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Isthmus ‘Matariki Day’ 2017

9 Jun


Several years ago we embedded an additional ‘public holiday’ into the Isthmus culture and calendar – we call it Matariki Day. We think that in the future all New Zealanders will celebrate an authentic, home-grown winter holiday of seasonal and cultural significance; a public holiday for Matariki rather than Queens Birthday.

We give all of our staff an extra day off, and in the evening hold a dinner in the studio for all whanau. This is our way of looking back and reflecting upon the successes and challenges of the previous year, as well as recognising all staff for their contribution. We tell some stories and look forward to the year ahead. We enjoy a uniquely New Zealand meal together, and afterwards, while the adults talk, the kids are kept busy with the ‘matariki tamariki design challenge’.

Our studios will be closed on the following dates:

Chews Lane studio, Wellington. Friday 23 June. 

Sale Street studio, Auckland. Friday 30 June. 



Special Operations

10 Apr
FullSizeRender (65)
Isthmus is a design studio founded in landscape architecture, but we define landscape in the broadest possible terms; we don’t think in terms of boundaries.

At the NZILA’s Small Urban conference last week Isthmus sponsored one of the keynote speakers. Marco Casagrande shares our no boundaries view of the world, understands the importance of place and the power of integrated design thinking. But he takes the idea of the ‘rebel alliance’ to a whole other level!

Marco is a pluralist, a man of many talents. He’s a writer, and an architect. An artist and academic. An environmentalist and (if you believe Wikipedia) a Bosnian mercenary. Based in Finland, the Casagrande Laboratory has a global reach; his work has been realised in 14 countries. And he’s exhibited no less than five times at the Venice Architecture Biennale!

Marco’s talk was a highlight of the conference. He spoke of the Third Generation City, the post industrial ruined city in which nature can never be truly shut out; “Nature grows back, through the cracks in the wall, sucking humans nature back into the wider nature”.

I was especially intrigued that he talked about the way he works as a designer being akin to the operational practices of the special forces. With a CV like his, that might not be just a metaphor.

“You don’t know what your doing when you start. It is not standard operational procedures. We don’t do it by the book, often we often operate outside of the rules. It’s like a small group being dropped out of a C130 Hercules and parachuting down to the ground to make things happen, ahead of the other forces.

You need courage. You need to hook up with local people and get local knowledge, otherwise the whole operation is doomed. You look for local guys who are connected, in our case connected with nature.”

Our new COO: Sam Irvine

4 Apr

Sam Irvine of Freeview

We have invested heavily in our design-led practice over the last couple of years, and experienced rapid growth as our services are integrated across the studios. Our business has now reached the point at which we need to re-consider how we structure and manage the studios. As part of this we are growing the remit of our Senior Management Team and introducing the new position of Chief Operating Officer (COO).

The COO will lead our support team across Finance, IT, Marketing, HR and Admin as well as manage our relationships with external suppliers such as Legal, Insurance and Health & Safety.

Into the new COO role steps Sam Irvine, a business leader with proven capability in building a high performance culture. The theme of his career to date has been a passion for products and services which enable the use of technology to improve the way we do business and live our lives. Sam joins Isthmus fresh from Freeview where he spent ten years as Marketing Manager and then GM.
Sam is “passionate about working in ever changing, fast paced and fluid environments that are driven to uplift performance through people, profile and service offerings”.
Sam says Isthmus offers an “entrepreneurial environment with the vision to make a true difference in the lives of people. Of equal importance is a commitment to values and excellence. A passion for people is engrained in the culture.”
I’m really looking forward to working with Sam take our business to the next level.
Ralph Johns, CEO

Suit Day

3 Mar

Some of the Wellington studio team

In terms of appearance, the diverse people of Isthmus tend to reinforce the stereotype of the designer; a fondness for black, funny glasses, sharp haircuts. Compared to our clients and professional friends, we dress casually. Some might even say slightly scruffily. But once a year we sharpen up for Suit Day! That day was 1 March. Here’s how we looked:


Most of Auckland studio. 

Thanks Azmon (pictured at far left) for making this happen.


New Wellington Studio Opens

1 Mar


Last week we opened our new Wellington Studio space in Chews Lane with an event for clients, friends and our design team, fuelled by local food, craft beer, NZ wine and lively conversation.

If you couldn’t make it, come and see us at Level 5, 56 Victoria Street any time. Especially once we get the new coffee machine.


Dan Males, our Wellington Studio Leader, says a few words.


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