Kopupaka Reserve in New Zealand is a successful translation of Maori traditions into a major open space recreation area that promotes concepts of integrated urban design.

Kopupaka Reserve in Auckland, New Zealand is a 22-hectare landscape situated on disused farmland and made up of five stormwater wetlands. Designed by New Zealand firm Isthmus, the reserve was named World Landscape of the Year at the World Architecture Festival in 2016.

Unique to its location, the design for Kopupaka Reserve was informed by local Maori culture and challenges stormwater reserve expectations. According to the architects, the award-winning development illustrates how “urban growth can be balanced with ecological restoration to create new public reserves and urban connections while developing strong landscape amenity.”

Part of the Massey North Town Centre redevelopment, Auckland Council engaged Isthmus to develop an appropriate framework for the open space area. Isthmus worked closely with consulting engineers Blue Barn and council to ensure the design responded to the character of the site and its environment and to the strategic urban development initiatives.

The masterplan produced by Isthmus accommodated revegetation of the Tōtara and Sakaria Creeks, as well as provisions for shared pathways, a playground, a skatepark and open grassed areas, all structured around five stormwater wetlands.

The design of the open space integrates a series of ‘basket-like’ timber structures that sit around the edges of three ponds, creating forms that weave their way across the landscape. The timber structures are inspired by woven baskets in a Maori tradition that involves weaving Harakeke into Kete and Hinake.

This concept was developed between Isthmus and Rawstorne Studios and utilises a standard crib retaining system to create the structures that together form a skate park and planting areas and support reed-bed filers that were created by repopulating the site with native plant species. The interlocking timber structures offer habitats for plant and animal life, and due to their permeable and flexible nature will shift and change, allowing the ecology to flow over time.

The innovative river-wall system of interlocking timbers is a “simple yet sophisticated engineering [that] allows the baskets to retain silt and create habitats which will shift and change over time," claim Isthmus.

“Primarily a water quality and stormwater project, Kopupaka Reserve is about treating the stormwater runoff from the urban environment before it finds its way to the receiving stream in the natural environment,” explains Isthmus director Grant Bailey.

"The structures have a place-making and a way-finding function," he continues. "They also provide spaces that – much like a basket is for gathering – are the gathering areas for recreation."

Bailey believes that Kopupaka Reserve's sensitivity to its cultural context is one of the main reasons it was named World Landscape of the Year by the World Architecture Festival jury.

"This project could only exist in New Zealand," he claims.


Client | Auckland Council
Designers | Isthmus
Engineering Consultants | Blue Barn Consulting
Project Managers | RCP
Design Consultants | Rawstorne Studio