Vinegar Lane tipping point

23 Feb

one urban design framework, many architects

The new urban quarter of Vinegar Lane has reached a tipping point – more of it is built than unbuilt.

Masterplanned by Isthmus, owners of the 30 freehold lots have been free to select their own architects to design buildings that slot into the urban design framework. Designs are informed by the Vinegar Lane Design Manual which seeks to provide variety within the whole. Each lot is permitted 100% site coverage and a 4 storey (15m) height limit. Resource consents for each lot were pre-approved; leaving detailed designs to pass through the Vinegar Lane Design Review Panel and ACs’ building consent process. If the pre-approved resource consent envelope was challenged, new consents had to be applied for (this has happened in a couple of cases).

So, while construction is yet to begin on a number of lots, it’s now possible to imagine what Vinegar Lane will feel like when complete. When fully built-out the site will yield a density of 190 dwellings per ha gross (including lanes within the site), or 280 dwellings per ha net. High density mixed-use achieved within a mostly 4-storey height envelope.



We believe this ‘kiwi urbanism’ approach can be adopted elsewhere across the city. Such development could increase the density of the inner suburbs massively while maintaining the fine-grained variety that feels right for Auckland. Choosing the right sites, without resorting to bulk and height, and dividing them up into small and affordable parcels, puts development in the hands of small-scale private investors. Most of the lots will be owner-occupied, while also generating an income from commercial and residential rents. At Vinegar Lane baby boomer savings are being used to build a new Auckland.

Client: Brady Nixon, Progressive Enterprises

Urban Design Panel: Gavin Lister, David Irwin, Pete Bossley

Urban Design and Landscape: Isthmus

Architects: Various

Photos: David St George.

Wellington Open Studio 22 Feb

19 Feb




Onehunga Apartments

9 Feb


Located in the heart of Onehunga, this proposed development – by Isthmus’s integrated team of architects, urban designers and landscape architects – will provide 50 apartments and two commercial spaces, arranged in three blocks around a landscaped podium. A centrally located pedestrian street leads to a generous landscaped plaza and lush gardens that will provide a social hub and a shared ‘back yard’ that speaks of the site’s volcanic history and fertility.

Project architect Scott Donnell says,

Floor plates expressed as projecting ‘ribbons’ with deep balconies are used as a formal device that reference the terracing evident on the prominent local maunga of Maungakiekie/One Tree Hill and Te Pane-o-Mataoho/Mangere Mountain”. 

The horizontal emphasis also serves to reduce the apparent height of the buildings when viewed from the surrounding neighbourhood. Robust materials have been selected to wear in, not wear out; a refined/raw palette of concrete, wood, steel and foliage.

Resource consent has been lodged.



Architecture and Landscape Architecture – Isthmus  (Design: Scott, Alistair, Andre, John, Sean, Greta, Hew, Marcus. Visualisation by Chris).

Planning – Campbell Brown

Structural Engineering – Structure Design

Civil Engineering – MSC Consulting

Traffic Engineering – Commute

Holidays and Making Memories

2 Feb

I have peppered of few of my holiday snap shots in here with this post. Aside from doing cool stuff, one thing I always eagerly anticipate over a holiday period is more discretionary reading time and thinking time. I was lucky enough to get through a few books this past break (long haul flights help).  It seemed no matter what I read and where I looked – some common threads of thinking kept recurring. I couldn’t help but put these into the context of where we are at as a design studio, our achievements these past few years and the aspirations we have for the future of Isthmus.

 The modern day philosopher and thinker, Theodore Zeldin, argues that if we want to be innovative with our ideas and imagine a new future that is not simply an extension of the past then we need to understand the past in a new way also. Apparently our memories are formed in the same part of the brain where we think about the future and ideas.  All this interested me as I thought about new ways of formulating ideas and innovating in the way we work, communicate and design. If the past can have more of an influence on the future than we might imagine, do we then re-imagine a relationship between past and future.

 This will be different for everyone but from a personal perspective I decided to formulate a series of propositions:

1 – Memories are important and if we can combine memories in new ways there is a chance that they could change how we think about the future.

