We nurture a strong studio culture. Our inter-disciplinary team of designers share a common purpose. We work together as ‘one studio’, putting forward best-for-project teams with the right blend of skills and knowledge. In this way every client gains access to the depth and breadth our collective experience and intelligence.

Aaron Miller

Aaron Miller.

MArch (Prof), BAS, NZIA Grad

Senior Architectural Designer

Aaron Miller and Leonardo Da Vinci would have a lot to ‘Teams’ about. Like using knowledge across a range of disciplines to imaginatively solve design problems.

While Leonardo is star-architect of the Renaissance he considered himself a scientist and engineer. Aaron shares the sentiment. For him, being an architect was a middle ground between a structural engineer and graphic designer, ‘My projects often have nothing to do with buildings but just need a technical mind to solve complex issues.

‘Wellington City Council’s Evans Bay Cycleway is one such case. We have designed a linear park to separate cyclists from pedestrians. We’re aligning lookouts to geographical features. And positioning steps down to the coast to improve accessibility.

‘My first job at Isthmus was urban coastal development North Kumutoto; I worked directly with the contractor to get this job built. The pavilion being one of my favourite works.’

Aaron often applies modular design thinking to a problem. But not always using traditional materials. ‘I’ve always been into up-cycling; I’ve created a prototype to turn old pallets into interlocking building blocks—an ideal material for temporary structures due to their lightweight, transportable and being literally everywhere’.

As much as Aaron likes getting his hands dirty architecting, he has a predilection for distilling large data sets of say 20,000 entries, ‘For both the Wellington and Porirua bus interchange briefs I’ve analysed Metlink datasets of bus movements and created some pretty epic diagrams to justify design moves,’ says Aaron. ‘Apply logic and solutions just emerge’.

Abbie Whangapirita

Abbie Whangapirita.

BAS, MArch (Prof)

Senior Architect

Abbie is absofreakinlutely into educational building design. She once designed a school in Christchurch with a fully functional café in the midst of it. Breaking the boundaries not only in traditional school ideologies but in public interactions as well. The operation was so successful she says, ‘I think they had to put out messages to the public about the least busy time to come!’

Opening up educational facilities to also serve the wider school community is the trajectory of learning says this creative thinker. She’s coming to these conclusions after a myriad of discussions with students and teachers about what they want their school to look like and who they want it to serve. ‘Keeping in mind schools are all individual,’ Abbie meticulously points out. There is no one-design-fits all.

Being open to nonorthodox approaches she comfortably works along landscape designers and urban designers, ‘They help me think about architecture beyond the building edge. Into spaces that translate from the inside to out. And they’re more used to dealing with land, so having architects around probably elevates ‘form’ in their consciousness.’

Abbie has been designing in Wellington for the past seven years with most of her architectural experience in ‘purpose built’ (educational) buildings across New Zealand. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies and a Masters in Architecture. Her thesis was on the ‘The Physical Body: How It Engages With Buildings.’

Abigail Hilario

Abigail Hilario.

Intermediate Architectural Designer

‘A house is connected to the street, a street is connected to a city, the city is connected to a wider area and so on,’ says Architectural Graduate Abigail. ‘It’s good to connect the dots. There is always an overlap between what architects, landscape designers and urban planners do here.’

On a day to day basis I am dealing with projects overloaded with information. This has to be digested in such a short amount of time; because everything needs to keep moving, but it’s key to understand the big picture.  

Housing as we know it is also advancing. ‘I think now everything is being designed to be compact, really tight, dense spaces,’ says Abi. ‘But it’s up to us to find the value in that — such as embracing community appeal.’ 

I have found that privacy can be achieved through different heights. And you don’t need to build a wall to create boundaries. Plantings or screens also define spaces, as might a building’s placement on a street, explains Abi. ‘If there is easy access to the street there’s less chance of the residents feeling isolated or disconnected.’ 

Abi’s wide angle view is perhaps a footprint of her international experience. She was born in the Philippines and moved to New Zealand with her family in 2008. She went on to achieve a Bachelor of Architectural Studies from the University of Auckland and a Master of Architecture (Professional) with first class honours.

Projects Abigail Hilario has worked on:

Alan England

Alan England.


Associate Geospatial Specialist

Alan is trained in architectural studies and brings to Isthmus experience within the visualisation, design, gaming and architectural industries.

He plays a key role in major design and planning projects, producing GIS land analysis, mapping and accurate 3D digital models for design studies, communication and as expert evidence for consent hearings.
Alan has an in depth knowledge of digital design tools, techniques and IT, and a proactive approach to working with project teams. He also has a role in the development and delivery of social enterprise projects associated with Isthmus’ environmental management fund.

Andre de Graaf

Andre de Graaf.

BArch, NZRAB Registered Architect, NZIA

Principal, Urban Design

As Principal of Urban Design Andre brings a rigorous and inquiring approach to design and has considerable experience in masterplans for intensive residential and mixed-use developments that is founded in over two decades of designing buildings across a wide spectrum.  Andre brings skills that champion innovation, strong leadership and is sought after for his strategic design thinking.

Thinking by Andre de Graaf:

Andrew Mirams

Andrew Mirams.


Principal, Architecture

Board Member   

Andrew  brings over twenty years of professional experience specialising in Architecture and Interiors. As Principal, Architecture his expertise includes a wide range of projects including residential (single family and multi-residential), commercial, interiors and fit-outs, with a particular passion in building refurbishment and adaptive re-use.  Outside the studio, Andrew can be found taxiing his children around Auckland sportsfields.

Andrew Norriss

Andrew Norriss.

BLA (Hons), NZILA Registered

Associate Landscape Architect

Andrew specialises in medium to large scale urban renewal projects in the public realm. He has built his experience largely around the implementation of projects varying from civic plazas, parks and open spaces, strategic masterplan frameworks, and work within botanical gardens. He enjoys the challenge of stitching a landscape into its existing fabric, whether urban or within the natural landscape.

Andrew enjoys exploring what culinary delights a place has on offer as much as escaping to the natural environment to recharge. He is equally likely to be found in front of a stove or out and about keeping active.

Anna Jongeneel

Anna Jongeneel.

Accounts Support

‘My 9 – 5 job is assisting the finance team within Isthmus. Billing, accounts payable, client billing.

‘Me? I have always been in finance. I went from high school into an admin role which evolved into finance. The last twenty years working in finance culminated in a Finance Manager role in advertising & media. Comparatively there’s a more relaxed office vibe here. Everyone seems in control.

‘Though I do not know much about design I’m a keen gardener. Of course my green fingers are a different thing!

‘Finance is finance regardless of industry. This is a bit different I guess because it is job cost accounting. Which is much like ad agencies. Billing time. I’m little bit of a geek. I like process, routine. I like things to go in a certain order. To reconcile, to balance. That is why finance is my passion. I like to have things a certain way. Tick, tick, tick.’

Ashley West

Ashley West.

MArch (Prof) Hons.

Senior Architectural Graduate

‘Have you thought about a kitchen?’ asks Ashley, ‘People always cluster around the island instead of sitting at a table. If you understand how people think —the psychology— then you can start designing in a more thoughtful way.’

Such as detailing bedrooms which allow chest of drawers. Often in architectural plans bedrooms are only depicted with a bed. ‘When in reality you have furniture too,’ Ashley brings up,  ‘often it’s a small room and the result is you end up winding your way around all the things sticking out.’

Generally the lack of storage means the garage gets used. ‘When the whole street of garages are full, all the cars are on the road. That changes the street,’ says Ashley.

Everyone feels comfortable driving on the road but there aren’t any very many neutral spaces for people to stop and have an opportunity to interact or play. Which is one of the problems we have with the built environment.’

The Intermediate Architect says it is scary designing apartments and terrace homes knowing people will decide less and less to have animals which may create an influx of strays. ‘We’re not at the point yet where we are designing apartments for dogs. Australia does it. They have apartments with a pet care business on the ground floor and there are little yards, everyone is animal friendly.’

Mixed residential and commercial would be something she would like to see more of, though she says the reason it’s not being done is because the numbers don’t add up. But having one huge node in the city where everybody has to commute to is currently not working. Ashey says, ‘I don’t even know what the right design would look like but it’s interesting to think about what a design would look like if we were trying to look after each other and improve social connectedness.’

Projects Ashley West has worked on:

Azmon Chetty

Azmon Chetty.

BAS, M.Arch (Prof), NZDAT

Senior Architectural Designer

‘I like to design with my hands,’ says Azmon. ‘Because as designers we should also be craftsmen as well. To my way of thinking a craftsman should be able to make something from an image in a head. Which is how I like to work.

‘A lot of this stems from my Fijian background. My Dad was a boat-builder who also liked building traditional bures. Watching him I learnt about joinery and ropes. The Polynesian lashings I figured out by touching the patterns and feeling where the ropes went. They go in and under…

‘Now I like to test the traditional way of thinking in a modern environment. Traditional Japanese and Polynesian workmanship represents the strongest craft cultures. Polynesians would bind walls or brace buildings together (no nails). It is the same with Japanese joinery; interlocking timber. How can you create a hybrid of these two in modern architecture?  I think you can. Some examples exist, but they lack functionality. You could probably create something more user friendly if the tradesperson creating the join or lashing could contribute not just their skills but their ideas.

‘So much craft these days is locked up in a museum, out of reach. It only allows for visual curiosity and it ends there. In that sense we are losing the craftsmanship. I don’t know how it was built. Looks nice but I can’t get close to see how it was done.

‘I want to design things where I can better myself, the design, construction and detailing without losing the essence of what the client is trying to achieve. While still making it look bespoke.’

Azmon holds a National Diploma in Architectural Technology and completed his Masters of Architecture (Prof). in 2013.

Ben Scott

Ben Scott.

Associate Information Technologist

‘Computers have the brains of worms. You have to tell them what to do. They don’t know how to do it themselves. It is just starting on the era where they can actually learn a bit get a bit clever. I hope the big A.I. doesn’t hear that and see me as an enemy from now on.’

If they did they might be a little bit worried because Associate Information Technologist, Ben Scott says with a grin he has plans to rule the world and become an über meister. Jokes aside if practicing makes one a master then Ben wouldn’t be far off.

Being the sole I.T. person for both Isthmus studios in Auckland and Wellington his role ranges from resolving I.T. queries, updating software and hardware, to ensure the company is secure. ‘The systems we run are fairly simple. Too much complexity can bring breakpoints we don’t need.’

Ben explains designers use more complex, resources intensive ‘tools’. Such as heavy duty hardware to be able to run the graphic components for the software they are using.

‘For a computer moving graphics is not so much the thing we see on the screen but lots & lots & of information going back and forth inside the hardware. It’s all 1’s and 0’s,’ says Ben.

Ultimately Ben would like to do himself out of a job. Having the I.T. run so smoothly that he does not need to be called. Until then he says, ‘I like the paradigms that Isthmus runs with, the community.’

In addition to being the I.T. Associate, Ben is part of the Operations, Health & Safety teams, oh and the occasional handy-man.

Billy Pearce

Billy Pearce.

MLA (Distinction), BAS (Land)

Intermediate Landscape Architect

Picture a rural Wairarapa roadside fringed with summer toasted seed heads. In the verge sits a knee-high pyramid of lichen crusted greywacke rocks. Anyone else may have driven past without noticing. But for Intermediate Landscape Architect Billy this understated scene is a gold-mine.

‘When I am designing, I like to reference an existing landscape. Something that is special to the local area

‘With a landscape hundreds of people can be in it at the same time. I will have my vision, but it is more important to identify the different kinds of people who will be using the space and work together to find a vision that speaks to them.

‘Interestingly traditional and older construction methods always comprised of local materials. Whether that was the stacking of rock to create walls or clay use for bricks. Utilising these local materials means CO2 emissions are reduced in getting resources to site.

‘Drawings are a strong part of my approach. Free-hand or computer drawing and collaging as well. I want to make experimental drawings of high value to a client and to the design team; to show the intricacies of the landscape arrangement, materials and planting clearly, revealing their relationship to the area. You’ve just got to be efficient. Precise.

‘I’ve been lead designer on projects locally and internationally. These have included big scale parklands, an outdoor fitness centre, a luxury golf course clubhouse grounds, schools and pocket parks. However, at heart I am motivated to work within Aotearoa as I am deeply connected to the people here.’

Brad Coombs

Brad Coombs.

BLA (Hons), BHort. FNZILA (Registered)

Principal, Design Planning

Brad works in the complex world of problem solving under the RMA.  He thrives on navigating a path through the RMA process and also loves the practicality of seeing his projects implemented and delivering maximum benefit to his clients.

With over 25 years of experience Brad has worked on some of the most exciting and challenging residential, infrastructure and coastal projects in Aotearoa, always delivered through a considered and tailored response to the specific project and the land. He is passionate about his role in helping to make Aotearoa an even better place.  Brad has considerable experience as an expert witness to Council, Environment Court and Board of Inquiry hearings and as an RMA decision maker.

Brad is a Fellow and a Registered member of the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects (NZILA) as well as being the past President.

Travelling extensively throughout Aotearoa for his work during the week, Brad can be found on the weekend discovering the land from a different vantage point either on his bike or on the water – preferably with his family in tow.

Projects Brad Coombs has worked on:

Brad Ward

Brad Ward.

MLA, BAS (Land), NZILA (Reg)

Associate Landscape Architect

Studio Management Team   

The master planner comes to us from the Northcote suburb regeneration. A project which he leads. It is due to be completed by 2025. Brad Ward crossing to you live from Northcote.

‘We met Northcote locals to find out what they needed before we started. This resulted in the design of ‘Everyday Houses’. People didn’t want granite bench tops — just stainless steel and things like warm, dry walls,’ explains Brad.

‘I think it’s working. There are refinements to be done because as with all master plans, the second it is done, it’s obsolete. It is just a point in time. A moment later it has changed. Whether we know about it or not! There’s probably 15–20 other professions in each of these projects; roading engineers, geo-techs, planners…who all have input.’

This designer is not fussed what the build looks like if it is right for the neighbourhood, ‘You don’t create master plans in your head,’ says Brad. ‘It’s about understanding the place, the community, the site, the opportunities and constraints.’

‘In Roskill South, the community had a connection with two Puriri trees on a private lot and ear-marked for removal. Working with the client we were able to put a covenant over those trees. Whilst they are still in private ownership, the developer who buys them will never be able to remove the trees. The client took a reduction in housing yield because they recognised the social value of the trees to residents. 

