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RMLA Visual Simulation Roadshow 20 April – 11 May

20 Apr

Last year Isthmus Director Brad Coombs had a stint as a Commissioner on the Rural Chapters for the Queenstown Lakes District Plan review.

Through the course of the hearings Brad had conversations with local lawyers, including Marie Baker-Galloway, the President of the Resource Management Law Association.  Those conversations highlighted the difference in the use and quality of visual simulations (amongst other graphic material) in Resource Management hearings around the country.
So, Brad suggested a visual simulation roadshow to help applicants, specialists and decisions makers to understand the use, limitation and benefits of visual simulations in the consenting process.

Along with Alan England, our visual simulation expert, Brad will be presenting to nine RMLA Branches throughout New Zealand from 20 April to 18 May. The Wellington presentation will be hosted in our Chews Lane studio.

Dates and locations:

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.”

NZILA Award Winners

7 Apr

It was a big evening for Isthmus Group at the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects awards in Wellington on Wednesday night. The highlight of the evening was winning a Supreme Award – The Charlie Challenger – for our book Coast, Country, Neighbourhood, City. The book was also the Winner of the Communications Award.

The jury said,

“Coast, Country, Neighbourhood, City stands tall at the forefront, showcasing a New Zealandness on a local, national and global stage.”

We were also Winners of:

  • the Te Karanga o Te Tui cultural award and the Sustainability Award for Kopupaka Reserve.
  • the Institutional section for the Wellington Zoo’s “Meet the Locals, He Tuka Aroha”.

And finally, we won Excellence awards for:

  • Taumanu Reserve,
  • Porirua CBD and
  • the Auckland Museum WW1 Centenary Memorial competition.

Isthmus design to advance the relationships between land, people and culture. We care deeply about making Aotearoa New Zealand a better place to live. Every project we undertake is collaborative, the work of a team. We extend a huge thank you to all our clients and collaborators.

 Full details of all the NZILA Awards winners are available here.

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

River as a Person

31 Mar

The other day a very important piece of legislation was made into law. The Whanganui River now has the same legal status as a person.


Travis Wooller of Isthmus and friends enjoying the beauty of Whanganui River 2016. 

The river itself is an entity it can have representatives and I suppose it can also be held responsible for things. Continue reading

Old Rifle Range, new public space at Hobsonville Point.

26 Mar

The Hobsoville Point old rifle range gets re-purposed to a public stage and recreation hub. It is no longer a shooting range. It is now a performance space, play space and for the communities recreation and relaxation. Opened to the public at the weekend it adds another major node of activity to Hobsonville Point Walkway.




16 Mar

The project to redevelop Freyberg Place and the Ellen Melville Centre is being driven by a team of female project leads – something Ellen Melville herself would’ve been proud of, believes Auckland Council’s Senior Project Leader Lisa Spasić.

The $10.71 million project, funded by Waitematā Local Board and the City Centre Targeted Rate, has women in many key roles, including senior project leader, project manager, lead landscape architect, lead architect, and manager of the contracting team.



Left to right: Elspeth Gray, Senior Architect at Stevens Lawson Architects; Karina Mascarenhas, Senior Project Manager, MPM Projects; Yvette Overdyck, Lead Architect, Stevens Lawson Architects; Karen Ehlers, Lead Landscape Architect, Isthmus Group; Cherie Armer, Stakeholder Liaison Manager, JFC Ltd; Lisa Spasic, Senior Project Leader, Auckland Council.

It’s a fitting team for such a project: Ellen Melville was an international feminist and campaigner for women’s issues, was the second woman in New Zealand to qualify as a solicitor, and was Auckland’s first female councillor, serving for 33 years.

“I feel like we’re doing Ellen proud – we’re celebrating the things that she believed in, the importance of women in leadership, and in particular women involved in civic affairs in Auckland,” says Ms Spasić.

The vision for the project was set by the Waitematā Local Board in 2014, calling for a thriving community hub to serve the city centre, and a place where all members of the community could feel comfortable and welcome.

The new facilities will open mid-2017.


An artists impression of the revamped Ellen Melville Centre, Freyberg Place and Couthouse Lane.

Ellen Melville Centre: Where the community can gather

The Ellen Melville Centre will be a fully programmed community centre with spaces available to hire, suitable for everything from mother’s coffee groups and dance classes to bigger events like presentations and exhibitions.

On the ground floor a large, open-plan area will be available to all as an ‘urban living room’ that will spill out on to Freyberg Place connecting the community facility with the public square.

Ellen Melville will be honoured by way of NZ artist Lisa Reihana’s bronze artwork Justice, to be installed on the side of the hall, and with the renaming of the facility as the Ellen Melville Centre.


Terraced stairs and seating will cascade down the hill in the same spot a lava flow once did.

Ancient lava flow inspires Freyberg Place design

The square’s makeover will include terraced seating, a water feature, native planting and a plaza area, designed in collaboration with Isthmus Group and NZ artist John Reynolds.

The steps and platforms will cascade down the hill as a lava flow once did in that spot, with a ‘stream’ running through, and native planting will pay homage to the Nīkau palm grove that once stood there. The terraced area has wheelchair access at all three levels.

A new shared space on Courthouse Lane will connect Freyberg Place to Chancery Square.

The statue of Lord Freyberg, New Zealand’s seventh governor-general, will be returned to a prominent position within the terraces, welcoming people to Freyberg Place.

Creating a ‘cohesive space’

Ms Spasić says it was a priority to create a public space that works as a whole, while respecting the area’s heritage.

“There’s a real art in celebrating the equally important but very different historical figures of Ellen Melville and Lord Freyberg while acknowledging the history of the land and creating a cohesive space that works for the community.

“I’m proud of this team of women who have used their skills to create an outstanding public space that Aucklanders can really start getting excited about.”

Article from Auckland Council published Friday, 24 February 2017.