BOOK REVIEW Coast. Country. Neighbourhood. City. By Isthmus Group

12 July 2016

Michael Barrett, the former editor of Landscape Architecture New Zealand, has edited this showcase of 25 years of landscape and building design. Its subject The Isthmus Group is now on the shortlist for a major international award.

What connects us as a people is the land upon which we stand.

How is that landscape crafted? Through buildings, coastal walkways, community playgrounds or new urban environments. This is the subject of this thoughtfully written and beautifully designed book.

Isthmus is an integrated landscape, urban design and architecture studio. The company has been quietly moulding the way New Zealanders experience space and identify with it since the practice was first founded in a Remuera garage in the late 1980s.

Just this week its design for Kopupaka Reserve in west Auckland was named as one of 10 New Zealand finalists in the World Architecture Festival 2016.

This book of four sections and four topographies is their archive made public. It’s a sharing of the creativity, tenacity and curiosity that has influenced the process of design behind some of our most well known and loved public spaces.

Its scope covers 25 projects. They include such diverse work as the reclamation of Oriental Bay, the New Plymouth Foreshore development and the new urban vernacular of Hobsonville Point. While Isthmus might not be a household name, the landscapes they’ve shaped are instantly recognisable. Many of them rework former industrial ground and coastlines to become beautifully-designed public spaces.

Coast. Country. Neighbourhood. City tells the story behind these places, sketching out the evolution not only of individual projects, but of the studio itself. 

Isthmus CEO and driving force behind the book, Ralph Johns, describes the publication as a labour of love. It evolved organically over two years with graphic designers Inhouse Design and editor Michael Barrett.

“We wrote the book for ourselves so we could understand who we are and what we’ve done, but we also wanted to share the stories behind places and have other people enjoy it.”

With delicate illustrations and stunning photography, Coast. Country. Neighbourhood. City is a journey across New Zealand that highlights the way people interact with their environments, how environments can be regenerated, and how people engage with them as a result of exceptional design. 

“What we do is about place and identity,” says Ralph. “Sustainability outcomes come from that. They are a catalyst for social resilience and community engagement. We don’t talk a lot about how we work as a business but we do talk about the way we think.”  

The way they think is something Ralph calls the ‘Isthmus attitude’ – a love of places, a commitment to sustainable design and the power of ideas to connect people and places.

SBN members can purchase a copy of Coast. Country. Neighbourhood. City at the generously discounted members’ price of $45 (RRP $60).  Stock is very limited, so to secure your copy, contact