‘Every project has a ‘key move’ and that’s the one thing we hold onto. These are not massive things. We just look for something pivotal to improve the lives of the people that live there.’

Brad originally studied architecture, then crossed over to landscape design. He has worked at Isthmus for 7 years, starting as a graduate, being promoted through the ranks to Master Planner.

Brandon Carter-Chan

Brandon Carter-Chan.


Architectural Graduate

For Graduate Architect Brandon, winning the Brick Bay Folly Competition was about seeing the real effect architecture has on people. A folly is an ornamental structure showcasing silliness and delight. The Nest, designed alongside Nicholas Rowsby and Joseph Trace recycled 90% of the 2×4 timber from the previous 2019 folly—proving that sustainability does not mean the compromising of architectural excellence.

Having grown up in his parent’s studio Carter-Chan Dance, Brandon also continues to be actively involved in the New Zealand dance industry as a performer, choreographer, and teacher. In 2014, Brandon won the New Zealand Nationals (PACANZ) and since then began his career as a professional tap dancer.

Brandon has found the creativity of tap dance and architecture very similar and explores this relationship in his thesis; by designing of Aotearoa’s first tap theatre. Brandon says, ‘When I dance, I often perform without any music or plan before entering the stage, and the audience complete the performance alongside me. This is tap dance in its purist form—actively involving everyone in a spontaneous collaborative environment. My tap dance philosophy is very similar to how everybody conducts the design process here at Isthmus. I like the boundary-less approach to design here. Great spatial ideas can come from anyone. Spontaneous collaboration is key. It is always exciting when there is never a clear answer in the beginning.

‘My dance background means I value the real impact creativity has on people. Designing and physically building our folly The Nest was a gateway into the world of architecture. I look forward to contributing beautiful and sustainable new ideas, producing positive change within the community.’

Bridget Robinson

Bridget Robinson.

BA Garden Design (Hons), MLA

Intermediate Landscape Architect

‘We are only just beginning to understand the range of beautiful and functional living systems which we can build in challenging urban environments’ says Bridget. 

‘Living systems are moving beyond decorative planting alone. Now we know plants have incredible ‘ecosystem services’ to offer us to answer the challenge of climate extremes. Plants can cool cities, not just by creating shade but by putting moisture into the air. They can filter pollutants from the air and from water. Plus help prevent and deal with floods and sequester carbon.  

‘Plants are way more than what we see on the surface. There is a whole interconnected system above and below ground that can bind slopes and improve drainage. While creating wildlife corridors through cities.

‘I love planting at all scales and extremes. Everything from tiny details in the darkest of corners to vast—as far as the eye can see planting.

‘I can think of a million ideas for how we can put plants into the strangest and most wonderful of spaces. It is an exciting time to be in the industry. Grafting interior design and ecology together in inside and outside spaces. Botanicals are a beautiful way to soften architecture and bring nature into the city.

Bridget, a Wellingtonian by birth, studied and worked in the UK for half her life. She worked for herself as a garden designer for a while. In this time Bridget co-designed and built an ‘RHS’ Gold Medal winning garden for the ‘2015 BBC Gardeners World Live show’. More recently she created the planting design for the ‘Battersea Power Station’ riverfront park (400m long park on the side of the Thames). As well as the planting designs for streetscapes around ‘The Strand’ in London.

Caren Nunes

Caren Nunes.

B.Arch, UrbPlan

Intermediate Urban Designer

It is a cast of hundreds. The scenery is wide ranging. Urban design has more in common with musicals than you might think. While not everyone breaks out into song and dance for urban design meetings Brazilian designer Caren (who is crazy about musicals) says people are vocal.

‘The community may yell that they want one thing (even though it might not be the most practical thing). Then there are political issues. As a designer you are juggling all these voices to make sure a design caters for everyone. Fighting inequality.  Each has the same access to public services, and I like that.

‘I am trained architect and urbanist, and open space projects are my passion. Because with open space projects more people have access to design in their day-to-day life; I believe design can facilitate a city and its community to be more democratic and participatory in a way.

‘I do feel a site and a community have a lot to say.  A design is never a white canvas because there is always something else there already. And unlike an artwork which has edges, in an urban scenario there are always connections beyond the site and those connections will determine how well that space will work (or not).  As a designer you have to make sure that what you are proposing addresses technical issues; all the while being flexible enough for it to allow collaboration and community appropriation of the space. An urban design project is never a final piece of art. It should encourage cultures to merge and I believe that that’s the beauty of this process.’

Carla Carter

Carla Carter.


‘When you look at things through the eyes of a landscape architect you realise what is out there – what has always been there but you have never noticed before….like seeing behind a curtain for the first time.

‘I have been studying landscape architecture for five years and still can’t define it,’ smiles Carla, Intern and Master of Landscape of Architecture student. ‘It’s such a broad topic, but everything comes back to the land…it’s like the first domino.’

Carla grew up on a cropping farm in Whanganui. She thoughtfully admits this may have contributed to a desire to continue to be close to the land, ‘It has given me an appreciation of eco-systems and Kaitiakitanga. How we are just one piece of it. Not being afraid to get in amongst it Carla says, ‘We are here not to just landscape but to improve it for future generations in a creative and beautiful way. This sort of environmental guardianship is what attracted me to design in the first place.

‘I love doing environmental projects in the public realm as this always involves people, and people are like wild cards: they often use spaces in unexpected ways. Design can change how people perceive and interact with a space. It’s like pure magic and I adore it!’

Cassandra Drayton

Cassandra Drayton.

B.Arch, MLA

Graduate Landscape Architect

‘We tend to forget day to day that landscape is this moveable, changing object. When you look back you start to appreciate that how it changes throughout the years,’ says Landscape Graduate Cassandra.  ‘I really like to take inspiration from the environment. I often do this by going down big rabbit holes to research a project’s historic and aerial photos’.

A search for perspective once led Cassandra up a hill sectioned for removal by the Wellington Airport authorities. Cassandra scaled it in the name of research for her Wellington Airport and Infrastructural Edges thesis. While she had the sense “I’m not meant to be here”, no one was stopping her. ‘Getting out on site really made it clear to me that history can still be evident within the landscape, even after huge changes.  From the top of this ignored hill, I could imagine the headland once jutting out into the water. Only now it overlooks the runway instead.’

One of the key takeaways for Cassandra from her research was that land is key, ‘Comparatively the 1950s landscape approach was: what is its monetary worth? It was the stuff sitting between properties. Now we recoginse that landscape can do all these things you can help reduce flooding, provide better amenities, reintroduce species back.’

Celia Goldsmith

Celia Goldsmith.

Associate Architect

‘The thing that is really exciting about working at Isthmus, is that I love interconnectedness and cross disciplinary design collaboration. Once you have busted out of the complexities this has created, you get to translate the design solution into something clear and meaningful.

The Associate Architect with 10 years experience from master-planning down to joinery design, has a special affinity to landscape architecture.

‘I enjoy collaborating with landscape architects and I value their perspective. Everything is interconnected. I am aware that even if I am focussed on designing architecture there is always a much wider context to a project. How will it impact the people? The environment? The city around it as well.

‘Connecting to my lineage is a new journey for me. As a descendent of Ngati Mahanga, I’ve been disconnected from my ancestors. But now that I am a mother myself—I hope to reconnect my whānau. present to past.

‘My partner and I recently built our own house. It was born of hard-work and manual labour. That was weekend after weekend. Getting stronger—carrying things—crafting things. The site is steep and challenging. We focussed our energy on the tricky parts that make our home special, innovative and hand crafted.

‘Building a home offered the perfect opportunity to live my environmental values. In the end we now have a well-constructed building envelope utilising thermal mass that is well oriented to the sun, thereby reducing energy consumption. We enjoy the beauty of living surrounded by natural materials and a leafy native environment. It really was a project of determination.’

Projects Celia Goldsmith has worked on:

Christine Spring

Christine Spring.

BE, MSc Eng, MBA

Non-Executive Director

Board Member   

Christine is a Non-Executive Director and chairperson of the Isthmus Group Board. 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. She also has a background that includes 15 years working as a consulting engineer. Christine’s commitment to innovation, creativity and strategic thinking provides a good alignment with Isthmus ethos, culture, vision and values.

Damian Powley

Damian Powley.


Associate Landscape Architect

Whatungarongaro te tangata toitū te whenua.
As we (people) disappear from sight, the land remains.

‘I always remind myself of this whakatauki when conceptualising our role as designers of the land. As designers to me it’s about recognising where we ‘fit’ into that continuum.

‘We’re not the be all and end all,’ says Associate Landscape Architect Damian, ‘and our role is to dig deeper, develop and build layers recognising our moment in time.

‘A lot of what I do is around connecting and involving the people for whom the project is for, into our design process’ says the designer with 14 years of experience. Honouring community throughout a project is important because they are the ones that live there.

‘The skill of a good designer is being able to spot the diamonds in the rough garnered from active participation in the design process. One cool example was a skate park; typically a place for skateboarders. But what came through from the locals is that they wanted families to feel safe there too — a place for everyone whether you skate or not. This challenged our assumptions about the use of space. How do we make it more inclusive? Connecting the space as part of the wider park, with viewing areas and visual cues to allow people to move through space. It needed to be self-managing too. Therefore we planted Aloe Vera for cuts and scratches and lemon trees to go with a feed from the nearby fish and chips shop. As non-locals, there are often the little things that can get missed if our end users are not involved. But they can make a huge difference to the way a space feels. These places need to thrive long after the design team has gone.

‘And you know, for each and every project we do, it constantly fascinates me — how we can uncover our inherent connections between people and place. It wasn’t until I started to learn a bit more about my taha Māori side, that I found there’s not just synergies between Te Ao Māori and design approaches to the land — good design is one and the same. And we do have an inherently unique story to tell here in Aotearoa.’

Daniel Racle

Daniel Racle.

BArch (Prof)

Architectural Intern

The days of buildings going in first and roads radiating off them could be numbered. For architectural intern Dan can see how designing for active transport (cycling, scootering) could create hybridity between transport infrastructure and architecture.

‘As a child I remember watching an advert where a guy had a waterslide in his wardrobe that took him to his workplace. I remember thinking, why do we take cars everywhere instead of waterslides? But you know it wasn’t so farfetched. The Trade Me office has a slide which gets you between floors. I’ve always questioned how we move.

‘As a result my thesis studies how people get about impacts the buildings we inhabit. In particular I am looking at active transport, exploring ways of designing residential architecture that promotes cycling, scootering, skateboarding etc,  as sustainable alternatives to a personal motor vehicle. This can be achieved through simple, practical changes, such as installing ramps instead of stairs so apartment dwellers can cycle up to a10-story flat.’

Dan studying in his final year in his Masters in Architecture at Victoria University and works at Isthmus one day a week.

Danny Tuato’o

Danny Tuato’o.

LL.B, BA (Hons), MA

Non-Executive Director

Board Member   

Danny is a non-Executive Director on the Board of Isthmus.  He is a descendent of Tiakiriri Kukupa and Te Parawhau, a Whangārei based hapū affiliated to both Ngāti Whātua and Ngāpuhi.

Danny is an equity Partner in the Property and Commercial team of a Northland law firm, where he specialises in property, trust law, Māori land law, estate administration, asset protection, subdivisions and easements, leases and property disputes.  Danny has a deep understanding and connection to Te Ao Māori, and a good understanding of risk management – bringing strength and depth in both areas to the Board.  He is an experienced Director, sitting as a Board member of Maritime New Zealand and is also the Chair of the Whangārei Heads Landcare Forum (he lives with his wife and four children on a lifestyle block at Whangārei Heads which he is replanting in natives).

David Irwin

David Irwin.

BHort. PG Dip. LA

Founding Principal

David is a founding Director of Isthmus and Fellow of the NZILA with over thirty years’ experience in the field of landscape architecture and urban design. His experience encompasses a wide range of projects throughout New Zealand including large scale urban developments, town centres, coastal edges and residential framework planning. David specialises in providing design leadership in complex project teams. His work has been awarded numerous times by the NZILA for its quality, innovation and contribution to place making for communities in New Zealand.

Deb Lee Sang

Deb Lee Sang.

BPlan(Hons); MUrbDes

Associate Urban Designer

‘Density is destiny. Proximity is power. Are we embracing urbanism in Aotearoa? Whilst most run for the hills and the trees in their spare time, I am a fan of keeping it urban. An urban lifestyle can be just as fulfilling and mind opening.

‘Place-full urbanism’ is key and it’s a neat point in time to be contributing towards how intensification of our towns and cities can unlock opportunities for living well. Expressing our identity and enhancing what makes places unique rather than development being seen as unavoidable change.

‘My sweet spot is at the strategic design space. Sometimes you have to go large to see the bigger picture. Consider longer timeframes and the possible scenarios to get the most out of a town, neighbourhood or site. Before zooming back in to the immediate development prospect.

‘From my experience in urban renewal  – the interface is an important space for urban designers to operate in. Particularly in an urban context where almost everything is interconnected in space and time. Getting comfortable with complexity, working things out holistically and making space for the quirks and the good-unexpectedness of places! You can’t foresee everything.’

Ellie Helliwell

Ellie Helliwell.

BLA (Hons)

Senior Urban Designer

Imagine a world where everyone lived in their own bubble and had to deal with their own pollution? Elena suggests this would stop people buying water bottles and throwing them away. She admits it is the secret greenie in her. But then again she is a landscape designer.  

‘Previously it has been easy to put a couple of plants in your garden,’ says Elena ‘but due to the metamorphosis in housing we are moving into generations who don’t have gardens only shared spaces. 

‘If we want to change land use and we are short of land, how can we either mitigate the impact or should we  be doing that at all? And in that case what’s the alternative?’ 

‘I like to encourage questioning of the moves we make in plans and discussing how everything relates to the wider context. And if I think the client is not pushing a project to the full potential I’ll seek the opportunity to discuss a different direction (with justification) to revitalise the blueprint.’

Humbling designs are right down Elena’s alley. Working with community-initiated groups has changed her perspective on the role of small scale design in urban environments, ‘One recent project is a plant nursery that is run by a charitable trust and it needs to be relocated and enlarged. It provides employment for humanity. When you see the two people  who have come from all walks of life come together you see your role in the wider perspective of a community. We don’t have those spaces very often. Being able to bring together micro-communities through design is the butterfly effect which I never thought I’d be able to do but I’m doing it!’

