Under the hood with …Nada Stanish, Isthmus

9 months ago by

Ahead of our upcoming online event, Under the Hood – Placemaking, we sat down for a quick q&a with one of our featured speakers; Nada Stanish, Principal at Isthmus.

All folks are welcome to virtually attend this event by registering here ( free for DA Friends, pay-what-you-can for the public)

Looking for opportunities to connect with your design industry peers this year? Join the community. Be a DA Friend today!

Drone footage and imagery by Petra Leary

All images are provided with special acknowledgment of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority. 


Can you describe the creative path you took to get where you’re at now?

I grew up in a very creative family. Art and Architecture were part of my life from a young age. I grew up in the inner city, and I knew it pretty well. We went camping a lot, and I was exposed to nature and the landscape through this. I graduated from the Elam School of Fine Arts in 1992—at this point, I had been doing some papers in the Botany department and had started working as a gardener. I was developing an interest in historic gardens and cultural landscapes. In 1994 I travelled through Europe, the UK, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Germany, and Holland. When I think about it–I was pretty driven. I didn’t go to Europe for the big OE—I had worked out a plan of all the gardens and landscapes I wanted to visit and set about doing so, while I worked on a large estate in Scotland as a gardener. During my time in Scotland, I happened upon the fact that Landscape Architecture was a thing–it literally arrived as a signpost saying ‘Edinburgh College of Arts–Landscape Architecture Masters’. I enrolled, and that set me on to my career path. I have had some amazing opportunities in my life including working at Tāmaki Paenga Hira installing the small taonga in the Māori galleries. These experiences have fortified my path, and the people and connections I have made along the way have very much been a part of that.

All images are provided with special acknowledgment of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority and the Tūpuna Maunga Trust.

What project will you be presenting at Under the Hood?

I will be presenting the Maungawhau Tihi boardwalk project—the recently completed stage 2, and the entirety of the project, including stage 1 which was completed in 2019. Stage 1 focussed on the ascent to the smaller northern Tihi platform and finished around the location of the former VHF Radio Signal Station building. Stage 2 completes the walking route to the summit or Tihi proper. An early stage of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority’s strategy to confirm UNESCO World Heritage status for Maungawhau and the city’s other volcanic cones was to restrict vehicle access to the summit in 2016. If you want to know more about the Tūpuna  Maunga Authority, The Tūpuna Maunga Trust, and the great work they are doing you can read more here: https://www.maunga.nz/about-us/

What was the most challenging part of the project and what lessons did you draw from it?

The challenge for this project was practicing restraint, designing in a way that amplifies the ancestral maunga.

Lessons learnt—less is more.

A landscape or place has its own stories, and while making those stories explicit in the design is not always necessary, this design has chartered a new way to experience and understand the site and its significance without intervening too much.

When the compass is set from the outset, and the whole team is part of the direction, we can achieve great outcomes. This has had a lot to do with the client and having a vision and a clear roadmap.

Aerial image of Auckland CBD
All images are provided with special acknowledgment of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority and the Tūpuna Maunga Trust.

Was there an ‘Aha!’ moment in the project when things clicked and fell into place?

During the practical completion walkover, the group was standing near the top tihi, close to a garden area with reintroduced basalt rock. We spotted two yellow admiral butterflies Kahukura fluttering around the rocks. These butterflies are associated with volcanic rock—a place to rest in the sun. In Te Ao Māori, these types of sightings would indicate the health of an environment. The team was excited to witness this moment, as it indicated the beginning of a change, and for me, work well done.

image of an admiral butterfly on a rock
All images are provided with special acknowledgment of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority and the Tūpuna Maunga Trust.

Now that the project has finished, what are you working on? 

I am currently working on Hayman Park in South Auckland, as part of Transform Manukau with Eke Panuku. Essentially, the project is the restoration of a waterway and a path network through the park. There are a lot of mature trees, so we are designing lightly over the rootzones with the same no-dig screw piles for walkway sections. We have just started design expression with Te Waiohua artists, with a similar principle of focus on the environment, and are also collaborating with URU Whakaaro. who worked with us on the planting design for the Maungawhau project.

What insights to your methodological approach or philosophy can you give us? 

Drawing has always played a huge part of my process–drawing provided a way into this discipline for me. If I have not done any hand drawing on a project, I start to worry.

Head, heart, and hand together–all those aspects are switched on.

Well-thought-out design takes focus and time. Distraction is the enemy.

Repeat visits to site are important, if feasible.

Agile thinking—be able to change tack if things are not working.

Always ask the hard questions and challenge the status quo.

Bring the environment into focus and always test BAU (business as usual), it may no longer serve us.

image of hand drawn map with notes
All images are provided with special acknowledgment of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority and the Tūpuna Maunga Trust.

Outside of work hours what creative projects and/or hobbies are you involved with?

We recently moved out to the Kaipara and onto family land, where we have built our first home. There is a large area of bush which is under an SEA-T (significant ecological area-terrestrial) with stands of kauri. I have always wanted to grow ferns, so the first thing I did was to create a fern garden on the south-facing side of the house. I am beginning to test my skills at propagation again. I am trying to grow mushrooms from inoculated dowels plugged into logs. I have started trapping rats, stoats, and possums. I am always reading a bit, and currently, I am loving some of the early drawings of Albert Dürer, in particular his ecological compositions.  

And finally, where to next for you? What areas of your work or personal development are you hoping to explore further?

I have really been switched on to thinking about human intervention in nature. How we can be in our environments in a less impactful way. Are there places we shouldn’t be? Should ‘we’ always come first in our design thinking? It’s time to think harder about our companions here: the plants, birds, insects, soils, water, etc. I am becoming more interested in the landscapes we don’t live in and how to protect and connect them, while also asking how we bring nature back into the places we do live, in a meaningful and resilient way, and how we return those places that will no longer be liveable to functioning ecosystems, for example wetlands.

I really like the whakataukī:

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini. 

This whakataukī acknowledges team effort, that one’s success is due to the support and contribution of many. I want to work on projects where we are all sharing our knowledge and aspirations, and learning something new to move forward and find answers to the many challenges we are facing. Design is generous and should be inclusive.

Exploring Vietnamese orthography, folk art, and family traditions through type | 5 mins with Abbey Luong

Ahead of our upcoming online event, Under the Hood – Placemaking, we sat down for a quick q&a with one of our featured speakers; Nada Stanish, Principal at Isthmus. All […]

9 months ago by

Meet our Friends . . . Diadem

Ahead of our upcoming online event, Under the Hood – Placemaking, we sat down for a quick q&a with one of our featured speakers; Nada Stanish, Principal at Isthmus. All […]

9 months ago by

Under the Hood with Steve Hansen & Gareth Rice, Special Group

Ahead of our upcoming online event, Under the Hood – Placemaking, we sat down for a quick q&a with one of our featured speakers; Nada Stanish, Principal at Isthmus. All […]

9 months ago by

Under the Hood, Design & AI... with Ben Forman

Ahead of our upcoming online event, Under the Hood – Placemaking, we sat down for a quick q&a with one of our featured speakers; Nada Stanish, Principal at Isthmus. All […]

9 months ago by