Our New Website

13 Oct


The new site:

  • outlines our Ethos, our purpose, values and process.
  • introduces our 5 Services.
  • tells the story of 35 of our Projects.
  • profiles each of our 80 strong Team.
  • lets you into some of our Thinking.
  • integrates the blog in a new Journal.

So this will be the last post on the blogspot site. All new posts will now be in the Journal of the new website, isthmus.co.nz/journal. 

We hope you enjoy it. We’ve worked hard to make sure that we acknowledge all our clients and collaborators – if you have any comments or corrections please let us know.


Our New Board

22 Sep

Isthmus are pleased to announce a new Board. With a mixture of youth and experience the Board will be firmly focussed on building upon recent change and growth, and leading the practice into the future.

We welcome Isthmus Founder David Irwin back to the Board. David brings a strategic focus combined with deep roots in our purpose and values.

We also welcome three new Board members:  Haylea Muir joined Isthmus a decade ago as a graduate and has grown to become one of our most valued design thinkers;  Helen Kerr has been with Isthmus since the early days and offers a mix of passion, creativity and intelligence; Sarah Bishop has been the lead designer on some of Isthmus’s most challenging design projects over the years, and she was a co-editor of our book Coast, Country, Neighbourhood, City.

Architect Andre de Graaf is the incoming Chair; this reinforces our focus as a design led practice. Andre has been on the Board since he joined Isthmus four years ago and in that time has s grown architecture to be a key component of our service offering.

Andre replaces Dion Mortensen as the Chair. Dion will stay on as our Independent Director and continue to build on the transformational work that we have been doing together for the past seven years.

Our design-led CEO Ralph Johns remains on the Board and provides the connection to the Senior Management Team who have responsibility for the operation and management of the business. Ralph has been a Board member since 2009, and CEO since 2013.

And finally, we thank outgoing Board members Brad Coombs, Grant Bailey and Duncan Ecob. Brad has been on the Board since 2009, Grant and Duncan since 2013. During that time our design practice has developed significantly.

With a new Board and management structure Isthmus will continue its design-led purpose to advance the relationships between land, people and culture.





Freyberg Place Opens

16 Sep


Yesterday saw the offical opening of the refurbished Ellen Melville Centre and Freyberg Place. Mayor Phil Goff said:

“We have created in Freyberg Place one of the best public open spaces in the CBD. It refurbishes and preserves the heritage of the building and creates a space where pedestrians, not vehicles, come first. It’s a place where people will be drawn to relax and enjoy.”


Freyberg Place is one of a small group of public open spaces within Auckland’s city centre. Set within a network of laneways, it is a popular lunchtime destination – a breathing spot in faster-paced surrounding streets – and, now, a flexible space suitable for performances, markets and other activities. In a towered inner city, Freyberg’s due-north orientation allows for much-needed, sunny and sheltered space in the city.

As a result of mana whenua consultation during early design phases at Freyberg Place, a clear and meaningful strategy around stormwater management, materials and planting was developed. The importance of the water that once flowed through the area has been acknowledged and expressed in the work by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei artist Graham Tipene. The artwork has been water-jet cut into stone, forming a channel for water to flow after emerging from the ground in a cluster of jets.

Isthmus were the lead designers of this Auckland Council project, working in close collaboration with John Reynolds on the design of Freyberg Place, and with Stevens Lawson Architects on the building.


Dominion / Valley Road Apartments

18 Aug

Valley Road

Just 4km from Auckland’s CBD, and within the established Mt Eden suburb, the 5,200m2 site on the corner of Dominion and Valley road has swift and frequent public transport services through to the city, and is well catered for with supermarkets, food & beverage and a range of other services. Isthmus has been working with Panuku Development Auckland to create a benchmark residential intensification proposal for this site.

Currently occupied by a series of small single story warehouse and shopfronts, the development gently intensifies this under-utilised space by mediating the transition between the dual conditions of commercial strip and leafy residential suburb. Hybrid typologies for living and working promise to enliven the area.

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Four building blocks are arranged to maximise site potential, while fitting with its existing urban context. The blocks are arranged north-south to offer good solar access for each of the 102 units (one, two and three bedroom).

The buildings themselves reference the heritage and character of Dominion Road with the use of robust materials in a formal arrangement that has an overlay of ‘ad-hoc’ additions articulated on the exterior of the buildings to bring depth to the architecture. The design integrates extensive street character assessment and high levels of consultation with various stakeholders.


The project is currently lodged for resource consent with the Auckland Council and will be a notified application with a hearing date that is to be confirmed. It has been through consultation with both local board and the Auckland Urban Design Panel.

Dominion Road



Innovations in Urban Pathways

14 Aug

This months LG (Local Government) Magazine contains an special feature on urban pathways. Taumanu Bridge features, as does our own Lisa Rimmer who is involved in the design and consenting of several Wellington cycleways. Extract below.