Elena is an Intermediate Urban Designer with a BLA (Hons) with 4 years experience in NZ design practices.

Fetu Warena Ese

Fetu Warena Ese.


Intermediate Landscape Architect

Toitū te marae o Tāne

Toitū te marae o Tangaroa

Toitū te iwi


If the domain of Tāne survives to give sustenance,

and the domain of Tangaroa likewise remains.

So too will the people.


‘This Whakataukī is close to my heart when I consider people and place’ says Landscape Architect, Fetu. ‘As a society, we’ve neglected the environment. We have taken the natural features for granted and as a result, we have lost a connection to place. To bring that relationship with the land and water back, we must understand the implications people have on the environment. The imperative we understand what we do now, will impact the future. If we approach people and place through a positive lens, it will benefit land, water, and future generations.‘


Born and bred in Porirua, Fetu strove to wear the black jersey like many kiwi kids. Until he suffered a career-ending spinal injury during a rugby game and was left in a wheelchair. Despite the medical forecast, he taught himself how to walk again and embarked on a Masters of Landscape Architecture journey.


Fetu is now a Landscape Architect for both Isthmus and Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira. This helps him get a deeper understanding of how cultural values and Indigenous influence on the land and people can be captured through a design lens to enhance the connection between people and place.


‘Values are key. In recent times cultural values and consequently the environment have been degraded. A cultural approach can rectify this. When you value something you take care of it. We need to value the land and people before us to better understand and prepare for those after us.’


Finn Forstner

Finn Forstner.

B. Arch, M.Arch (Prof)

Architectural Graduate

Architectural Grad, Finn who has roots in Northland has observed, ‘Often the development of design ideologies begins in urban areas to solve urban issues. Yet in a historically rural country I’ve noticed other parts of NZ calling out for engagement from the design profession. This call is not just about pumping money into the regions but instead finding a design approach that engages with the unique conditions of these communities and brings them and the people who experience them to the forefront. This desire for community-led design is equally relevant in our cities where the complexity and scale could expand upon the framework set by our smaller towns and create an urban environment uniquely of Aotearoa.

‘Increasingly the role of a designer might not be that of a draftsman. It might instead be more as a facilitator. A communicator who is amongst the public and talking to people. When an architect enters a project maybe we don’t start the conversation by saying, “How many stories do you want in the building?” But we might start the conversation, “Whose stories do we want to tell through building?”

‘Then we facilitate a conversation with those people. Thereby widening the meaning of a structure from the beginning. Ultimately you want to have an output but the design might be different if we are more inclusive in the development process.’

Projects Finn Forstner has worked on:

Frank Hoffmann

Frank Hoffmann.

Dipl.-Ing., B.Eng., Ing.

Senior Landscape Architect

‘Spending time in nature is good for the body and mind, especially since Covid when people needed to stay indoors for an extended period of time. I guess that is why people instinctively love being outdoors…going for walks or exercising. You’ll find landscape architects more often than not mimic nature in their designs, because what “mother nature” does works and has worked without human interaction for a long time.

‘When I started in landscape architecture it was with pen and tracing paper. You are much faster visualising this way. Now of course you can sketch digitally on an iPad. Often when clients talk through a scope I sketch. At the end of the meeting, I will turn around the page or iPad and ask, “Is this what you had in mind?” I feel this helps us all being on the same page.

‘I always try to engage with every aspect of a project from engineering to ecological to graphical, because that helps me make informed decisions,’ says the international multilingual designer. Having worked and lived in several countries for more than a decade, it’s given Frank extensive real-world experience. ‘We are not designing for the sake of it. We are designing for the people. It is therefore critical to listen to all parties involved in a project – the client, other professionals, colleagues, as well as stakeholders or the public.’

When being asked what made him move to New Zealand Frank says, ‘I was drawn to New Zealand by its vast types of landscapes and activities. And of course, the Māori heritage and appreciation of tattoos. Having tattoos myself it greatly interests me to see how people engage with their identity. I love this because tattooing is a journey. Almost the same as working on a design project! You want to consider all facets of it before making a final decision.’

Projects Frank Hoffmann has worked on:

Thinking by Frank Hoffmann:

Gabrielle Free

Gabrielle Free.

Senior Architectural Graduate

Intermediate architectural graduate, Gabrielle has an ethos of thinking about people using the space rather than designing for her own ego or concept. ‘I like to think environmental culture and bring those materials or ideas into the design.’ She does that by getting in touch with people who are knowledgeable about local environs or going on site visits.

Getting the information she needs doesn’t always need to be purely business says Gabrillelle. Since she spends a third of her life at work, it’s important to her to appreciate the connections with clients, contractors, suppliers, colleagues. ‘This helps when things get really stressful, reminding myself I do enjoy it. I might talk about the most mundane, least glamorous project you could imagine but I try to always find a way to have fun.’ Besides she has found this brings peoples’ boundaries down and opens up conversations.

Playfulness an inherent part of creativity can easily get lost in the design process. ‘As architects we are told to aim high, but knowing that things will cut out along the way she says it seems prudent to make the design as simple as possible from the start seems to be one way to counteract this.’

Recently seeing Hobsonville Point where she designed a few of the houses, before she left on a round the world tour, gave Gabrielle great delight. ‘I hadn’t seen anything I had designed before.’ 

Gavin Lister

Gavin Lister.

BA Dip LA (Post grad), M Urb. Des.

Founding Principal

Gavin is a founding Director of Isthmus and Fellow of the NZILA with over twenty five years’ experience in the field of landscape architecture and urban design. Gavin specialises in the integrated design and planning of large scale infrastructure projects, such as highways and renewable energy projects including windfarms and geothermal plants.

With a high level of expertise in regional landscape assessment and policy, Gavin regularly provides expert evidence and has acted as an Independent RMA Commissioner. His work has won numerous NZILA National Awards for Design and Landscape Planning.

Thinking by Gavin Lister:

Grace Wilfred

Grace Wilfred.


Senior Communications Designer

Grant Bailey

Grant Bailey.

BLA, NZILA (Registered)

Principal, Landscape Architecture

As Principal, Landscape Architecture, Grant leads our team of landscape architects to deliver high-quality design solutions. A landscape architect with over 17 years of public and private sector experience Grant is a proven design leader, he has directed innovative award-winning, large-scale complex urban public realm, open space and infrastructure project’s. Grant is at the forefront of green infrastructure and open-space master planning, his project experience covers recreation, commercial, residential, civic, transport, water and education sectors. With a collaborative approach he works across stakeholders, design teams, and specialists including integration of public art. He has served on the Isthmus board and is active in the governance and leadership of the practice.

Hannah Carson

Hannah Carson.


Intermediate Landscape Architect

Visualise walking in the wetlands. There’s a patterned QR like code on the boardwalk, so you hold your smartphone up. It reveals augmented reality. You can still see the scene around you. Overlaid visually is a story of the land around you, with audio. It turns out that this pathway is also the carriageway eels.

This project won its creator Hannah the ‘NZILA  Award of Excellence’ 2019. The young landscape designer explains, ‘There is a direct relationship between cultural narratives and landscapes. I wanted to find a new way to bring these stories to life. All you need is a trigger image (e.g. QR code) which an app recognizes. Then the audio & visual works whatever landscape you’re in.  

‘This was my thesis project and I called it Whispering Tales. The Māori culture is an oral culture. Stories are told from one generation to the next. However people engaging with this app widens the audience. For example when you hold up your phone to the Tararua Ranges you’d be told the story of Maui fishing up the North Island. The Tararua Ranges are the spine of this fish. This story, (among others) was generously shared by a representative from the Ngāti Kahungungu from Wairarapa.’

Hannah says she likes to engage with a space rather than it just being scenery, ‘For example I find sound interesting. Running water, or trees — you can hear them. Mostly you aren’t aware of them, but audio contributes to the overall experience.

Projects Hannah Carson has worked on:

Harriet Hudson

Harriet Hudson.


Intermediate Architectural Designer

‘A favourite place of mine to visit is Arkles Bay, in Whangaparaoa. I frequent it regularly as it’s only 5 or 10 minutes from home,’ says Architectural Graduate Harriet. ‘I find inspiration from places like that, appreciating the ‘lived experience’ or how it makes you feel.

‘One of my university projects (2018) was set in Meadowbank, Auckland within the constraints of the new Unitary Plan. We had 600m² and we had to put in x 10 two-bedroom apartments. The development is actually going ahead and the developer wanted to compare his own plans with architectural students’ visions. 

‘Because cultivating a sense of community is what I was looking for, instead of having a box in the middle of the site, I divided structure into two parallel lines, connecting it by a series of switching staircases between the apartments. This created a grassy internal ‘street’ for mingling. Encouraging apartment dwellers to live in a more three-dimensional way rather than in a single direction: just facing the street. I wondered what it might be like to have different angled views — towards each other, and even the sky.

‘Creative and playful design is not just for children. Adults just as much appreciate a good slide or something fun like that. It comes back to challenging the existing dialogue of architecture.’

‘I like looking at playful spaces and fostering them in the urban-landscape. Rather than it being something that is controlled by institutions like Disneyland. We can instead bring creative design back into the everyday lives of the public.’

Haylea Muir

Haylea Muir.

BLA (Hons), NZILA (Registered)

Principal, Landscape Architecture

Alongside her extensive experience in large scale residential masterplanning projects and writing Architecture and Landscape design guidelines, Haylea has had a primary role in several award winning play spaces. She has a special interest in how people live, play and connect in their neighbourhoods.
Haylea is also an amateur photographer who’s travel destinations are usually chosen on the basis of indulging this hobby.

Helen Kerr

Helen Kerr.

BLA (Hons), NZILA (Registered)

Principal, Landscape Architecture

Board Member   

Helen has grown deep roots with Isthmus since 1999, and is invested in our kaupapa of land, people and culture. She takes a collaborative approach to her work, and finds that exploring and creating with communities is the real deal- knowing when to listen, when to observe and when to lead.

Play is her passion, finding the story of place is her skill, and wellbeing is her mission. She believes we should invest in the future of children and whanau by supporting community networks, sparking positive change and creating healthy habitats. Through leadership of award winning destination projects, Helen always strives to weave together the narrative of land, people and culture through the design process – whether it be Botanic Gardens, greenways, Universities, learning landscapes, parks or playspaces.

Hugo Harvey

Hugo Harvey.

B. Arch, M. Arch(Prof)

Architectural Graduate

In a few studious minutes, patches of the studio’s concrete floors had given way to a watery underworld. In the name of a social occasion, Architectural Graduate Hugo had chalked life-like jellyfish, a school of fish, a lobster. The cement now had another dimension.

The architect with an art teacher background believes play is a big one to help people articulate thoughts, ‘There is a pressure to say—do—the right thing—but things can’t progress beyond that surface unless people feel comfortable about being honest. To empower someone, you have to do very little, it’s just encouragement really. Kindness. Questions.

‘My thesis was about how we can support children’s education through architecture. The best way you can teach people is if it is experiential. Which means providing a safe environment in which students can take ownership of materials that they can rearrange—free moving parts. A lot of architecture is quite static. But there are ways to break down those parts into smaller human sized pieces that you can move, change, experiment with. When it comes to designing schools, we need to think about flexibility. A building should evolve the same way students grow.

‘The reality is things are always changing. The only way to understand is to pay attention to what is happening in the world around you. And that could be engaging with other people’s stories and their communities. So many perspectives which you must take into consideration. One person’s perspective stands alone.’

Hugo’s integrated approach earnt him a nomination for the AAA Visionary Architecture awards in 2019—a concept for Tuvalu. As the island atoll inextricably goes under water due to global warming, Hugo designed agricultural pontoons (floating farms) as one way for which the underprivileged nation might survive.

Iris Gramegna

Iris Gramegna.

Architectural Association Diploma—RIBA/ARB Part II Architecture

Senior Urban Designer

Any child or adult will tell you the gingerbread house in ‘Hansel and Gretel’ gets a big tick. Though you have to wonder what a housing consent team would make of it.

Intermediate Urban Designer Iris once ‘concept-ed’ a sugar dome for public events at university. It would only last until it rained. Of course an imaginary and unfeasible structure, yet it served as a provocation that highlighted the fact that architecture need not always be permanent, ‘Spaces we design need to adapt to constant flux and should respond to the diversity within.

‘When I finished my architectural degree in LondonI joined Arup’s ‘foresight team’. I worked on futuristic initiatives; from envisioning what cities might look like in 50 years’ time, to mapping out how the film industry could operate more sustainably to designing a unique future bus experience. This shifted my architecture thinking from bricks and mortar to a wider interconnected system.

‘I like to work at the minus one stage of a project—understand and explore the problem, purpose, place, and (most importantly) people. To then set up a brief that has a meaningful outcome not just an output. Having come from abroad I’m excited to discover Aotearoa; meet and work with people to shape unique spatial experiences.’

Projects Iris Gramegna has worked on:

Isaac Beetham

Isaac Beetham.


Graduate Landscape Architect

‘Like fragments of a landscape, they appear through the surface—landscape architecture has the role of piecing these imperceptible things together to tell a story. Intertwining Māori values with natural history and explaining, by way of design, the complexities.’

Isaac, Graduate Landscape Architect with a Masters from Victoria University says, ‘In Aotearoa we’ve had a lot of changes since European arrival. For example, Bothamley Park, in Porirua where my thesis was located, there are some areas of left-over pastural land. It’s a reminder of what has happened (colonisation) and why it is really important to strengthen those areas by reinstating the original ecology and thereby driving forwarding-thinking design.

‘When I first arrived at Bothamley Park there was an old farm track that ran through the entire length of the site. They’d seemed to have wiped out vegetation and stands of Podocarp broadleaved forest. I noticed tūī but there wasn’t too much else. That led me to investigate what was there before people intervened in the landscape.

‘Of course you’ve always got to try and align ideas with what the client is wanting—meet them half way to create a meaningful space. It’s a trickier equation but important to include all viewpoints. In my mind what should probably come first is the ecological side of things. What sort of native flora & fauna habituated the area and how you can incorporate them into the project. So you are not just designing for people…but designing for the non-humans as well.’

Ivy Llanera

Ivy Llanera.

BAS Land, MLA (Merit), NZILA Grad

Senior Landscape Architect

Ivy works closely with the masterplanning team, where she gets to develop her knowledge and skills in residential masterplanning, superlot designs, and streetscape and planting designs. She mostly helps in production and delivers graphic, technical and written deliverables. Ivy has a strong passion in landscape urbanism, urban informality and designing with communities. She is also a foodie. She loves experimenting with food and unleashing her other side of creativity in the kitchen. 

