reached this very exciting milestone and I can’t wait to see our community enjoying it over the school holidays and in years to come.

The boardwalk is the first of five stages to be completed. Other stages currently underway include the new playground extension, a new toilet block, continuation of the new shared path towards the western end of the lakefront, grass terracing and landscaping, all of which are scheduled for completion by the end of 2021.

Auckland’s world-class waterfront opens.

On Friday the 2nd of July 2020, Auckland’s Downtown Programme was completed and celebrated, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in attendance to mark the occasion.

We are proud to have been involved Te Wānanga and Te Ngau o Horotiu, two of the six projects delivered by the Downtown Programme, which has created a generous and welcoming destination along the water’s edge that is recognisably Tāmaki Makaurau.

The Downtown Programme represents a $350 million investment by Auckland Transport and Auckland Council, $42 million of which was provided by the government. The new spaces are designed to strengthen people’s connection with the Waitematā Harbour – a vibrant, transformed environment for all to enjoy.

Six new ferry piers form Te Ngau o Horotiu, built on the east side of Queens Wharf. These new piers are designed for patronage growth and the future introduction of electric ferries. “Te Ngau o Horotiu provides improved accessibility and greater operational flexibility, providing a better customer experience for the 4 million people who use it each year,” says Mayor Phil Goff, “the creation of the new waterfront Te Wānanga space makes our waterfront and downtown area absolutely world-class.”

Speaking of the projects Isthmus founding director David Irwin says “Te Wananga and Te Ngau o Horotiu point to future vision for Auckland. They look to a future city called Tāmaki. One that respects the histories of the place and regenerates the mana of its ecologies. They attempt to give back the health and well-being of the place and the people. The forms reflect these new directions. They step us forward while looking backwards with respect for our past. Into the future.”

Images courtesy of Auckland Transport.