Urban pathways are morphing from functional facilities to recreational, creative and iconic infrastructure. And unlike expressways, communities rarely complain about having them on their doorstep. So should councils be doing more to embrace these developments? Patricia Moore talks with some of the people paving the way for a far more connected urban future.


Lisa Rimmer, an associate at Isthmus, also highlights the opportunity to celebrate and recognise the relationship of mana whenua.
She says iwi talk about “the power of the path” which is enabling “a step-change in terms of connectivity, contribution to the quality of the urban environment and helping build a sense of identity and community”.
Meanwhile, she says a focus on “bang-for-buck benefits” has been central to her firm’s work in realising the Wellington community’s vision for the Great Harbour Way along the edge of Te Whanganui a Tara (Wellington Harbour).
“A train footage-based simulation and feedback through social media have helped communities engage and help shape the various stages of the project.”
Demand for more and better pathways is a challenge for local bodies. Lisa believes cycling and walking initiatives will become more central to councils’ long-term plans.
Such initiatives will expand from recreation and transport solutions and benefits, to being a critical tool for local government to achieve their overall vision across a broader range of policies.
“We also see them bringing a requirement to cross boundaries, strengthening partnerships between national, regional and local authorities and communities,” says Lisa.



Tokyo: Superdense Cyclecity

26 Jul



Tokyo is a patchwork city-of-cities, home to 13 million people (the greater urban agglomeration has a whopping 38 million). It is composed of multiple, distinct communities, a megalopolis designed from the scale of the tatami mat outwards.

The self-contained neighbourhoods are well organised around daily, weekly and monthly needs. Housing is mixed tenure, low rise and high density, which creates socially cohesive communities with people of all ages and stages living together.
In many places, even remarkably close to the main centres, Tokyo streets have the feeling of being in a small town. That special quality comes from the social and functional diversity of each neighbourhood, the tightly packed buildings (each different to the other), the narrow streets and lack of traffic.

Tokyo was rebuilt twice in twentieth century, once after the 1923 earthquake and again after WWII – each time to the same fine-grained underlying pattern. In an an urban design sense, it is almost totally unplanned. But the fine grain is remarkably coherent and consistent, and small scale development is guided by a constant set of practices and rules of thumb that have made it very adaptable to change.


Being vast, flat and dense, Tokyo is ideal for cycling. I cycled in big loops through and around this city of cities over three days, with my daughter Frances. We hired two bikes for a ridiculously cheap $3 a day each from a well organised municipal hire office and bike storage place. They had a basket on the front, a stand, integrated lock, front dynamo light and one gear.

Tokyo’s streets are not noisy, dirty or dangerous. Apart from some of the new commercial and industrial areas and the arterial routes we found, the streets largely belong to pedestrians and bikes. They are naturally calmed, narrow so it’s difficult for two cars to pass. Footpaths are uncommon – the road space is shared between pedestrians, cyclists, and the occasional car. Under these conditions, and with strict liability laws which hold the larger party financially responsible for accidents, motorists tend to drive cautiously.

Once off the arterial roads there aren’t many cars anyway. Car ownership in Tokyo is very expensive, and really, you don’t need one; there is a station five minutes walk from anywhere and an amazingly efficient system of cross city trains. For local trips, cycling just makes sense, and the suburbs are full of bikes.

14% of all trips in the city are made by bike. Literally everyone is a cyclist. From mums portaging two pre school kids to kindergarten on a electric two-wheeled family wagon to grey-haired ladies picking up their vegetables on a tricycle. Most use their bicycles for short trips around their neighborhoods where almost all daily conveniences can be found within a kilometer or two. Tokyo bikes are nothing special; more like a pair of sensible shoes than a set of Nike trainers, made in China and designed for utility. Not many are electric; there are no hills, and no one seems to be in too much of a hurry.

Who’d have thought that cycling around a megalopolis would feel so safe and relaxed.

Opening up the harbour with a floating archipelago

6 Jul

Welcome home to the Auld mug. The latest Paper Boy features the Isthmus design concept for the next Americas Cup.


The brief  was to choose a site for an America’s Cup event to be held, and suggest the amenities that could accompany it – be they parks, housing, transport links, or other more outlandish suggestions.

The theme of our concept was:
Ki te kahore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi – Without foresight or vision the people will be lost.

The Maori proverb urges a progressive future for the unification of our people. The America’s Cup is Now Aotearoa’s Cup – The quote made famous in 1995 is translated to give it new meaning, a new purpose and a new origin. America’s Cup has traditionally been an event that is participated by the world’s wealthy boating community – here an opportunity exists.

Inspired by Christo’s floating piers, a promenade is draped over the Waitemata Harbour meandering towards a scaffolded floating pavilion. The pavilions create a new cultural and spectator experience accessible by everyday people. Playfully the promenade moves back and forth connecting land, sea and people. The promenade democratises the water and becomes an extension of the public realm. A synthetic archipelago challenges perception and provokes contemplation. Sitting on the edge between manmade, nature and the spectacle that is the Americas Cup.