Linear City - Water City

In 2011, Auckland consolidated its seven councils and the regional council into a single governing entity – the Auckland Council. Effectively, four cities and three rural districts were meshed into one city-region, with million and a half inhabitants.
For a year the new Auckland Council worked on the Spatial Plan, a document to guide the development of a city expected to gain an extra million inhabitant in 30 years. The plan advocates a ‘compact city’ model, loosely based on New Urbanist thinking. The plan proposes a rough 70-30% split of development - 70 % within the existing cities boundaries, and 30 % outside.
This paper outlines an alternative growth strategy for Auckland to the official ‘compact city’ vision. Our proposition recognizes that the link between density and sustainability is much weaker than commonly understood. It also anticipates that the topology and technology of urban infrastructure is bound to profoundly change over the next couple of decades. This will further entice the centrifugal rather than the centripetal forces in the shaping of metropolitan form.  We argue that the next million inhabitants of Auckland should be allocated, roughly evenly, to four main zones of the city-region: urban, suburban, peri-urban and ex-urban.
Our proposition also stems from the recognition that, in the face of climate change and expected resources shortages in the not too distant future, Auckland has neither time nor money to rapidly or radically transform its predominantly suburban urban form. We also question the wisdom of encouraging high-density living when this clearly carries significant risks for a city founded on a very precarious natural site with the threat from volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis.

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Randwick park

Rejuvenating community investment


Travis Wooller and Matt Jones

Randwick Park is a 1970s suburban development on the periphery of Auckland. Although part of Manurewa, it is divorced from it by the Southern Motorway. Consequentially and possibly by oversight Randwick Park from the outset was devoid of a designated area which could be described as its heart, though a community building did for many years partly fulfil  this role.
In 2008 the murder of a local liquor store owner by outsiders brought a wave of negative publicity which many felt was not a true reflection of reality in this multicultural community. As part of a community driven initiative for positive change in the area, the Local Board and Auckland Council got behind the redevelopment of Randwick Park as part of Auckland’s Open Space Strategy. The only community facilities on site were an existing skate park and an open expanse of grass which felt like the left over spoil dump for the subdivision. It advertised itself as unsafe and separated from its neighbours.

In early 2012, Isthmus was engaged to work closely with the local community to develop a Masterplan for the reserve. The community’s involvement in the planning and design beyond initial consultation conveyed their desire and drive to have full ownership of their place and their future.

The masterplanning process was facilitated by Damian Powley of Auckland Council in collaboration with Isthmus. The objective was to create an active space that would encourage participation, interaction and provide a positive space for the community. As such, a central space was indicated that would become the ‘Heart of Randwick’. The desire for the heart was to accommodate a pavilion building and various activity areas that were easily accessible (such as hardcourts, volleyball courts, rugby and league fields, expansion of the existing skate park, a playground, community gardens, market spaces and provision for an Early Childhood Centre).

The community was also interested in strong connections into and throughout the park especially connecting the northern and southern sections (along its elongated shape). Three main axis were identified to provide this connection through the site connecting Riverton Drive and Magic Way. The ‘spine’ access way through the centre of the site will serve as the primary axis. A network of paths from the multiple access points around the park edge will allow ease of use and attract residents from around the neighbourhood. Riverton Drive and Magic Way accommodate car parking to service the activities within the site and address street connection.

With feasible delivery of the community pavilion being identified as part of future works, the design team and Auckland Council were acutely aware of the need to keep faith with the community and momentum for the project through provision of aspects of the masterplan. With a keen community of skaters, fronted by local skater Walz Brown, the skate park upgrade (along with the new car park and hardcourts) was identified as an achievable goal. We were engaged to facilitate the skate park design and integrate it to the masterplan for the park.

Isthmus led the skate park development with Walz Brown and support from skating icon Chey Ataria. There was an understandable level of attachment to the existing skate park which, though run down, was a loved asset among the local youth; so a determination was made to keep and rehabilitate parts and build the new structure around them. Where loved elements were realigned or removed, exact measurements and angles were taken and lines were opened up to allow the retained elements to function better.

The new skate park design was very much facilitated by the community with the local skaters identifying the elements, locations and flow patterns that they wanted. These elements were modelled using 3D software and the design was tweaked (as it happened in Walz Brown’s lounge) to maintain the very high level of stakeholder ownership that the community sought after. This process nurtured the close working relationship that developed.

The local skaters wanted an all-inclusive park, with disabled access, public viewing areas and seating for the general public. Multiple level entrances were created with seating included on the park’s periphery to provide passive surveillance. The eastern edge was dropped flush with the adjacent paths and hard courts, and concrete finishes were used to demarcate the skate park without the need of physical barriers.

Passers-by are included in the design and the skate park is a success as evidenced by the huge community turnout on open day and the high level of political support and feedback received from the local board. Walz Brown is now employed part time as skate park warden and is the ambassador for the skate park to community and Council.

