Adelaide's big three
Article from: The Advertiser
October 12, 2007 11:50pm
Adelaide architects Mariano De Duonni (l) and David Hassell outside the Federal Courts building. Picture: GRANT NOWELL.
FROM solid foundations designing most of our major buildings, three Adelaide architecture firms have burst on to the global stage, changing the face of cities from Shanghai to London.
WALK down the main boulevards of Adelaide's square mile and you'll see them everywhere: the landmarks that define the built environment of the city. Most are the work of three architecture firms which, between them, have designed almost all of the significant public and private buildings in Adelaide since the 1870s.
From Parliament House to the GPO, the Festival Centre and the new generation of commercial buildings now transforming the city centre, Woods Bagot, Hassell and Woodhead have had a profound influence on the shape of the city.
All were founded in Adelaide and have long histories here â€“ Woods Bagot goes back to 1869, Hassell to 1938 and Woodhead celebrated its 80th birthday last month.
They have weathered world wars, the Depression, recessions and fallen in and out of favour with governments to achieve success that would surely be beyond the grandest dreams of their founding partners.
Each of them has gone on to establish a national and international presence, pushing into Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
From airports in India and Hong Kong, to whole city precincts in the Middle East, huge public complexes in China, to Trafalgar Square in London, they are now making their mark abroad. All three cite the specific circumstances of the Adelaide market as the driving force behind their expansion.
While the big fish on the eastern seaboard never swam west, finding enough to sustain themselves in their own market, Adelaide proved too small a pond for "the big three".
David Gilbert is a principal at Woodhead, now based in Adelaide after a four-year stint in China. "We think it's a bit unique and a bit special that three firms from Adelaide have expanded and probably become the dominant firms in Australia and, to a greater or lesser extent, overseas," he says.
It's no coincidence that three such dominant firms all originated here.
"Adelaide is a small market, and it's always been a tough market," he says.
To survive required the kinds of astute business skills capable of driving expansion.
"You've got to expand to maintain a vibrant business and provide opportunities for your staff. In the Adelaide market, you just can't do that," says Gilbert.
"And then you find that the Australian market isn't big enough. There are only 20 million here, and a certain amount of economic development. Shanghai has got 20 million people in just one city."
Woods Bagot director Andrew Ford agrees that expansion is the only way to survive the economic peaks and troughs that can wreak havoc in small markets.
"There's a pattern," says Ford. "You spend three or four years building expertise and training people while the work's there and then the economy falls and you spend the next two years downsizing. Growth costs money and downsizing costs money. Now that we're global, we can commit to training and keep the workforce stable."
Mariano De Duonni, a principal with Hassell, points out that success in Adelaide doesn't necessarily guarantee success elsewhere, but it helps. "There's something about Adelaide," he says. "If you can do business in Adelaide in a very tight, rigorous manner, you're more astute, more agile in the way you do your work and you tend to become more street-smart."
Chris Bowe, South Australian manager of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, confirms all three companies rank among the biggest architectural firms in Australia. "They're corporate architects. They do all the big commercial work," he says.
"Hassell has a strong profile because they did work at the Sydney Olympics. Woods Bagot probably would be the biggest because of their spread â€“ they really just want to be everywhere. They've just gone into Abu Dhabi, where the level of development is going to dwarf Dubai."