The sharper our visual memories the more the future has a visual shape.  

Zeldin argues: “Memory is therefore not only about the past; it provides the building blocks from which the future is constructed. The narrower the range of memories one has, the less one is likely to have broad and original ideas about the future”.

From a Maori perspective time is seen as a natural force (like wind or water) that moves around you. You are not the one journeying through time, you remain still and time flows past you eventually leaving you behind. In that way you see your past before you as it passes you by – and the future is sneaking up from behind. 

Perhaps if we juxtapose people, places and ideas from different centuries and backgrounds we might find new answers to the problems we grapple with today.

 2 – Feeding your memory is as important as feeding your body.

Personal experiences are not enough and should be supplemented by vicarious memories we acquire from others, whether through conversation, reading, writing, visual media/arts etc. With poor memories we cannot imagine where we could be going next, apart from the places we have already been. Constructing and recording a richness of past personal experiences and facts thus becomes important.  It is also interesting that of the 3 original muses in Greek Mythology – Mneme – represented the art of memory.

 3 – The existence of memories is important, but what matters more is the relationship between them.

The French mathematician Henri Poincare (1854-1912), lauded intuition, by which he meant not guess work, but the ability to unit elements/facts well known but till then scattered and foreign to each other. The value, he argued, of an observation comes from its giving new value to old facts it unites. To do this he took an interest in almost everything because nothing was necessarily irrelevant. He argued the best training for a scientist was in the humanities. His favoured reading was of exploration and travel and when telling a story he seldom started at the beginning – his mind did not work in a straight line.

Poincare also valued incompatibilities, disagreements and uncertainties and argued that if you break up reality into fragments of truth and illusion it opens the door to invention. In fact when you think about it the majority of disagreements are about the past or the future – what did or did not happen or what could or should happen. If we shuffle the cards of what we remember, forget and anticipate we might hope, argue or create in a new way.

 There are of course many forms of creative expression; music, drama, stories, poetry, philosophy, history, travelogues, lectures, art, dance etc. I am of the view that if we continue to have an interest in everything and find ways to make rich memories (good and bad), our no-boundaries philosophy will take on new meaning, have the potential to tap ever-richer seams of creativity and we will be booking a lot more tickets to Berlin.

 That past year was challenging for us all in our own ways and for the reasons we already know – we lived through it, but seldom have I personally been so excited about the future given the foundations we have laid the past few years.

Drawing Life

24 Jan


Last spring we organised a block of life drawing classes in the Auckland studio: every Thursday evening, for 9 weeks. Artist Jarad Bryant organised the models, lighting and ‘stage props’, and Isthmus provided paper and materials. The classes were open to everyone in the studio.

The idea came out of an ongoing conversation about the relationship between drawing and design. Drawing is a fundamental tool of designers, but the ever-improving capability of computer programs  ties us to our mice and our screens. As designers, we are essentially creative people who are driven to draw and make, and we relish the chance to get out of the box and into manual creative tasks. Drawing is an essential part of the creative process. Like physical modelling, it helps us test ideas, resolve problems, and communicate our ideas in freer, looser ways than we often can digitally. Drawing by hand is more fluid and explorative than working on the computer.

We wanted to give everyone at Isthmus an opportunity to engage with the fundamentals of drawing, to spend time learning about light and shade, form and space, texture and colour. Drawing the human figure is thought to be one of the best ways to learn to draw, because we share an understanding of the subject in front of us.

During the weekly classes Jared taught us quick, responsive drawing, using different media, processes of observation, and moving beyond the boundaries of our own habits and style. We felt the value of spending a chunk of time drawing in intense concentration: freeing our minds from the day-to-day issues of being a design professional, we were able to connect with our creative intuition, and practice formulating ideas by engaging directly with the subject.
Thanks to Nada for making the classes happen – Nada believes that everyone can draw – and to Duncan and Marita for championing and supporting the classes. We will continue bringing drawing practice and creative learning opportunities into the studio in 2017. Drawing Lab is just getting started!