Completion of the premier and training fields is due for mid-2015 followed by the central axis and second car park and plazas.

St Andrew Square

Edinburgh, UK



with Parsons Brinckerhoff, Gardiner & Theobald
and Dewhurst Macfarlane


Gillespies, in their design for St Andrew Square in Edinburgh, look to explore how exchange can reactivate history, culture and monument. Recognisng the importance of visual connection to the history of a city. Reflecting the past upon new design.

For the first time in its 200 year history, St Andrew Square in Edinburgh opened to the public following a new landscape design by Gillespies.

Situated in central Edinburgh in the heart of a UNESCO world heritage site, the design retains the integrity of the historic square but also balances this with new elements to accommodate contemporary usage patterns. The design provides a generous and elegant central open space with its focus being the Melville Monument. The layout recognises the importance of this column in reinstating the visual connection between some of Edinburgh’s main shopping streets. A reflective pool is framed by waterside planting which provides a changing display of colour and texture.

The project has successfully delivered a contemporary space into a historic context. A previously private and underused garden is now open to the public. The small Café Pavilion set in one corner of the garden reinforces the square’s status as a destination in its own right.

By working closely with clients including the City of Edinburgh Council and Scottish Enterprise, Gillespies has demonstrated that even in the most sensitive of environments – a conservation area and world heritage site – a modern and fresh design can be achieved.



Mark Craven, Rowan Turkington, Laura Cooke, Hayden Grindell, Raphaela Rose



The rising sea levels associated with climate change will have the largest effect on the nations of this world least equipped to handle such a problem. The sea levels are predicted to rise anywhere from 300-2000mm by 2100 . The Marshal Islands, in the Pacific Ocean, are an assortment of inhabited and uninhabited islands and atolls, with an average height above sea level of 2000mm. The estimated 64,000 inhabitants of the Marshal Islands have a finite future on their islands, as most will be uninhabitable by the end of the century. Though limited in usable land, the nation does have a large expanse of ocean under their jurisdiction.
The Typhoon Nuclear Submarine, remnant of the cold war, would initially collect and store the information and nature of the islands, while they still exist, or as they are poised to be lost. The Sub would then become the centre of government and point of control for the national waters. There is money to be gained in controlling the national waters, money that could assist those displaced.

The Nation of the Marshall Islands has a tumultuous history with nuclear weaponry. Between 1946 and 1958 the Northern Islands and Atolls were used as a nuclear test bed for the US. These tests displaced many peoples and the subsequent nuclear fallout destroyed much of the nations meagre usable land. There is something hauntingly beautiful about a device that destroyed so much being implemented to prolong the nation of the Marshall Islands and its cultures.

Programmatically the submarine design is split into three, a submarine base housing the culture, a tower encompassing the living, working administrative aspects, and the deck surface of the sub being used for recreation and cultivation. The culture is retained and on continual display through the collection of artifacts and data, and preservation of native flora and fauna. As the active nuclear reactor in the stern is unfit for human occupation, it will act as a visual greenhouse displaying the natural ecology that survived previous nuclear contamination. The bow houses the artifacts and oceanographic research facilities. The base of the tower is a cultural hub blurring into the domestic core above, with the administrative and governing functions being housed at the apex.  The framework of the tower anticipates future growth, with the ability to add levels and programmes as required. The deck of the sub acts as a conduit between the built forms (sub and tower) and the landscape/ seascape surrounding it. The design proposes manipulating the external skin of the sub to house areas of cultivation, recreation and walkways. These impositions would extend into the sub at key areas bringing the outside in and vice versa.

There is a rich juxtaposition within the design. Initially what is proposed is a somewhat clean deserted sub containing a diluted internal programme, however there exists an active nation outside it. As time progresses the sub becomes more and more utilised and part of the landscape/ seascape while the physical nation is eaten away by the sea.

In time the sub could become a convoluted tourist attraction , but this is not a focus or main purpose of the design. Rather the project aims to encapsulate what will be lost and extend what exists into a time capsule of culture ecology and information. The typhoon class sub does not solve the problem of climate change or of displaced peoples, rather it creates a saturated focal point for an eroding ecology and society, a way to artificially extend the life of a nation. The typhoon class submersible is a harbinger for climate change.




Words Den Aitken

Landscape Architect, Specialist Urban Design
Built Environment Unit, Auckland Council


Images Louise Hyatt, Grant Apiata & Adrian Sampson


The Auckland urban landscape has seen a considerable shift in the last ten years. From a paradigm that saw exchange defined as a giving up of one thing for another e.g. people or cars, to a definition more resembling reciprocity or interchange e.g. people + cars.  For its greater history Auckland has developed its urban realm with a focus on vehicle movement, visibly at the expense of the pedestrian experience.  A stroll through lower downtown however will quickly reveal the recent explosion of pedestrian friendly streets across the central city, championed for decades by innovative thinkers such as Danish Architect and Urban Designer, Jan Gehl. 