Projects Ivy Llanera has worked on:

Jade Brown

Jade Brown.


Architecture Intern

‘I am interested in ruins,’ says Architectural Intern Jade. ‘I find it interesting to see what is left behind. Dilapidated buildings lose their power through loss of function. I relate this it to queer relationships. How do we pay homage the ‘otherness’ whilst not performing in a hidden way?

‘For university I have been researching ‘otherness’ and ‘discomfort within identity’ as they exist in architecture. That idea of difference and subverting the heteronormative narrative that generally exists within architecture.

‘My thesis is more installation based. I am using the old ‘Metro Centre’ on Queen Street as my site. That whacky dilapidated building with rocket ship elevators! I’ve been photographing all the bits that are falling apart, then trying to design ‘interventions’ (solutions). There is something beautiful about what is left behind and seeing what can be made of that.

‘One of my favourite quotes, “The most successful designers are ones that design with an element of sensitivity”. To be open and willing to understand; whether it is designing for the council or an iwi, there will be a different idea about what constitutes a comfortable environment.’

Jade is in her final year of her Master of Architecture, at The University of Auckland. She works one day a week in retail and two days a week at Isthmus. About life in a trans-disciplinary studio Jade says, ‘It’s great! You do design a disservice if you are not constantly interacting with people from other disciplines; it is critical to gain that richness in ideas.’

Jaime Macfarlane

Jaime Macfarlane.


Senior Landscape Architect

Jaime’s voice is sotto and you might expect it to be directed at a celestial sky, ‘Beautiful. So good! I spent a lot of time on the High-Line in New York (when I lived there); it was one of my favourite projects to visit, says the Senior Landscape Architect when speaking of a converted railway over-pass stretching 20 blocks through upper Manhattan. Now a walkway threaded through an ever-changing palette of plants, “In autumn it is stunning, in winter it is covered with snow yet it is still entrancing.’

Jaime’s knowledge is derived from being one of the design team on the biggest rooftop garden in the UK, the London Google Headquarters. Plus their interior undulating tropicalesque landscapes in the offices. Furthermore being lead designer on Scandinavia’s largest rooftop garden.

‘However we can’t keep creating such controlled spaces,’ says Jaime. ‘I think one of the biggest things to help readdress climate crisis is rewilding; it doesn’t take much to start that process. Even a little wildflower garden with some bees in it, in the middle of a raging city. To 1000 hectares of newly planted native trees. Across all scales we can make an impact.’

‘I am super passionate about where society finds itself. The climate crisis is very real, and very imminent. And it doesn’t seem like people are willing to move fast enough in the ways that they need to. Possibly because we all feel so divorced from our surroundings. Landscape architecture is a way to connect people back into that. Like, hey, you have a part to play in this.’

James Pattullo

James Pattullo.

MLA, (Merit), BAS (Land), NZILA Grad

Associate Landscape Architect

James is involved in a broad range of projects from coastal and open space strategies to urban design and infrastructure. He also has a skilled background in 3D modelling, renders and video simulations, and graphic design. James is a workaholic who volunteers time to the NZILA and VUW. He enjoys adventurous travel and making art in his spare time.

Jess Wheeler

Jess Wheeler.

BAS, MArch(Prof)

Intermediate Architectural Designer

‘Places like my nana’s garden… yeah, those small intimate spaces… are meaningful. I’d like the places I design to have the same profound effect on people. I was always starry-eyed about placemaking.

‘There is so much to be said for ‘good’ landscape or architectural design. Because it can have wider social implications for communities. But how exactly it does this is context – project – specific.

‘At University I discovered a passion for sustainability. In particular, how architecture could contribute to social well-beingMy thesis, entitled “Bridging the Gap,” explored systems-based neighbourhood regeneration as a catalyst to disrupt the cycle of economic inequality. (e.g. using horticulture to stimulate the local economy).

‘You don’t need to be working at a large scale to have a big impact. Design intervention could even be, for example, the strategic placement of a pedestrian crossing on a busy road. Whereby children can walk to school more safely.’

Prior to joining Isthmus I worked for a residential architecture firm specialising in passive solar design. Designing houses that are naturally warm in the winter and cool in the summer. There are basic principles to achieve this: building orientation; roof overhangs accounting for peak winter and summer sun angles; northern facing glazing; cross ventilation; and utilising thermal mass with exposed concrete floors.

‘I grew up in South Auckland, am family-oriented and I love being outdoors. I’ve learnt a structure doesn’t have to be the only way we define space. What happens outside a building is just as important. How you ‘ground’ a structure within a streetscape has everything to do with the landscaping – this and architecture are so interconnected, in my mind at least.’

Jia Ying-Hew

Jia Ying-Hew.

MArch (Prof)

Senior Architectural Designer

‘Form…follows…function,’ Hew says.  ‘I personally don’t like a building that looks pretty but inside you don’t feel comfortable,’ Malaysian born Hew (pronounced Hue) whose first name is actually Jiaying (but goes by her surname Hew since New Zealanders find it easier to say) won an architectural scholarship to Victoria University where she went on to gain her Masters.

Now an Intermediate Architectural Graduate at Isthmus Hew says, ‘I enjoy designing public buildings because I like creating spaces for people to interact in. However designing residential housing, which I currently do a lot of, means I’m helping to  provide homes for people. And whatever the brief, a structure can enrich a neighbourhood.

‘I think experimentation is key. Because you can’t always just do the same thing, in the same way. Every project is unique. When you have a new idea by necessity you’ll have to experiment. Even just the way you are working might not be efficient enough so you have to experiment with that!

‘On Westhill Stage 2 the client had a strict budget in order to ensure the houses were modestly priced. We worked with very simple forms. And spent the time on proportion and colour. We kept construction simple. I prefer a minimalist architecture style. But of course, you have to do a whole lot more to make a project more meaningful than just looking at aesthetics.’

Hew’s Masters of Architecture from Victoria University thesis The Dam Archive was about designing museums to preserve the history of the 8 dams along the Waikato River.

Joe Murphy

Joe Murphy.


Principal, Architecture

Alongside Joe’s extensive experience in multi-residential & social housing, he also brings a passion for sustainability and the overlap with the land and landscape architecture that aligns seamlessly with Isthmus values and Kaupapa.

Joe sees density creating an increasing focus on the relationship between building and nature – compression and the public-private interface at the edge. Buildings are closer together. Closer to roads. Closer to footpaths. Therefore, the landscape is having to work harder than ever to make that a great space.

Joe enjoys Isthmus for its size and aspirations. In particular, he enjoys working closely with landscape and believes quite often it is the relationship between landscape and the building which delivers more on the experience of architecture than at in any other point.

He is also a passionate yachty & fisherman and enjoys sailing (slowly) with the family around the Hauraki gulf islands.

Joseph Ravlich

Joseph Ravlich.

BAS, MArch(Prof)(Hons)

Architectural Graduate

‘After completing My Master’s in Architecture, I was fortunate enough to be involved in several projects which subvert the narrative of Pasifika students being ‘an educational deficit’. I hope to contribute to the uplifting stories our tamariki hear. It is they, who carry the mana of their ancestors through their daily lives.

‘Looking back to when the first navigators arrived in the Cook Islands—even though ancient architecture has largely eroded over time—you can still find traces of those buildings. Lasting. Monumental. Resilient. Makes me think of my Polynesian people. Constantly adapting, weathering the forces of the external world.

‘The feeling of ‘home’ is very close to my heart; the architecture industry has the power to create that sense of home for so many.  A space where you can be the most authentic. Whether it be the four walls that you return to each day, or the homeland of your ancestors calling you back to visit. Home is an atmosphere of respite, healing and stability that is increasingly important in our current, ever-changing world.

‘To finish off I want to say I’m appreciative of being part of this whanau—the Isthmus family—where I can expand on my own experience. Not just as a creative but as a person using my skill set to help realise the visions of other people. Which ultimately provide resources— infrastructure for the community.’

Consolidation and rebirth.

Dust settles
among the debris of my ideals.
Shattered naivete lies broken
coating the barren emptiness of my consciousness
in a layer of existential soot.

Tabula Rasa.
Awaits impression.
Malleable hope
like clay yearning for the intervention of touch.
Ready to be shaped into who I now am.

Poem by Joseph Ravlich

Josh Joe

Josh Joe.


Architectural Graduate

‘Once my ideas had buildings at the core, and over the years they evolved to be about buildings which work in a built environment. This is why I like Isthmus—it’s because of the cohesion between architecture and the landscape. If they don’t work together, it just doesn’t work as nicely.

‘I currently do two days at Isthmus, two to three days at working on my Masters of Architecture (Professional) at Victoria University. My thesis works with Algorithmic Generative Design Tools. Generative design is using data (or other information) to drive the design. Like you have a house and then you’ve got another house here and then a driveway—let’s say the distance between the two houses is five meters. But when you’re thinking with generative design it is not about the 5 meters. Instead, it is about all those dimensions together, and how they relate to one another—the relationship of how everything ties together. With the power of generative design, you can work rapidly or solve complex problems in a way that a normal human wouldn’t even imagine, because all of that information is encoded into the algorithm you create.

‘Just because something is functional doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful—like that building in the Abu Dubai. The façade is optimised for sunlight. It is comprised of hundreds of huge mechanical petals that open and close—it is quite expressive and functional. When the sun comes around, the solar panels open up to shut out the glare and when there is no sun, they close so the occupants can look out.’

Jules Thornton

Jules Thornton.

Studio Administrator

What is that doing in there? thinks Juliette (Jules) when she looks at the bin at home. ‘And those plastic bags for the fruit, I don’t understand. Supermarkets get rid of plastic bags but they’ve still got plastic bags in the fruit section. What’s that about?’

Recently the Administrator started buying her fruit, veg and meat directly through an environmentally friendly company. Scraps she gives to the chooks. And she’s got the household is down to one waste bin per month, ‘I am pleased with that (even if there is stuff in there that shouldn’t be there). I can’t hound my whānau enough, but I am trying!’ says Jules.

At Isthmus Jules is in her habitat. An elemental part of her role is to administer the studio’s Toitū Enviromark and Carbon Zero programme—collating data and putting it into their database, ‘We are following a set of rules around working sustainably. The studio is at Gold level. It’s my job to keep us there.’

Previously in finance for 9.5 years, Jules felt like she needed to go back to administration because she craved the variety. Now, besides helping around the studio, Jules assists the People & Culture Manager, is part of Health & Safety team and is one of the trouble shooters for an upcoming office move, ‘It’s nice to help people. Everyone is polite and they thank you.’

Kadin Hegglun

Kadin Hegglun.


Intermediate Landscape Architect

‘If you have a pen and pad and you can go outside, then you can landscape design. Drawing materials record, express, explore and test. I see software as an extension of this. Yet further it grants computational efficiency. The more instruments you know the more you have to call on within a project.

‘I didn’t know landscape architecture existed when I got to Victoria University. I came in intending to do architecture — I just knew I was more interested in public spaces than I was in buildings.’

‘Martin Bryant was an inspirational landscape architecture lecturer. The way he spoke about landscape design and how space can be orchestrated to entice interactions … such as the architecturally designed Taranaki Wharf Jumping Platform. The crowd interacts with whoever is leaping into the sea. The platform acts as a stage. Passers-by crowd around as the “jumper” shows off.’

‘Martin utilised simple napkin sketches, curly lines, simple and diagrammatic. Which tested relationships and teased form. Quickly transforming initial thoughts onto paper. Which at the time I thought was quite poetic.

‘I pursue the digital stuff because it is enthralling and evolving. But also I think in order to be a good designer you need to be an all-rounder. A tool is only as good as the practitioner. It is equally important to practice your creative side. Utilising knowledge of landscapes, anthropology, materials, horticulture, art and ideas.’

Kate Walker

Kate Walker.

BArch, MArch (Prof.) Dist

Senior Architectural Graduate

‘The scrappiness of those initial ideas in any project and developing them into something fully fledged — that process appeals to me,’ says Kate, ‘how you grab ideas and create a culture of a place that’s unique.

Fostering community and connection to place is the Senior Architect’s raison d’être. ‘Architecture is about providing the space for interactions to occur — whether with other people, or place and it’s spirit.

‘You don’t necessarily need highly polished materials or expensive fitouts to do that — it can be simpler. Working with the quirks of existing structures. Reusing what you can. Curating and caring about the details. My grandmother lived in a house made of mud and sticks. A thatched cottage. And for me it epitomises beauty and longevity.

‘I feel the architect’s role is about orchestration. You think about all the people involved, from business owners to visitors, to the dishwasher. What does each need?

‘Often we need to first talk about hospitality. How we welcome people, how we care for those in the space. We have to talk about things like that before we talk about architecture. Be it an airport, shop, or a new housing block.

‘Te Aranga —Māori design principles— to my mind talk about that in the widest possible way. Traditionally the architect is seen as looking after the bricks and mortar. But to do that well, you have to have conversations about the experience. Then you can translate that into form and material.’

Projects Kate Walker has worked on:

Kauri Brown

Kauri Brown.


Graduate Landscape Architect

The Master of Landscape Architecture Graduate says her biggest achievement to date is the friendships that she made at university, ‘My two close friends in university and I were the only Māori in our year. I am proud that we’ve supported each other. We are all in the industry now,’ says Kauri.

Teamwork is also what she enjoys most about landscape design. As a student in an urban planning class, one project she had was to design ways to connect green spaces to Wellington City. To do this, Kauri had to team up with classmates to see what their ideas were and to create a framework. It was their opinions that inspired her.

‘I think design is about learning to be adaptive to the context. For example, a community (which has its own needs) is not something that you need to change just because you see it in a different light. It is just about learning the boundaries. As designers we are enabling voices to be heard, and perspectives to be seen. Experiences, which are peoples’ real lives, are to be acknowledged. We don’t need to impose. We translate – our role is not to just create a pretty picture.

‘Growing up in West Auckland, I’ve seen trollies in streams. I would be worried if no one else saw this as a problem, but everyone else also asks, “Why is there a shopping trolley in the stream?”. If people said nothing, thinking it was normal, that would be a problem. Where does the trolley come from?  Why is abandoning a trolley the best thing that the locals could think of doing with it, as part of their daily lives? The answers would be something to discover, along with treating water. It is increasingly important to see how people interact with nature.’