Te Ara Manawa: Hobsonville Coastal Walkway

9 Jan


Te Ara Manawa, with the two Sunderland bridges highlighted.

The recent opening of the Sunderland Bridges adds a significant new link in the Hobsonville Coastal Walkway. When complete, three-quarters of Hobsonville Point will be encircled by Te Ara Manawa, the ‘pathway among the mangroves’. The new bridges wrap around the gullies, gracefully following the contours. They are light and delicate where suspended, and anchored at either end to the ground with punga abutment walls.

Te Ara Manawa will become a four kilometre loop around the neighbourhoods; the geographical characteristics of the peninsula landform making a connected, linear park possible. In reality, Te Ara Manawa will be more than a just a walkway; it will be a healthy, green necklace stitched into the surrounding neighbourhoods through a ‘fluted’ edge, linking social spaces that respect Hobsonville’s history and character.


Students from Hobsonville Point School were the first to walk across the new bridges.

Te Ara Manawa will be a habitat for people and wildlife that contrasts with the built-up intensity of the peninsula; an opportunity for meeting and socialising, discovery through play, pausing, resting and contemplation. The range of potential experiences will be diverse. As well as the sculptural bridges, the walkway will include rest and picnic spots with elevated harbour views, a waterfront promenade, boardwalks through mangroves, art and sculpture in the landscape and pods where children can find play materials and where teenagers can unpack beanbags and relax. The walkway will incorporate historical connections with remnant buildings and structures that recall the site’s former military and aviation history.


Time for the Suburbs to Shine

23 Dec

Be it evolution or revolution, change happens, just as the rising of the sun and  the changing of the seasons, which here in Tāmaki Makaurau, can often be seen in one day.hobsonvilleellen__dsg4684

Auckland is going through one of its biggest changes in its life in social, economic, environmental and cultural matters.  The city is changing before our eyes and a main driver is the population growth which is conservatively predicted to reach 2 million by 2030. This creates other pressures and the ‘housing crisis’ is one symptom of this change. Auckland’s governing body has decided the way to address the growth is to go up, and a little out – a step change in how the city has developed.  To do this they have focused on the need to create a compact quality city, and this will require compact quality, mixed-use neighbourhoods to support it.

Social housing providers like HNZ, with their significant land holdings, have a major role to play in addressing the housing crisis in the short term and setting a long term strategy to equip Auckland with the means to thrive through the compact quality neighbourhood and change the shape of the city.   Equally they will have the ability to support the Auckland economy through house building when the market driven cycle wains and provide a longer term strategy to encourage investment and shore up the cycle of house building.

The regeneration of neighbourhoods is a complex affair that includes multiple stakeholders and governing bodies from the highest level to grassroots. HNZ homes, once fit for heroes, are now recognised as not being fit for modern, 21st century, living standards. Replacing the old housing stock with  warm, dry, healthy homes is a pressing need. At the same time the land that homes sit on is recognised as no longer being the focus for the Kiwi Dream. The opportunity that this presents – to create ‘Everyday Homes’ that are of a good quality, fit for purpose and on efficient sized lots, opens up the possibility to put more homes back on the same sized areas. It is expected that the number of homes could triple in some areas and still retain the qualities of an Auckland Suburb.

This increase of homes and people will have benefits in social and economic terms, creating vibrant, safe, secure neighbourhoods, and will have challenges, not least the way in which it can be delivered and in the provision of infrastructure- environmental, social and cultural.  And as these suburbs are regenerated with physical change it is important that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, i.e. The communities that exist in the neighbourhoods. Communities can be related to a geographical area but equally important are those created around shared interests and passions be it sports, arts or places of worship. And at the heart of many of these communities sit schools.  Keeping these communities together during the times of change will have significant long term benefits.

Improving the quality of the city centre and the opportunities it offers has been a focus for Auckland in recent years and will continue to be a driver for growth. It is now vital that this is supported with equally well considered approaches in the suburbs of the city.


Northcote Panuku Library_Conceptual B.jpgNow is the time for the suburbs to shine.