The waterfront too has undergone remarkable transformation, shifting from a largely private realm to an inclusively public realm, connecting residents and visitors alike with the Waitemata Harbour, arguably the city’s greatest natural asset.  Culture and heritage values too have been celebrated on a national and international stage, including the recently completed Auckland Art Gallery - winner of 2013 World Building of the Year - a victory for champions of heritage in the city.

In the shift towards a higher quality public realm, Gehl, among many others, has been a pivotal agent for change, upending vehicle dominated spaces, brick by brick, and questioning the global love affair with the motor car.  His interpretation of a people led city has challenged city leaders, theorists, industry, and most importantly residents, to rethink the priorities of urban development and exchange one idea for another.

Exchanging ideas is arguably one of the most effective tools for initiating urban change and a transformative component for generating the social momentum needed to implement change. Cities are complex things and urban living environments, perhaps more than any other, are magnets for exchange.  The exchange of social capital and personal values builds connections, beneficial for both economic sustainability and urban wellbeing. The streets, parks, markets, banks, playgrounds and eateries are the places where people meet, talk, socialise and exchange these ideas, influencing the planning, culture and behaviour of the city.  

Take for example the city of Copenhagen, where the pedestrian, and specifically the bicycle, is king.  Like many cities in Denmark, the popularity of cycling in Copenhagen is perhaps higher than any other place in the world.  But pre 1970 Copenhagen was suffering the same fate as many cities strangled by motor vehicles.  A shift in thinking however, coupled with an escalating energy crisis, saw cycling championed back into mainstream social consciousness by groups of likeminded people who questioned the sustainable development of their city and collectively challenged designers and city leaders to exchange a vehicle led design methodology for pedestrian led.  This shift ultimately empowered the city to withstand the common global planning trend of the time, turning its back on vehicle dominated design and instead incorporating bicycle infrastructure into the city fabric, resulting in what is globally regarded today as one of the most pedestrian friendly cities in the world.  

Alternatively, and at the far right hand end of the spectrum, are cities like Johannesburg, South Africa, whose current urban form is still heavily influenced by the 1948 to 1994 Apartheid Era - a historic movement of racial segregation.  Often viewed as a largely political construct, and while certainly not supported by all, the form of the city reflected a widely accepted culture of racial discrimination associated with the era.

While these two cities are perhaps polar opposites in their methodologies for urban planning, the actions needed to achieve either outcome, positive or negative, lay in social momentum - that is the ideas and adopted values of the larger societal population.  Both Copenhagen’s shift to a pedestrian city, and ultimately Johannesburg’s shift to abolish apartheid, was a direct reflection of a shift in social momentum, informed by an exchange of ideas and accepted values.

Important to this conversation too is the role of the change makers and social innovators responsible for sparking difference - the people leading the charge, educating and challenging the at times very ingrained thinking of society.  Like the champions of equality celebrated by the Pioneer Women’s and Ellen Melville Hall in Freyberg Square or the Suffrage Memorial at Khartoum Place - a symbolic marker of New Zealand as the first nation in the world to give women the right to vote. Or the champions of community values, such as neighbourhood groups fighting for equality in living standards, or those who work to abolish family violence and child poverty. Or the faces of alternative education like Sarah Longbottom, Founder and Creative Director of the Nga Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts Initiative; a non-profit arts-mentoring and transition program that champion the fundamental educational rights of marginalised rangatahi excluded from mainstream education. Sarah’s lack of acceptance in the traditional methodologies applied to alternative education, coupled with more than a decades experience in education, has been fundamental to the development of pedagogical leadership in alternative education. Under Sarah’s leadership, 100 per cent of the youth who become involved in Nga Rangatahi Toa programs transition into further study and make significant life changes.  While social values are not as readily visible across the landscape as renewed streets or architecture, they have a direct relationship to the choices people make and the values they adopt with corresponding implications to the function and form of the city.

Take for example commercial enterprises whose business model embraces an ethical stance such as Coco’s Cantina on K’Road.  Owned and operated by sisters Renee and Damaris Coulter, they combine their love of good food with their love of good people and use the success of the eatery as a platform for promoting resilient communities - regularly cooking for groups of prostitutes who work K’Rd, making their premises available for NGO sessions, hosting community garage sales and taking pride in “being a nice place for nice people”.  This type of model is contributing to a change in the perceptions and prejudices long associated with K’rd and generating a community of business owners and patrons who are making conscious decisions about how they choose to live in the city.

Like many cities across the globe, Auckland’s urban landscape will need to continue to address the needs of a changing social climate. As the world continues its migration towards urban living the need to adapt to urban issues such as land use, sustainable economic growth, equality and social wellness, will continue to drive an exchange in the thoughts and actions of everyday people – change makers who will collectively influence the behaviour and momentum of the city from within.

For more information on the Nga Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts Initiative see
or for volunteer information contact