Kelly Grant

Kelly Grant.

CA, Grad. Dip. Prof. Accy, Chartered Accountant CAANZ

Finance Lead

They say a picture is worth 1000 words but if you ask Finance Lead Kelly, she’ll tell you numbers tell a story too.

‘They can explain so much. The more you can configure it to make sense to your audience, financial or non-financial people, the more useful it is. Patterns and trends help the business to see what might happen next, so that it can be planned for.

I studied Accounting & Commercial Law at Victoria, graduating with a BCA & Graduate Diploma of Professional Accounting. It took another three years to qualify as a Chartered Accountant, while working in an accounting firm. That gave me the base which the next 15 years working in finance, in various countries and industries, has developed on. Universality is probably quite unique to accounting. Numbers add to the same thing wherever you go—the value-add to the business is using your smarts and experience to work out what’s going on, and knowing what can happen; what could go right, what could wrong.

‘My role covers a lot more than people might think; which is one of the interesting things about this job. Finance impacts everyone in one way or another.’

Liam Collinson

Liam Collinson.

BDes (Hons)

Intermediate Graphic Designer

When design graduate Liam ideates, any perceived restrictions vanish. A brief could result in a newspaper-come-poster or shipping container playground.

‘I’ve come to love working within experiential projects, where you can pull on other senses beyond just sight. In my final year at university I created a newspaper that was free to take from news-stands. The idea was people could plaster it up on walls in the street; breaking down access barriers and bringing the conversation into the public realm. Graphic design can embellish public space in unexpected ways. Bringing moments of surprise, joy or challenge into the urban experience.’

For Liam, this friction is an essential part of healthy urban experience, ‘If every now and then people are challenged by what they see, they are learning and their worldview is growing. A touch of friction creates vibrant communities that are diverse in their thoughts, feelings and expectations.

‘On the flip side of this, there is value in making spaces with visual communication in mind from the very beginning. Good graphic design understands people and place just as well as architecture does. When graphic design is a part of the process all visual components are united. Resulting in a considered and compelling place.’

Linda Sun

Linda Sun.

BAS M.Arch (Prof Hons), ANZIA

Associate Architect

With a range of project experience in different areas and phases, Linda is passionate about working with people to create and deliver spaces that enhance the amenity and experience of the occupants and the community. She is also interested in issues around sustainability and environmental regeneration and is part of NZIA’s Auckland Branch, leading the Environmental Portfolio.

Projects Linda Sun has worked on:

Lisa Rimmer

Lisa Rimmer.

BHortSc (Hons) MLA (Hons)

Principal, Landscape Architecture

Studio Management Team   

Alongside her landscape architectural practice, Lisa’s background in horticultural science and education has informed her specialist expertise in strategic planning projects that integrate environmental planning and RMA processes with detailed design.  She has worked on a wide range of projects including large scale infrastructure, public and civic facilities and commercial developments. Lisa has strengths in project management, leadership and team communication, as well as contract documentation and planting design, especially for complex urban sites.

Lydia Franken

Lydia Franken.

BDes (Hons), BCA, Cert Hort.

Senior Landscape Architect

‘In a design office you are never an island,’ Lydia says, ‘You are always connecting with people even if they are not working on the same project. Just being able to bounce ideas off each other is very valuable. It’s a lost resource if you don’t talk to your colleagues, ask questions. A sense of enquiry is very important to getting a better design. 

‘Listening skills are key when you are designing. Though what people say is not always what they mean! So you have to figure out what the real problem is. They might say —We need more carparks— But perhaps the space is not working correctly or maybe there is another mode of transport?’ She says she likes to dig to understand the bigger picture.

In Lydia’s seven years overseas she grew accustomed to working across divergent cultures. In the Dutch design studio West 8 there were 12 different nationalities.

Communicating with clients depends on you understanding who they are Lydia says, ‘For example in the school engagement we are doing for Otahuhu, we have to figure out the best activities to canvas the students’ thoughts.’ Her background in business development, public relations and marketing for landscape firms are often referenced. Not so much visually, but in terms of negotiating. 

Lydia’s work within the design team means she gets to work on planting plans or palettes whenever the opportunity presents, ‘Of course it depends on the project but it’s quite nice to bring in colour. These splashes of fragrance or texture. Every plant can add something. It’s kind of like painting. I really like the lushness of tropical palettes. And scented and edible as well!’

Lydia has honours in a Bachelor of Design in Landscape Architecture  and a Bachelor of Commerce & Administration in Marketing & Management.

Projects Lydia Franken has worked on:

Marie Dutilloy

Marie Dutilloy.

Studio Concierge

‘As the sole Studio Administrator at the Wellington studio I’m here to take the operational chores off designers’ plates, so they can concentrate on their mahi. This involves all sorts of bits and pieces: making sure the place is a lovely and welcoming environment to be in, checking the design team have everything they need (and some things they want). Touching base with people to see how they are feeling; being a sounding board for a 30-second chat at the coffee machine can make a lot of difference to someone’s day.

‘Music is the other part of my life, as well as painting and writing. I am always trying to find the next best channel for my creativity. The majority of Wellington designers walk, bike or bus to work; they have their coffee beans delivered in a refillable bucket and buy milk in glass bottles.  Sustainability is important to me too. When I am making art, I use plywood off-cuts which would have gone to the tip otherwise. I like giving things a second life if I can. You can find a YouTube video on how to fix anything, so it is just a question about having a go (even if it doesn’t always go very well!). I’m used to thinking outside the box.

‘I was born in France, brought up in the UK which has possibly given me a different perspective. I have been in Aotearoa for the last 18 years. Here, I studied Audio Engineering and Music Production. After-hours I play bass in an alternative band. I think having a creative background helps here at Isthmus; it sort of helps me be more innovative.’ 

Matt Jones

Matt Jones.

BLA, NZILA (Registered)

Principal, Design Planning

Matthew is a highly motivated landscape architect with particular expertise in the integration of design, planning and management. As Principal of Design Planning he works across the disciplines of landscape architecture, masterplanning and urban design. Matthew has a strong appreciation for the relationship between people and their surrounding environment and developing design outcomes that engage and enhance this notion.

Matthew is passionate about urbanism with a particular interest in the design and integration of mode-share in urban environments. He is currently a member of Auckland Council’s Urban Design Panel. Matt is a self-proclaimed sports fan and is multi-genre music obsessed. 

Max Irving-Lamb

Max Irving-Lamb.

BAS, MArch(Prof) HerCons

Intermediate Architectural Designer.

For young designer Max it’s not about building castles in the sky. Navigating the future means a grounded strategy, ‘It’s important to design with the environment and people at the core. Design sustainably and understand Te Ao Māori. Honour kaitiaki (guardianship). When you are designing a building, the surrounding landscape must be considered. For example, the studio here has in-house experts all working together. From master planning to landscape architecture to creating structures. Because all these disciplines are interconnected, it results in better public space, better housing and better multi-use spaces. You can’t stay siloed and just do your thing in the corner.’

Point proven by Max being awarded a Gold Pin for the Best Awards 2019 for a collaborative thesis. After gaining his architectural degree from Auckland University, Max worked for the last three years for a company that specialised in designing for high density living.

‘I think doing high density well for both Auckland and the wider country is important. Tied into that is my interest in public space and civic architecture. What I like about this kind of architecture is that it is design for the many. Isolation inducing lock downs have shown us how important public spaces are, from parks, to being able to catch up with people in the street or on your front step.

‘Enforced separation has proved the value of buffer space, a front fence that is low enough to see over, or a balcony view, to create a connection to the street. ‘Bump space’ such as a shared laundry or a generous corridor, gives people a chance to run into neighbours. Though shared space isn’t done often. Because it is not seen as something that can be bought, privatised.

‘There are some interesting things happening in Wellington with proposals of co-housing. Which include shared amenities. This is one way we can bring a sense of community to housing.’

Megan Otto

Megan Otto.

BFA, currently studying Diploma of Interior Design (after hours)

Studio Concierge

Megan has mainly worked in administration. If you ever need help finding the Isthmus building and our visitor car parks, please call her. And when you arrive she’s on hand to offer you any number of herbal teas, coffee, juices, mineral water – still or sparkling, (you get the picture)…just ask!

Michael Chu

Michael Chu.

MLA (NZILA Registered)

Senior Landscape Architect

Michael has worked on a wide range of projects, including public realm, suburban regeneration, transportation and healthcare. He has a keen eye for detail honed through his experience in project delivery at all stages from concept and detailed design, through to construction observation and management.

Michael is interested in how people occupy and experience space, and uses his passion for hand sketching and rendering to communicate ideas.

‘I discovered at Uni that sketching was a way to kōrero. Although concepts are often computer-rendered when presented to clients, there are moments in any project which require a pen and trace to expand ideas.’
When he isn’t playing guitar, Michael enjoys exploring Pōneke’s diverse eateries with his family and friends.

Mihali Katsougiannis

Mihali Katsougiannis.


Intermediate Landscape Architect

As part of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, Greece and Turkey uprooted two million people in a massive population exchange. On both sides residents were told to get out. Slippers were on the doorstep and food on the table. The men kept their house keys because they were so sure of being allowed back home.

Resultantly abandoned Greek village of Kayaköy in Turkey is now preserved. Intermediate Landscape designer Mihali says this ghost town is as important as Disneyland.

‘The point is learning from the past. Because stories can be so easily lost to history. Which is why we engage with mana whenua because they have a heritage which they can tell. There’s a responsibility for designers to bring history to life. So stories don’t get forgotten.

‘It’s happening wherever we engage with mana whenua. Because they are specific sponsors to their land and what took place.

‘There’s all sorts of ways to translate this into landscape design. For example we have a process of engaging with iwi artists to integrate cultural expression into new constructs, stuff that has meaning. Which translates into the modern world from the historic past.

‘My Greek heritage gives me an appreciation for other cultures. I know that is important to me, so naturally ethnicity will be important to others too. But on another level, we are all human. We need to look after one another regardless of our ancestral past,’ Mihali smiles wryly. ‘You identify with a culture but at the same time it might build borders. Beliefs that make up a person can cause separation. Depends on how you approach it. It’s about being open to cultural beliefs.’

Projects Mihali Katsougiannis has worked on:

Mike Shaddick

Mike Shaddick.


Application Support Analyst

‘Isthmus uses specialised software such as Revit, AutoCAD, Grasshopper, Adobe and SketchUp but there is still generic stuff such as Outlook and websites which underline these programs. Not to mention networks and servers which sit behind the scenes.

‘It’s like a movie. People only see the shiny finished movie (front end applications) but there would have been an engine behind it. You can’t have a movie if you don’t build a set, hire the actors, and edit the movie right. Similarly, IT systems must be set up in the first place.

‘The designers here use the apps more than we do, but in IT we have to be a jack of all trades, master of none. I’ve worked in the IT departments of a TV station, a university, a hotel/casino, an airline, media company (newspaper & radio). I didn’t know those industries before going in. You learn on the job. Plus within IT there is a degree of universality.

Originally from Wales, the Application Support Analyst trained as an electrical engineer, then later in computer sciences. After working in the UK and US, Mike found a landing pad in Aotearoa and has been a Kiwi citizen for the past 20 years.

‘I am equally aligned between server and software – I’ve been in the software side of stuff predominantly but I always playing with hardware at home.

‘Designers know how to do their stuff, but they’re not trained in IT. IT doesn’t get a call when everything is working fine. When everything is up and running, they just carry on. You need that bridge in between computers and people. That is where my job comes in; to assist from an IT perspective.’

Mitchell Bachmann-Fuller

Mitchell Bachmann-Fuller.

B.UrbPlan(Hons), M.UrbDes

Intermediate Urban Designer

‘I think it started with exploring streets as a kid on my bike. Streets are really how you experience a city right?

‘Streets are beautiful things because they are for everyone in society and there are no rules about who or what can exist in that space. Although we seem to have continued with a Westernised approach to our streets (roads may be a better term) which has disconnected us from our environment. I think we are at a pivotal point where people are calling for the return of streets to the people. Increasing modal share is key in this and redesigning streets to prioritise people also holds a perfect opportunity to green our streets at the same time. Ultimately, if we are designing for people we have to design for the environment. It’s part of us existing as humans within a city and helping overcome that disconnection,’ explains Mitchell.

‘I’ve spent three years as a planner and most recently completed a Masters in Urban Design. Understanding the wider planning context is critical when designing, especially the policy context. It also helps in knowing your audience and how far you can push things (in a good way!).

‘I think what is exciting about being on this journey with Isthmus as an Urban Designer; you get to do the whole thing. You’re part of that team creating a vision at the beginning and then carry that concept, agreed upon by all parties, to the end.

‘Because as much as you’re a designer you are also facilitating conversation between groups. Consequently, there are often key conversations that are overlooked when it comes to the design of city spaces. Overcoming that difficulty can create a sense of ownership for marginalised and minority communities in our public spaces; so they aren’t pushed into the interstices. Beginning to take steps to develop more inclusive space may not be as pretty or perfect, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be (in my opinion).’

Naomi Riegger

Naomi Riegger.

BDes (Hons)

Graduate Graphic Designer

‘I think graphic design has a cultural and aesthetic value that goes beyond what you see commercially. Obviously there’s a place for graphic design within that field, but I think it can be a really useful tool to address challenging topics such as environmental and social issues—now so more than ever with digital media and all that.’

‘It’s not just about making something look nice. There’s a lot of thought behind what you see—they call it design thinking—you are identifying the problems and finding a solution that is going to work for the audience. It’s thinking outside the box. There are no set answers—it’s about exploration, trying out different things and seeing what does or doesn’t work.

‘I always make sure I’ve thoroughly read through a brief and have a clear understanding of what is being asked of me; and if there isn’t already research then I’ll do it. This gives me the information I need to support my ideas.’

‘I think it’s really refreshing working in an interdisciplinary design studio. There are so many creatives to bounce ideas off and discuss design solutions with. It keeps things interesting and gives me the opportunity to learn new skills.’

Projects Naomi Riegger has worked on:

Nick Kapica

Nick Kapica.

BA Hons, MDes


Board Member   

Nick originates from London where he studied Visual Communication at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication. He is passionate about people, design and the urban environment. After working as a designer for The Independent, he moved in 1989 to Berlin, founded SV Associates, and evolved his work from visual communication to experience design with a strongly human-centred focus. In 2009 he moved to Wellington, New Zealand to be Senior Lecturer in Design at Massey University. As a design researcher, he operates within two distinct yet related areas of design practice: visual communication design within spatial environments, and the use of spatial environments to enhance and affect users’ experiences within them. In 2017 he joined Wellington City Council as Design Lead responsible for brand experience and pushing ‘design as a process’ deeper into council structures. Nick has collaborated with Atelier Brückner on Scenographic projects and Athfield Architects on workplace and experiential graphic design projects.

Urbanist, designer, kitesurfer, and educator, Nick is happiest when he can bring different people together to build diverse teams that try to understand complex problems and search for unexpected solutions.

Projects Nick Kapica has worked on:

Nigel Fox James

Nigel Fox James.

MArch, GradDipDE, BDes (Iddn)

Senior Architectural Designer

Excited to be part of Isthmus’ team of multi-disciplinary design thinkers, Nigel brings experience in master planning, design development, documentation, and coordination of complex architectural projects including education, medium to high-density residential development, public and civic buildings, and specialist facilities for both government and private sectors.

The difference between designing spaces for snow leopards, students, residential tenants, or the owners of earthquake-damaged homes is, in his mind, negligible. Building projects are innately complex, with competing requirements and aspirations. Industrial-cum-architectural designer Nigel relishes technically complex projects which require innovative solutions.

Process-oriented and a systems thinker able to uncover synergetic alignments between competing needs, function, and form, Nigel takes a holistic and project-specific approach that builds on the collective expertise of the team and the knowledge of clients and stakeholders. He notes that ‘people’s lives are always in flux which means our spaces need to tolerate change. Our architecture, urban environments, and landscapes need to be resilient in their response to function, robust in their construction and minimised in terms of their impact on the environment. We want architecture to endureWouldn’t it be incredible to be involved in the creation of structures that were to become ‘historic ruins’ of the future?

Nik Kneale

Nik Kneale.

BLA (Hons) NZILA Registered


There was life on, in and around Aotearoa before we arrived, and there’ll be life after. How we relate to our places now, and the positive relationships we can set up for the future, is at the core of what keeps Nik engaged in Landscape Architecture. ‘Our profession plays the long game. There might be sprints along the way, but future generations will be the ones to benefit most from our most valuable efforts’.

Nik seeks out opportunities to work with mana whenua and sees clear parallels between a Te Ao Māori (Māori world view) and his own views of place. They are more than a culmination of natural systems, they are us and we are them. This approach immediately evokes a stewardship / kaitiaki approach. Nik’s current studies in Te Reo Māori and membership with Ngā Aho (Māori designer’s network) continue to deepen his understanding and appreciation of Matauranga Māori.

Nik’s work has focussed on the design of public spaces throughout Aotearoa, including waterfronts, town centres, public facilities and work directly for mana whenua. Based in Ōtautahi Christchurch, his work post-earthquake has been focussed on a revisioning, design and construction of the city centre through projects such as the city’s waterfront; Ōtākaro Avon River Precinct, the city’s premier urban green space; Victoria Square, the Metro Sports Facility, and the city’s newest green space and redefined central city edge; Rauora Park.

Noni Diez

Noni Diez.

BArch, MArch (Prof)


‘For me it’s always important to ask; what is the heritage of a place? what is the culture? — that is what I like about Isthmus. Because these are foundational questions here.

‘If you understand the heritage and the culture, you can then understand the place. Place is an evolution of these factors, conditioned in a large part by nature and context (temperature, rain, seasonal variety, local resources, and materials unique to the area…). This evolution is reflected in successful architecture as well, it’s what gives local cultural character and belonging to a project.

‘As a designer, I try to understand what is going on in a place. So that when people look at the project they recognise something, “Ok this building is from here …”

‘It’s very simple. Design is (and should be) dictated by the elements. I think I studied architecture for this reason. I like how regions and countries around the world can be recognized just by their architecture. Culture influences architecture and architecture influences the culture. I find this connection very interesting.’

Projects Noni Diez has worked on:

Oriane Merindol

Oriane Merindol.

M.Arch/Architecte D.E

Senior Urban Designer/Architect

Oriane studied Architecture and Urban Design in France and in Italy, then worked with Gehl Architects in Denmark, she joined Isthmus in November 2016.

Oriane is interested in designing cities and neighbourhoods in a more sustainable way that promotes social equity. She has been mostly working on masterplanning projects, with a specific focus on creating walk-able places where everyone feels welcome. Oriane is an unconditional walker, loving to explore new places and countries, going everywhere on foot!

Thinking by Oriane Merindol:

Paulo Costa

Paulo Costa.

BArch (Hons), ANZIA, MAA (Denmark)

Principal, Architecture

Studio Management Team   

Paulo, originally from Mozambique, studied Architecture in Wellington and moved back to Auckland a couple of years ago following a 12 year stint in the UK. His experience in the UK focused on urban regeneration and adaptive re-use, working on several mixed use residential developments, with forays into the arts and education sectors along the way.

Paulo combines a passion for designing space with a strong interest in ‘place making’ and a rigorous appreciation of context and takes a collaborative approach to developing ideas from concept level to the end detail.

Outside of the office, when not drawing, you’ll find him cycling or exploring Auckland with family or binging on all things Scandinavian: be it film, furniture or design.

Projects Paulo Costa has worked on:

Penny McIntyre

Penny McIntyre.


Principal, Chief Operating Officer

Studio Management Team   

As a qualified Accountant, Penny is a valued and trusted member of the senior management team, who brings a wealth of experience and knowledge as well as a cracking good sense of humour!  Penny works collaboratively across Isthmus providing clear financial direction, analysis, process improvements as well as ad hoc projects helping to ensure that our business objectives are met.
Outside of the busy working week, Penny spends quality time with friends and family sharing great yarns whilst fishing, walking, pilates and a good glass of chardonnay!

Ralph Johns

Ralph Johns.

BSc MA, FNZILA Registered


Board Member   

Ralph takes care of the business; he leads the strategic direction of isthmus.

As a landscape architect Ralph has won a number of industry awards. He was the driving force behind the Isthmus book, Coast Country Neighbourhood City. As Isthmus’ design-led CEO since 2014, Ralph has led the practice through a period of rapid growth. Ralph ensures that Isthmus stays grounded, committed to purpose, and keeps an eye firmly fixed on the horizon.

Ralph lives in Wellington and rides a bicycle whenever he can.

Rebekah Lillie

Rebekah Lillie.


Intermediate Urban Designer

Once upon a time artists used to paint frescos directly onto walls. Then they moved to woven hemp during the Italian Renaissance. Canvas was cheap to make and readily available as it was also used for boat sails.

When Multi-Disciplinary designer Rebekah studied art history, she discovered architecture. The one-time dancer and rhythmic gymnast, painter and photographer added architecture and interiors to her ‘painting palette’.

‘When I look at the world through a multi-disciplinary lens, I take cues from different aspects of the brief. Whether it’s around community, identity, ideas or society. I think it is really about taking a sensitive approach to every aspect of being a human and putting that into a design output—digital, graphic, spatial or otherwise.

‘For me it starts with a lot of research – really understanding the land, the people, and the culture. No matter what the desired outcome, it’s about understanding the community structure and values, a hapū, the land and/or a landscape. The most important part of starting a project is having that strong understanding of connections and building from there.

‘The nice thing about an encompassing approach is that if we (as designers) are looking at a physical structure, we can always add to that with a digital or typographic component, which can be particularly useful in public spaces, as opposed to confining ourselves to one practice.

‘The learnings and histories of the communities I’ve worked with are really important to me. Whether it’s the aboriginal communities I’ve worked within or more recently the Central Hawke’s Bay hapū who trusted me to help share their stories. My ideas are intertwined with whoever we (the team) are working with.’

Rebekah is a multidisciplinary designer with a background in architecture and interiors—she has worked internationally on culturally significant projects. Her varied experience includes project management, client liaison, graphic design, and audio and video.

Rhianna Lash

Rhianna Lash.

BAS, MArch

Architectural Graduate

The Graduate Architect and plant Mum of 30 pet house plants, recently completed her masters in Vancouver (renowned for its environmental consciousness). 

‘As a city their building codes are highly geared toward building for zero emissions and low-impact housing. I got knee-deep into designing more environmentally through an association with Vancouver City Council to make energy efficient buildings normative. Sustainability was something started exploring early in my architectural training because it is arguably the future.’

‘I’ve been following Isthmus for a long time for this reason. I first heard about the ethical studio in my undergraduate; you don’t find a lot of firms that go out of their way to focus on environmental, cultural and community issues. So, I feel right at home.’ 

‘The built environment has such an impact on the world and so a structure cannot act as objet du jour. When in fact it is only a node in a network. A building has a relationship with community, cultures, habitats all of which pre-exist on any site. Engaging with these wider systems is part of my design philosophy. I’m always aiming to work more collaboratively with the hope that neighbours – plant, animal, homo sapiens – can thrive alongside architecture.’

‘Architecture can be habitation, not only for humans. But nature. In a practical sense, detailing differently can really help ecologies with how a building foundation meets the ground. Or how landscape works in collaboration with the building and local fauna. It’s easy to start with a clean slate on site and build a fortress protected from the outside world. However, it is not just about us. If this were the case, then why the focus on other external factors; height-to-boundary, connections to infrastructure, etc? These exist for the good of the community. We care about these human elements. Now we just need to care a bit more about the ecological ramifications.’

Rhys Baker

Rhys Baker.

BA, BLA (Hons)

Landscape Architect Assistant

‘Reading Geoff Park’s book ‘Ngā Uruora’, about New Zealand’s last remaining pristine native coastal forests, really changed my view of landscape. My family has holidayed in the Coromandel since I was a kid so I’ve driven over the firth of Thames countless times. With grassy plains, and rows of exotic stock-break trees, nowadays there isn’t much to tell the place apart from rural England. But in the book’s first chapter, Park paints pre-colonial Thames as this huge alluvial swamp, teeming with wildlife and 60 metre Kahikatea trees.

‘Reading ‘Ngā Uruora’ made me really enthusiastic about landscape architecture and ecology. But also helped me better understand the challenge we face as designers attempting to conjure something of the mauri of pre-colonial Aotearoa. I think about this a lot when I approach a design.

‘I think the book resonated with me because it reflects my interests in both ecology and history. I originally studied a BA in history at Victoria. Afterwards I spent a year working on permaculture farms throughout Asia, and took up landscape gardening when I returned home.

‘There are strong parallels between working as a ‘hands-on’ landscaper and being a landscape architect, of course. Like knowing plant names and their habits, knowing good soil and so on. But I’ve also found some of the most important cross-over skills to be more abstract. Something like master planning, which would seem to have little in common with gardening, requires a lot of the same thinking. Choosing key moves and outcomes; deciding what to preserve and what to change; and prioritising and staging interventions. All come into play when you’re gardening in larger spaces and are essential to master planning too.’

Rose Armstrong

Rose Armstrong.

BLA (Hons) BA NZILA Registered

Senior Landscape Architect

Rose has wide-ranging experience as a Landscape Architect, having worked as a sole practitioner for approximately 15 years. Her work has comprised landscape assessment and assessment of effects from proposed developments, large-scale landscape planning, site planning and concept design, detailed design and documentation, and contract administration.

Rose equally enjoys pulling together a planting plan, or working at a strategic design-planning level. At Isthmus she is part of the context team, and joined us in May 2018. At the weekends Rose is likely to be found in the garden or at the beach.

Rose Johnston

Rose Johnston.

B.LA (Hons)

Intermediate Landscape Architect

‘I have just said yes to everything and done quite a range of things which I have enjoyed,’ says Landscape Architect Rose Johnston. ‘I enjoy the diversity that landscape architecture offers and I quite like the puzzle – the putting together of things and the high-level structure planning type work.

‘I’ve worked on a couple of masterplans and usually there is an element of community engagement, which I’m interested in – it’s something that should be done in every project really – getting the community’s perspective. I guess because they are the ones with the most knowledge (or most intimate knowledge) of these places right. So if you can tap into that you are ahead of where you might have been. You know if you can get people to buy into the project and have it as their own then you get better outcomes.’

‘I think I was drawn to landscape architecture because of the cross-over between arts and science. I enjoyed art in high school but I really wanted more of a practical application too. After traveling around America, I returned to study at Lincoln University. My third year was completed back overseas, at Colorado State University. I like to travel because you get to see how different societies live and their relationship with landscape.’

Rose McShane

Rose McShane.

B. Arch

Senior Architect

‘I chose to study architecture because of the skills I thought it required. But in reality it’s so much more varied.  It is not like it’s portrayed in the movies – an architect sitting at the drawing board creating beautiful buildings.  It’s more interesting than that. It is about collaborating with different people and working within the constraints of a project. Architecture is mostly about problem solving and finding solutions that satisfy both form and function.

Rose built her career by studying at Unitec. Then designed locally (in Ponsonby) on residential and community projects. Thereafter heading to London with her partner and their backpacks. A three-year OE turned into ten years of design work overseas.

‘Back home and Isthmus is turning my whole architecture experience inside out. For the last decade I’ve been working in London at interiors and architecture firms. Doing mainly fit out work. Now I’m having to think about buildings in their context and landscape. The change is a natural evolution though. I feel like I’m completing the circle.’

Russell Hooton-Fox

Russell Hooton-Fox.

Graduate Graphic Designer

Ryan Fothergill

Ryan Fothergill.

Advanced Diploma of Building Design

Senior Architectural Graduate

There’s a lot of green in Ryan’s photo and it’s no accident. The Senior Architectural Graduate thinks getting into the outdoors is bonza, ‘Love those little DOC buildings. Taking random trails and camping in the middle of nowhere in one of those huts. Yeah, I love getting into nature.’

Ergo it’s no surprise to hear if Ryan could be the architect of anything … ‘Hah! After working here I’d be a landscape architect! They get to do fun stuff. Cool diagrams, going to site, talking to the public.’ His first foray into working alongside a landscape architect is on the inter-regional coach terminals brief, ‘There’s fabrication, heritage and budgetary constraints. Which is another thing I find interesting. Figuring out how to make something awesome while taking into account the restraints.’ He adds with a grin, ‘If you had free reign it wouldn’t be hard would it?’

Naturally this is more a piece of cake when you have both a drafting diploma and a degree in architecture as Ryan does. Using this training he travelled around Europe working in different practices, ‘I’d see buildings I’d learnt about in uni. It was like seeing rock stars! Then I’d discover Oh that door doesn’t actually work that well. That’s good. It’s not as perfect as that!’

‘Design should be for everybody. It shouldn’t be just for the elite. Which is a bit of a problem now. If you are a good architect you should be able to design something simply and cheaply.’

‘How architecture can add to a person’s experience is more inspirational to me than a standout building. Inside a children’s hospital in Melbourne there’s an aquarium that goes up two levels. I could imagine as a sick kid you see this that would really take away from what you are going through.’

Salva Shah

Salva Shah.

MArch (Prof)

Intermediate Architectural Designer

Salva joined Isthmus in early June 2018. She brings with her the wealth of her experiences in her travels to different parts of the world and the architectural research she has undertaken at the University of Auckland. For her thesis she investigated the intricacies of the intimate space we call home and how a new domestic architecture can sculpt culturally mobile homes and identities in our increasingly globalized world. Other than architecture, she is very passionate about teaching and education. She has not only tutored university and high school students, but in the weekends, she also teaches the migrant and refugee students in her community.

Projects Salva Shah has worked on:

Sam Fraser

Sam Fraser.

BDes (Hons)

Graduate Graphic Designer

‘If we are talking about typography in the architecture world often the conversation is going to be about wayfinding, right? Like using typography in the physical world to help people navigate it. But typography has the potential to do so much more than just orientate.

‘The language systems we construct; the visual systems, the typefaces, all shape our connection to a place. As a graphic designer I am thinking about; How can this space speak to its inhabitants? Who is delivering the message? What do they want to get across? There is a quote I like by graphic design legend Paula Scher, “Words have meaning, type has spirit”.

We can think about the way we may develop graphic design practice at Isthmus by looking at other industries. Before you even step foot in a top-end restaurant the chef has thought about the smells you will encounter, the temperature of the space, the lighting, the music. Graphic design faces a similar challenge. How can we understand and control the environment around people who are experiencing our work?’

Sam is a recent graduate of Massey University, Isthmus designer and typography tutor.

Sarah Bishop

Sarah Bishop.

CMLI (UK), BLA (Hons), BBSc

Principal, Landscape Architecture

Board Member   

Sarah is a Landscape Architect and Urban Designer with over ten years’ professional experience gained in the UK and here at home in New Zealand. She has expertise in a broad range of projects types from strategy and masterplanning, to the design conceptualisation and development, through to preparation of construction documentation. Sarah can move from large scale complex masterplans to intricate spaces that knit into urban fabric, to natural elemental environments – bringing the same level of design sensitivity, clarity and refinement.

Recent projects have included masterplanning for urban centres and coastal environments; the design and delivery of public parks, plazas and streetscapes. She works collaboratively with public and private sector clients, stakeholder and community groups to deliver high quality outcomes loved by their communities.

Sarah’s interest in urban renewal projects, particularly where the land meets the sea is informed by a fascination with maps and their language of how our towns and cities evolve.


Scott McKerrow

Scott McKerrow.

BAS, MArch Prof. (Hons) NZDAT, NZIA Registered Architect

Associate Architect

Studio Management Team   

‘I’d like not to be an architect,’ says Scott. ‘Rather a design thinker who applies that process to any problem. It is about moving away from discipline labels such as an architect or landscape architect to; here is a design problem: how do we solve this? So that I can apply my skill set to any perplexity.’ For example Scott is currently part of an urban design team that is concepting a bridge. Although Scott iterates, ‘It is not about a project more the process.’

Fittingly people have described Scott as a ‘generalist’ in the five or six primary phases of architecture. Likewise project types from residential, petrol stations, commercial interior fit-outs to landscapes and transportation projects. ‘I specialise in people at the front and back end of a project — engage with the people using the space.’

Scott explains he likes people to feel comfortable so they give their opinions, ‘It’s inconsequential whose idea is better. Just as long as we can generate a discussion with the project caretaker and arrive at a universal solution.’

The overarching theme continues in Scott’s own life. He works in Wellington but lives in Christchurch. He hails from Tauranga, while his whanau are from the East Coast, ‘I’m all over the place,’ he says. ‘I’d like my heritage to influence my work more but I understand we’re still in a society which is predominantly European. Hearing waiata inside an office place as you do at Isthmus is unique. Mind you it is not ‘my’ culture. But everybodys’ culture. We should be sharing stories about all cultures and celebrating these.’

Scott is an Associate Architect, BAS, MArch Prof. (Hons) NZDAT, NZIA Registered Architect.

Sean Burke

Sean Burke.

BSc, BLA (Hons), NZILA (Registered)

Principal, Landscape Architecture

Sean has two decades of experience in a range of landscape architectural work predominantly associated with infrastructure and the coastal edge.

Sean combines strategic thinking with core design skills underpinned by an ability to understand the natural and people context. A champion of the holistic view and noted keeper of overall project design visions, Sean offers a collaborative approach integrating the needs of many across a variety of procurement models.

Sean has a passion for well thought through design that advances the conversation of place, identity and human experience, yet goes beyond the visual to engage with the dynamics of the natural world in a meaningful proactive manner.

Shanika Tuinder

Shanika Tuinder.

B.Arch, MLA

Intermediate Landscape Architect

‘Landscape architecture is such a multi-dimensional discipline. There are so many different environmental, cultural and social factors at play,’ says Landscape Graduate Shanika. Recently qualified from Victoria University and now based in Auckland the young designer says, ‘Also scale is a really interesting mechanism in this field. You can be designing an entire city right down to human proportions.

‘I’ve been researching how public space could be used to facilitate greater engagement with conservation initiatives. This would generate socio-ecological resilience in urban communities. Because it would encourage people to get involved with their natural environment—if city dwellers developed a sense of Kaitiakitanga (guardianship) it might improve the sociability of our neighborhoods.

‘When I am designing I try to identify the natural systems which already exist. Simply by sitting at a site at different times of the day and you can observe where people go on the site and the demographics. I enjoy identifying the nuance of an area through photographic, sketch or collage observational studies. You can then formulate the design narrative based on the unique qualities of the site.’

Shannon Lenihan

Shannon Lenihan.


Senior Architectural Designer

‘My background is interior architecture but since practising I have always been treated as architect. I’m kinda somewhere in between,’ explains Shannon. ‘I’ve worked on commercial fit-outs, education, cultural projects, residential apartments and hospitality spaces, yet I have noticed that all these projects thematically have a ‘calmness’ in common.

‘I am inspired by and feel a deep connection with nature. This transcends to my love of places and spaces that are responding positively to their environment. It’s also about choosing how you want people to experience a space – interiors need to be quite curated, but not feel that way.

‘Environmental design is going to become the norm soon. We have an incredible opportunity to write our history for the better, we can become champions of ecological consciousness. In New Zealand we are especially lucky to have generations of knowledge and environmental principals already in place. The more we learn about Te Ao Māori (Māori world view), the more we’ll respond to Kaitiakitanga (guardianship), the healthier our world will be. And it needs to be talked about every stage of the project.’

It is unsurprising Shannon also has an eye for the outside world. While out running she is increasingly aware of litter. She now tries to get out once a week to clean up a patch of the Wellington CBD, ‘People come up to me and say, “That’s really good that you’re doing that.” But I think we are all kaitiaki (trustees of the land) and we all need to be doing more.’

Simon Button

Simon Button.

Ba(Hons), MA

Senior Landscape Architect

A long drive on foreign roads to investigate a new site and landscape is just another day in the life of English Landscape Architect and Design Planner Simon Button, currently based in Auckland at Isthmus. For him travelling through the land is like candy to a kid.

‘Landscape and Visual Assessments, Urban Design Assessments and Character Studies are my bread and butter,’ says Simon. ‘I analyse what exists and assess how a proposal works within that environment. I work with a broad range of clients, from private developers to government bodies and schools.’

Simon likes to get involved in a project from its conception to ensure that the proposal, whatever it may be, adopts a landscape led approach. ‘When a project is “landscape led” it works with the environment, either seamlessly fitting into it or using the landscape to make the proposal a “feature’”, the point is that the proposal has been informed by what is already there’ says Simon.

Simon’s work bridges both landscape design and consenting through the Resource Management Act (1991). At isthmus these specialist Landscape Architects are called Design Planners and it’s their role to identify design and planning constraints in order to inform the development and progression of any given design. ‘To be able to do this, you need to have a firm understanding of the existing character, planning constraints and values of a place and identify how a design can work with that setting’ Simon explains—‘From there you can change and inform the design, or suggest suitable mitigation methods to reduce effects on the existing character and peoples visual amenity.

‘I find it interesting to see how people’s perceptions of design changes over time, and how this impacts my work. A classic example of this would be the design and implementation of wind turbines. Originally there was uproar in the UK that these large and dominant structures would “tarnish” the landscape, however now people’s opinions have changed and they are widely accepted and even seen as ‘architectural features’.

Simon is a Senior Landscape Architect and Design Planner with Ba (Hons), MA

Projects Simon Button has worked on:

Simon Nicholson

Simon Nicholson.

BBus. Accounting & Finance

Intermediate Accountant

You might not expect an accountant to say the best thing about his job is ‘the people’. But Simon does. ‘Because your job affects everyone. At some stage you get to work with everyone in-house and out. Because you’re paying their salaries and bills.’ Not to mention scoping out fees, estimates, basically keeping accounts clean.

Whereas a chartered accountant would just deal with numbers, Simon looks past these into non-financial areas for explanations about the results. He analyses the month to month status of jobs and helps manage projects from a numerical point of view.

‘Quite often I am looking at quite a lot of information at any one time,’ he says, ‘and I am able to pick out any little anomalies and see trends in information which create forecasts for the future’. If there was such a thing as applause on a page he says with a grin, he would insert it here. 

Equally observant about his locality Simon says, ‘You know, you go down the street and all you see is these dead-end driveways. There doesn’t need to be that much concrete. Surely you could have even have a dirt path for your car. Cities like San Francisco are just walls and walls of buildings. Albeit a little patch of green on the sidewalk.

‘However Whitianga (in the Coromandel) is greener, the air is nicer. You have a little footpath and a big pile of green next to it which you can walk on as well so in summer when it’s too hot you don’t burn your feet.’

Simon has a double degree from AUT, a Bachelor of Business in Accounting & Finance. 

Sophie Fisher

Sophie Fisher.


Senior Landscape Architect

The girl with the Turneresque ability to realise a scene believes whenever you put a mark on a piece of paper it means something. Drawing has the ability to speak in ways that words can’t.

As a student studying Landscape Architecture in Edinburgh, Sophie had the opportunity to conceptualise the transformation of a now erased concentration camp in Poland. The brief was to create a place where sensitive memories of events could live alongside a regenerated landscape.

Sophie used drawing as a tool to engage with the site. Reaching a realisation that water could bring back the synergy of life, ‘Water can be reflective, both literally and metaphorically; it has a peaceful quality which resonated with the essence of this landscape as it is now.

‘Rainfall fluctuates; sometimes there, sometimes not. Heavy rain would flood the blotted out concentration camp building foot-print. Then evaporate. Similar to how memory is fluid. Hopefully people would interact with the water in a remediated natural ecosystem whilst remembering the past.’

Sophie came to New Zealand after she graduated in 2016 for another perspective on the world. ‘I have always felt drawn to New Zealand. From a young age I was set on moving here. I love it. This country, people and landscapes hold a very special place in my heart and I feel very grateful to be able to call it home’.

Sophie has a Master of Science in Landscape Architecture from the University of Edinburgh, 2016. 1 year intern experience in London, 4 years landscape designing in New Zealand.

Projects Sophie Fisher has worked on:

Sophie Jacques

Sophie Jacques.

Bdes, Larch (Hons)

Associate Landscape Architect

Sophie works broadly across a range of projects, from inception through to detailed design. A specialist in construction management she has taken this role on a number of complex projects including the Children’s Garden, Wellington Zoo and currently working on the delivery of North Kumutoto on Wellington’s Waterfront. Sophie is particularly interested in community based projects and inter-generational spaces that take place within the urban framework. Sophie enjoys creating places that have a direct impact on how people (and animals!) live. You’ll find Sophie taking photos of people and landscapes, most likely powering up a mountain somewhere on Wellington’s ridgeline.

Stefanie Graze

Stefanie Graze.

B.Eng. Landscape Architecture, M.Sc. Urban Design

Senior Urban Designer

‘I have worked on zillions of projects where I didn’t know the answer at the start. Sometimes I even needed to identify the problem first. It was not always apparent. I would have a huge box full of data. Piece by piece I would break the information down and put it back together. A giant urban design jig-saw puzzle.

‘I’m always determined to get to the bottom of city planning disparities. Which is why, after my Bachelor in Landscape Architecture, I went on to Hamburg (a city with a history of urban development protest) to do my Masters in Urban Design.

‘It is all about understanding the network: the built environment, human behaviour, transportation, green spaces, environment, the culture, the history of a place. Everything is connected. And we must understand everything. Otherwise anything an urban designer does is like a UFO landing from a different world.

‘For a current project we are proposing a new park with apartments adjacent to it. How do you find the right interface between that public space and private property? You don’t need a fence to mark it. There’s a big opportunity to bring people together and not create boundaries. These will be interesting conversations to have.’

Stefanie has a Bachelor of Engineering in Landscape Architecture (Nürtingen-Geislingen University, Germany) and a Master of Science in Urban Design (HafenCity University Hamburg, Germany).

Thinking by Stefanie Graze:

Tessa Bradbury

Tessa Bradbury.


Intermediate Landscape Architect

Manaaki Whenua, Manaaki Tangata, Haere Whakamua. Care for the land, care for the people and go forward.

‘Our planet will face many challenges over our lifetime and creative thinking is key to adapting to these challenges. Big problems need creative solutions and sometimes creative solutions begin with a simple conversation with the right collaborators.

‘Change is key. Change in how we think. From thinking that something is not urgent or that someone else will do it. Or thinking that change can only come from the top down. Change needs to be driven at all levels and is easy to start, it could be as simple as planting a tree.

‘Though designers don’t have all the answers and I think community engagement provides learning for us. I myself enjoy running community workshops, listening to people’s stories and seeing the pride they have for their locality. Collaboration shapes projects in a way that they become truly unique, reflective of a place, the peoples’ voice.

