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No Boundaries leads to NZIA Recognition

The judges described Kumutoto Pavilion as an ‘edgy little pavilion —playful and allusive, both sculpture and shelter— a welcome addition to Wellington’s urban littoral’, and Freyberg Place as a ‘welcome oasis in the cityscape of downtown Auckland’. 

Isthmus have received two of the nineteen New Zealand Architecture Awards given this year. Both are in the Planning & Urban Design section: Kumutoto Pavilion, and together with Stevens Lawson Architects Ltd in association with John Reynolds the Ellen Melville Centre & Freyberg Place.

Isthmus is an integrated design studio, with a kaupapa that deepens the relationships between land, people and culture. Receiving these awards further boosts our evolution towards becoming a transdisciplinary design studio; both Kumutoto Pavilion and Freyberg Place champion our no boundaries approach to design.

To realise the full potential of every brief we apply design thinking and take an open-minded, inquisitive and interdisciplinary approach. We start without knowing the answer and follow the creative process. Our flexible studio culture incubates ideas; the closer and more collaboratively we work together, the more chance ideas have of spreading, growing, cross pollinating and transforming. We call this way of working ‘no boundaries’ because we think in terms of opportunities rather than constraints. We are outcome focused and not constrained by a specific output. Every project is different, but each follows the same design thinking process, always informed by our kaupapa of land, people and culture.

At the core of our approach is a shared leadership model, a method of harnessing complementary skills, mixing skills and experience, broadening the decision making ability, while retaining clear communication lines to the client team. Providing the client with a stronger and more rounded leadership, as well as more resilient team structure, where particular skills can be harnessed for the project, allowing the client to benefit in the wide skill base need on these complex city spaces.

This recognition —at the highest level— from the NZIA is hugely appreciated and gives us energy in pursuit of our ambition to become Aotearoa’s leading design studio.   

Wellington project wins the Best Team Award

Isthmus were among the seven category winners at the Property Council’s 2019 Wellington Property People Awards last week. We won the Colliers International Best Team Award for our work on the upgraded chimpanzee habitat at Wellington Zoo.

Isthmus, Maltbys, Calibre, Te Mahi, NZCEL, Naylor Love and Wellington Zoo proved a winning combination for the development of Wellington Zoo’s new chimpanzee habitat. The project included creating a habitat and viewing area which allows people to see chimps from a new point of view. The brief was for a stimulating chimp playground that at the same time would allow humans to safely immerse themselves in the fascinating chimpanzee world.

The whole project was one-of-a-kind, from the robust sustainable materials, the tenants, and play-focused design. The project was delivered on time, on budget and has delighted both the chimpanzees and zoo visitors. The Judges remarked on the shared vision of the team, who came together to create an outstanding product that will be an asset to the client, and Wellington, for years to come.

Graduates Promoted

We are pleased to announce two mid-year promotions. Both are landscape architects and both are moving from Graduate to Intermediate roles.

Tessa Bradbury
Tessa graduated from the University of Western Australia and worked in Australia for a bit before moving to New Zealand a year ago to take up the opportunity at Isthmus. Her keen eye for graphic communication and document production mean that she is in demand across many types of projects. Tessa has been heavily involved in the Northern Townships project, and on Whangarei Streetscapes. She is a part of our CAD workgroup, helping to uplift our technical standards. Tessa shows great initiative, has a solid work ethic and is not afraid to question an offer alternative solutions.

Mihali Katsougiannis
Mihali came to Isthmus two years ago out of the Landscape programme at VUW. He has been heavily involved in a support role on the Alliance team on the Northern Corridor Improvement (NCI) project in Auckland as well as the Downtown Public Space on the waterfront. Mihali is a safe pair of hands – he takes work upon himself and delivers. He asks the right questions at the right time and is always eager to learn and pass on knowledge. He also captains the Isthmus futsal team and plays in our touch team too.


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.

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.

Real good sports: Barry Curtis Park Pavilion

Isthmus’s involvement at Barry Curtis Park dates back to the original masterplan in the early 2000s. The park was planned as a hard-working piece of suburban and green infrastructure that is comprised of ‘nests’ of smaller parks, each with varied functions. At the southern end, sports fields integrate with sculpted landforms and waterways, and connect to recreation trails and the John Walker Promenade which circumnavigates the perimeter. It is here that the new pavilion is located, a cheerful orange beacon hovering within a steel frame over the southern terminus of the formal axis.


The new building leverages off the established park landscape and neighbourhood connections to envelop a public space that goes beyond the requirements of sports teams to meet the wider recreational needs of the growing community.  The resulting space is open-source and adaptable –plug and play rather than predetermined in use. Instead of a fixed cafe, the plaza has been designed to host multiple food trucks or simply host a sausage sizzle or coffee cart.

Read the full story of the project at: