Isthmus

Te Kāpehu.

Land People Culture permeates everything we do to authentically elevate a holistic approach—connecting the health and integrity of people and culture with the health and integrity of the environment. Our Isthmus tikanga uplifts our values, guiding our actions as people and as a design practice to acknowledge Te Tiriti ō Waitangi, engage with mātauranga māori and connect with place through local partnerships.

Te Kāpehu is a navigational design tool developed by Isthmus. It is for making conscious choices about how our projects can uplift the mauri of people and the environment in Aotearoa. Based on national and international sustainability indicators, it is a graphic tool that focuses on using our transparent design process to influence healthy environments for healthy people.

We can set aspirations for impact through the project, and hold ourselves accountable as a design team for how well we fulfilled those aspirations alongside our clients and collaborators. Impact is revisited and evaluated several times throughout a project lifecycle—from commencement to completion. That way we are continually tracking and evolving our knowledge and implementation of sustainable and regenerative practices as a Design Studio. The results then feed back to our Toitū Enviromark accreditation.

Te Kāpehu is collaborative. For every project, at least two people score project aspirations using the Compass indicators, and moderate the scores accordingly. A ‘champion-network’ group traverses disciplines and specialisms to guide use of the tool, and embed learning and development as an iterative process. It generates discussion about what project types and sectors are able to achieve and where the limitations lie, mapping the balance across the four P’s—purpose, profit, planet and people.

The compass points represent where our design process and the subsequent built environment can most influence beneficial outcomes in Aotearoa, benchmarking against MFE Environment Aotearoa 2019, The Treasury Wellbeing Indicators and The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs’s).

Transparent project impact measures are key to open communication and a shared vision. Within project teams we grow diversity and relationships that enable us to challenge, test, influence and evolve beneficial outcomes for communities and for the environment. Te Kāpehu is the Isthmus way of committing to kaitiakitanga in Aotearoa—as we explore the potential of this tool we will share more about our discoveries.

Mauri ora!

Toitū Envirocare.

Land People Culture permeates everything we do through sustainable and regenerative practices to help the environment, promote biodiversity and design for resilience. We elevate mauri as the holistic measure of sustainability in Aotearoa—connecting the health of people with the health of the environment.

For a couple of years now, our business operations have achieved Toitū Enviromark Gold standard accreditation. Toitū’s sustainability benchmarks are a great fit with our values, and it is absolutely worth the time it takes to pull together evidence for the annual audit. Because it is externally managed through Toitū Envirocare, it legitimises the actions and initiatives we take as a company to reduce our environmental impact. It is a group effort—we make a plan, set goals, monitor and review them with our EMS (Environmental Management System). Everything counts—our bike culture, paper recycling, honey bees on the studio roof, using city car-share schemes and other smarter transport choices, planting days and koha, waste and energy reduction … all that and much more.

This commitment includes recording our project based efforts as measurable goals against the four P’s—purpose, profit, planet and people, which is where Te Kāpehu—the Isthmus Project Impact Compass comes in (you can read more about this in a future post).

It goes back further though. As a business we have been ‘giving back’ to the environment for more than a decade, offsetting our carbon footprint through the Isthmus Environment Fund (IEF). We use a carbon calculator to capture and offset—by investing in carbon sequestration aligned with our kaupapa of Land People Culture. A good example is our ongoing relationship with the Motuihe Trust, a conservation project on Te Motu-a-Ihenga (Motuihe Island) that has been close to our hearts for eight years now. Every year, Isthmus whānau board the boat to Motuihe and spend the day potting in the nursery or out restoration planting to enhance biodiversity in the catchment we look after. Kaitiaki Kiwi in Waipoua Forest is another worthy initiative we have contributed to.

Isthmus has now gone a step further and is also proud to have joined the Toitū Carbonzero certification programme. This will enable us to verify our carbon footprint and offset this through accredited carbon credit projects, alongside continuing our continuing mahi with Motuihe Trust and other biodiversity projects.

Through our mahi—our project work, studio resources and personal time, we continue to invest in the future of Aotearoa for generations to come. We have aligned our values with Toitū and continue to ramp up our efforts to take Isthmus beyond achieving Carbon Zero toward becoming a climate beneficial business.

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! 

Wakatu Quay: competition entry.

Recently we participated in a design competition to regenerate Wakatu Quay on the Kaikōura peninsula. Design competitions are very common in Europe but not a typical approach to procuring design services in Aotearoa—so this provided a rare opportunity to flex our design agility and potentially win an exciting project.

Answering the Requests for Proposal and a design competition at the same time was a hard ask. We invested over 500 hours across all of our disciplines—architecture, graphic design, landscape architecture, and urban design. Ten designers located in our three physical studios work with specialist collaborators distributed across Aotearoa as a networked team. We called the proposal that we developed together ‘Expanding the View’. 

While we were not successful in winning the project, we still celebrate the process and the design outcome. Over many years we have grown our knowledge and capability with coastal environments and we were able to draw on our collective intelligence and rich network of collaborators. Using a digital whiteboard and video conferencing we worked as one studio, running kanohi ki te kanohi (face-to-face) workshops locally in each studio. We let the best ideas rise to the surface and developed them further drawing on specialist input as required to test every aspect of our thinking. You can read all about the competition entry in the project section of our website—above are some of the sketches that lead us to our final answer.

Waihōpai Invercargill City Streets.

Design Approved

Recently our Ōtautahi studio have been creating a vision for Invercargill’s evolving city centre. We started this time last year, developing a master plan that not only sets a course to deliver a re-energised central city, but one also built on a solid Land, People, Culture foundation which looks to relink the city (notionally, and in time physically) to its incredible estuarine landscape; the city’s historic reason for being.

The Master Plan was adopted by Council in February and since then, Isthmus have been leading the design and delivery of the first streetscape project: City Streets—Stage 01. The project aims to develop an Invercargill for Invercargill, building on its existing orientation (back to the wind and face to the sun). Developing a new look and feel, that builds on Invercargill’s robust and stoic personality.

Strong and independent without too much fuss.

Stage 01 covers two central city streets—Esk Street becomes a shared space and Don Street becomes a slow speed street with an entertainment focus. These two streets have been prioritised because in combination with the commercial developments, they offer the biggest benefit to the city core—maximising places for people, keeping people in the city longer and making it easy to move freely.

Recognising the colder environment and limited sunlight hours, both streets are designed to create people spaces on the southern side of the street, maximising time in the sun and minimising the predominant cold wind.

Face to the sun, back to the wind has become a catch-cry.

As the team are disbursed across the country (Waihōpai, Ōtautahi and Tāmaki) we have been running regular design sprints at Council. This allows us to be together and be local. Taking the time to really be in the place, spending time with locals, riding bikes to the coast, running the estuary and spending time experiencing the city has given us far greater insights through really experiencing the place.

We all know that constraints can help design. Here our biggest constraint is time—so with each visit to Invercargill, we are sharing work in progress, physical models, showing the mess, and inviting the client to be part of it. We’re presenting ideas to prompt feedback and have found that this probing approach has been working well, minimising formal document issues and evolving the design around the table, together. We’ve quickly reached agreement on all the strategies on which detailed design will be based.

While working at pace, space is being created for Waihōpai Rūnaka to have meaningful input at an early stage, and then throughout.

Following our presentation of the Preliminary Design to a full Council meeting on Tuesday, Councillors signed off the design. We now accelerate into an equally short Detailed Design phase.

Ki te hoe!
Let’s get going!

NZILA President Award Winner Gavin Lister.

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

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

Ka pai Gavin!