‘Recently Isthmus was commissioned to come up with a network of township plans to revitalise eight Northland towns. A team workshopped with the communities and gathered 101 ideas. I helped distil that information into a plan for each town. Which in turn formed an outline for the wider Northland region. We were able to connect community aspirations with the client’s vision. The brief came full circle.

‘A great example of top down (governmental) planning and bottom up (local) thinking driving positive change.’

Tessa is an Intermediate Landscape Architect with a Bachelor of Design and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from The University of Western Australia.

Projects Tessa Bradbury has worked on:

Tessa Macphail

Tessa Macphail.

BDes(LADN)(Hons), NatCertHort(L2), NZILA (Registered)

Associate Landscape Architect

Tessa leads projects with a collaborative approach and a keen eye for detail. She is passionate about considered, community-led design outcomes which enhance the lives of those that use and inhabit them, and celebrate the identity, character and narratives of that place. Her diverse experience includes parks, playspaces, civic spaces, streetscapes, urban regeneration, waterways, comprehensive urban planting proposals, and large scale infrastructure projects. Many of these have been complex, long-term projects starting with a conceptual masterplan, design framework or strategy.

Out of office hours you will find her exploring the beaches, bush walks and playspaces of the Wellington Region with her young family.

Theo Sangster

Theo Sangster.

Master of Engineering (Honours) (Civil Engineering)

Associate Project Manager

Theo has experience working as a project manager across a range of sectors: commercial, aviation, retail, public infrastructure, residential, and aged care. He has worked across all project phases building strong relationships with clients and external stakeholders. Theo brings first hand experience of working closely with public infrastructure providers. Theo matches the creativity of our design-led processes with project discipline and rigour, resulting in great design outcomes and success for everyone involved.

Tim Cook

Tim Cook.

MLA (Merit), BDesn (Hons)

Senior Landscape Architect

Tim has professional experience in New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom and brings a strong skill set of project management, design and documentation across all phases.

His experience encompasses a wide range of projects; including citywide masterplans, parks, streetscapes, multi-residential and mixed-use developments, transport infrastructure, cultural landscapes and playspaces.

Outside work, Tim likes to keep active and enjoys making the most of the Wellington region’s running and hiking trails.

Tiniwai Wainohu

Tiniwai Wainohu.

B.Arch, MLA

Graduate Landscape Architect

Manaaki Whenua, Manaaki Tangata, Haere Whakamua
Care for the land, Care for the people, Go forward

Ko Tāwhirirangi te maunga
Ko Mohaka te awa
Ko Takitumu te waka
Ko Te Wainohu te tangata
Ko Ngāti Kahungunu te Iwi
Ko Ngāti Pāhauwera to hapū
Ko Waipapa-a-Iwi te marae
Ko Tiniwai Wainohu ahau

‘I’ve always had a cultural compass. Even before landscape architecture. When I am designing I focus on people (from the analysis stage and right through to the final design). I think about how people interact with things. How people might feel. Because the main thing is community. A person might be bought up in a small town and they’ve been there for twenty years, how they would feel about an area? And why does that space matter to them? I see this as the best way to develop a design and be a guiding principle for projects.

‘Why am I a landscape architect? It might be my love for people, my love for the land. How people—landscape —connect. This is my biggest thing. Being Māori makes me think about culture. Whether it is mine or someone else’s. In terms of design, having a cultural base definitely helps me understand this angle of landscape architecture much more.

‘I feel a lot of Māori and Pacific Island communities are unaware of the benefits landscape architecture can have on their neighbourhood. How much it can help them identify with their heritage. This is something which keeps me going; being that catalyst for change in my culture.’

Nō reira tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa

Tom Holden

Tom Holden.

BAS, MArch (Prof)

Senior Architectural Graduate

Instead of constructing an architectural model, you could imagine designer Tom working in the reverse. Studying the nuances of the land enveloping the build plan, ‘In my opinion, the success of a building is fundamentally linked to the landscape around it. I really like living in that overlap here at Isthmus.’

Tom gained his Bachelor in Architecture in Auckland and Masters in Wellington. After working for a number of architects, he moved to playground for ideas, Berlin, ‘Here I worked for a company designing urban food production systems; specifically “forest gardening”. This is an agricultural system using edible plants arranged in a way similar to a forest ecosystem. Like a forest, it too is productive, resilient, and self-sustaining. The implications for bringing food production into urban landscapes with this system are really exciting.

‘At a personal level I am curious about the natural world ecology. I love soaking up wildernesses. I look at landscapes and buildings holistically. To me the building is the thing that sits within a landscape.

‘I also try to keep my designer’s ego in check. While I might admire a construction on the internet, for me the art is finding out what is going to be best for the people living in a building or landscape. What is going to make a difference to its inhabitants?

‘Recently Associate Designer Scott McKerrow and I undertook engagement with staff at a local school. We don’t understand the teacher’s and pupil’s problems the way they do; how they use a space. It’s important to open up and hear what others have to say.’

Tom Kenny

Tom Kenny.

BA (Hons), M.Arch

Associate Architect

In an earlier blueprint Associate Architect Tom was a Senior Design Manager for complex entertainment and leisure projects. Besides project management, Tom’s 15 year portfolio includes designing a hotel and marina resort on a remote island, an indoor waterpark in a world-class ski resort, hot pools in Christchurch and the world’s first year-round bike park in the Port Hills.

‘I’m talking about projects which have a lot of unknowns in them,’ says Tom. ‘Design principles which had to be innovated rather than taken from the textbook.

‘I had the opportunity to travel the world and get involved in projects at early delivery stage. This gave me a grasp of the constructability and commercial viability of projects; including end-user operations.

‘It is about finding efficiency in the project pipelines. Being lean in the way I resource projects through simplification of design ideas. Which ultimately creates more responsible work.

‘Sustainability in architecture is a lot more than energy efficiency. It is resilience as well. Building projects that withstand the test of time including climate change. As well as adapting with the exponential pace of technological change.’

In the early days, the English architect graduated in ‘Architecture and Landscape’ from Sheffield University, UK. This course was a first of its kind at the time. Integrating and unifying landscape, plus urban design and building principles, ‘Here at Isthmus the stars align – I am back in that mindset again.’

‘I prefer to initially work things out in sections rather than in plans. In that type of drawing you can find opportunities that draw from the environment and that work their way into the building’s design narrative. I feel successful building projects respond better to those processes than a designer’s ego. I’d rather synthesise people’s ideas. Every building I have worked on is unique in that sense.’

Travis McGee

Travis McGee.

MLA, BAS (Land), NZILA (reg)

Associate Landscape Architect

Travis designs public spaces, large and small scale parks, subdivision planning, sports facilities, walkways and cycleways, skate parks and education. He predominately focuses in the design of schools where he leads the concepts through to the construction.

Travis’ passion lies within the natural environment and the ecological processes that are integral to landscape architectural design. This originates from growing up in the rural North Island where he developed a strong connection to land and the outdoors. His thesis, titled Catalysts for Environmentalism, was developed around public relationships with the natural environment and used Landscape Architecture to develop links between natural and urban environments as a means of reconnecting residents to their local river systems.

Travis Wooller

Travis Wooller.

BLA, NZILA (Registered)

Principal, Landscape Architecture

Studio Management Team   

Ever the perfectionist, Travis thrives on detail.  Over 11 years of construction administration and overseeing landscape builds in the urban environment have provided for a solid design ethos that enables him to convert clients aspirations, concepts and desired outcomes into a solid reality.

Travis firmly believes that listening is designing too, and meaningful input by the end user and client is key to a projects success. With his extensive experience designing, managing and delivering streets, plazas, large scale parks, sport infrastructure, and skate parks, Travis has proven to be a safe pair of hands to carry complex and technical projects through to the last detail.

Wade Lipsham

Wade Lipsham.


Senior Landscape Architect

Wade experienced a 10 year hiatus from Landscape Architecture, where he was involved in Business and management. He brings these new skill sets with him and applies it to practice.

Wade’s background is in High-end Residential developments and his passion and expertise lies in concept design and masterplanning. Wade has an ability to offer creative and artistic solutions to any design problem brief.

He also has a great love and sound knowledge of native plants and their positive ecological contribution to the wider New Zealand Landscape.

Projects Wade Lipsham has worked on:

William Brooks

William Brooks.

BAS, M.Arch (Prof)

Intermediate Architectural Graduate

‘The crux of it is that architecture is more than a building, rather it is a social condenser,’ says Intermediate Architect William talking about his thesis. ‘The intentional overlapping of activities within a building creates unexpected outcomes: areas of collisions create the environment where there is potential to allow for otherwise disparate social communities to interact.’

Case in point. Patti Smith and her muse who subverted their Chelsea Hotel room in New York into a working space. ‘Their creativity went beyond Room 204 and attracted a diverse mix of people. Illustrating that architecture facilitates interaction and aims to break down social hierarchies. This project had one foot in the real world, one foot out,’ says William.

One of his own assignments had elements of otherworldliness too. As part of the Auckland downtown Ferry Basin Redevelopment team he was dealing with architecture over water. ‘You’re over water by the time you step into the project. Moving From Queen’s Wharf, down the gangway over water, then onto the pontoon which is floating on the water. This is where people arrive via ferry downtown. The gangway moves gradually over the day, up and down between high and low tides. It’s like a big lung breathing. That slow movement is a key driver of the design. I’ve been fortunate to have been involved from concept design right through to delivery on-site. It has required a lot of collaboration, consultation and different voices to be heard, resulting in a key piece of infrastructure which will be a gateway to Downtown Auckland.’

William has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies & Masters of Architecture from The University of Auckland.

Projects William Brooks has worked on:

Zach Barker

Zach Barker.

BLA (Hons)

Senior Landscape Architect

‘A landscape is not a painting. It’s an evolving thing,’ says Senior Landscape Designer Zach,  ‘Once a project is built, I always ask why it works? That is something I ask a lot. Why?’ Why the dual United States and NZ citizen moved to NZ is because of the affection he held for the landscape and his North Island based whanau.

‘Thinking in the metric system was a welcome adjustment. And the co-design process with mana whenua is unique to Aotearoa. I’ve found more design literacy amongst non-architects and non-landscape architects here.

‘Landscape Architecture is well suited to helping society. We start with community consultation. It is important to talk to people. Asking questions. And listening. Listening is important. Often people have been waiting for a long time for a ‘landscape intervention’ and they want to be heard and understood.

‘In Philadelphia I designed a campus for a children’s hospital research facility. Every day for 5 years I would walk by the site to see it come out of the ground. The campus features a 21-story office tower surrounded by acres of native plantings, five public spaces including a landscaped steps. Envision people lounging on the steps, also running up and down for exercise. The steps are made accessible through zig-zagging ramps integrated into them.

‘A street side garden supports the site by filtering stormwater. The blooms change from yellows to purples to dark blues in the fall. Golds and browns of winter. The project transformed an toxic industrial area into a lush green public realm that serves a higher purpose.’

Zach has a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from State University of New York College of Environmental Science & Forestry.

Projects Zach Barker has worked on:

Thinking by Zach Barker:

Past Team Members

Garth Falconer, Mike Jones, Helen Ballinger, Nicola Williams, Richard Hart, Tim Fitzpatrick, Simon Rackham, Philip Henderson, Jeremy Cooke, Anna Bolton Riley, Laura Andrews, Lisa Atkinson, Catherine Alington, Katie Banks, Justin Morey, Jane Gilmour, Kara Maresca, Nat Lawrence, Lee Brazier, Guy Protheroe, Nicola Charles, Yoko Tanaka, Joanna Soanes, Fraser Miller, Allen Nicholson,Tanisha McGinpie, Orson Waldock, Francois Vienne, Iryna Prokopchuk, Nina Harrison, Alan Gray, Kristy Haliday, Margaret Poppelwell, Rui Seguchi, Maree Garnett, Peter Wilson, Kent Potter, Linda Kerkmeester, Evan Williams, Jeremy Wilks, Fabian Low, Bridget Murdoch, Paul Browne, Sophie Schmeltz, Esther Hjelstrom, James Bentley, Rochelle Adams, Abbie Baumgart, Charlotte Grant, Claire Macky, Simon Bogalo, Danbi Park, Sean Leogreen, Jamie Johnson, Shonagh Lindsay, Kaye Reihana, Paul Roper Gee, Nicola Rees, Nigel Parker, Wade Robertson, Rebecca Hughes, Grace He, Sarah Baumann, Sarah Finlayson, Adrian Taylor, Emma Golightly, Scot Bathgate, Kent Lundberg, Kirstin Johnson, George Woolford, Jade McFarlane, Hoa Luu, Kylie Agraval, Liz Clarke, Tabitha McGinty, Fiona Nightingale, Rachael Annan, Nathan Young, Sandeep Cyril, Hanna O’Donoghue, Rosie Allen, Katrina Kidson, Wendi Nicoll, Liz Plank, Sue McManaway, Jess Lam, Kristyn Aldridge, Bernard Wind, Catherine Wilson, Daniel Yang, Ellen Aronsson-Jones, Matt Peacocke, Annette Allwood, Karen Ehlers, Paggy Shen, Alfred Chan, Gabrielle Free, Matt Faulk, Jimmy Zhuang, David Gregory, Stephen Bay, Rewi Thompson, Dean O’Donnell, Taylor Davis, Maria Bergvall, Ella Tisdall, Mark Radford, Sarah Poff, Sarah Al-Anbuky, Dan Males, Alistair Luke, Julia Wick, Rhonda Corbett, James Ure, Stefan Beconcini, Dion Mortensen, Adelle Hammond, Greta Christensen, Marcus Richardson, Suchita Jain, Jordyn Hesketh, Francis Pierard, Rebecca Jerram, John Broadbent, Mark Sayegh, Charlotte Warren, Natasha Whitlock, Earl Rutherford, Marita Hunt, Sam Irvine, Emma Davis, Michael Morgan, Duncan Ecob, Bruce McKenzie, Sam Gwynn, Chris Combrink, Scott Donnell, Alison Graham, Chelsea Kershaw, Kamelia Haydon, Vamshi Puppala, Nick Pearson, Blair Brixton, Jason Barnes, Caroline Sollerhed, Ginny Pedlow, Hayley Smith, Danny Turgeon, Dan Cole, Tayler Matthews, Sophie Ebdale, Isaac Laughton, Sean Eustace, Dale Harrop, Greg Lee, Kara Scott, Brennan Baxley, Alex Foxon, Emma Parker, Tim Watts, Jo Tokunaga, Scott Wigglesworth.