Urban Melbourne spoke with Hayball Managing Director Tom Jordan upon the practice's recent entry into the World Architecture top 100. While exploring the factors which led to this achievement, various other topics such as current projects and future aspirations were discussed during an interview with Laurence Dragomir.
LD: The World Architecture 100 is based on data gathered via survey, ranking the biggest practices globally. What is your/the practice's view on how and why Hayball have advanced into the ranking - in terms of design strength and a purely business perspective?
TJ: I guess it's a product of our steady growth over the last few years which is ongoing and that's based on consolidating our profile in the key sectors we work in - multi-unit residential and education, but also new sectors and new markets. We've got the Sydney and Adelaide offices, we're active in Brisbane, all of which have contributed to growth. The practice has also had a number of works published and recognised by the Australian Institute of Architects which has helped build our profile and thus led to more work.
LD: Does the practice consider its inclusion in the WA100 as a matter of prestige within the industry or do you believe it will translate into an increase in job commissions?
TJ: I think the effects will be pretty subtle, but I think it doesn't hurt the profile - it's more profile building material.
LD: Looking at Woods Bagot for example, who are the top ranked Australian practice at no. 7 on the list, they have a very global network and profile. As you mentioned Hayball now have offices in Sydney and Adelaide and are undertaking work in Brisbane, do you forecast any further expansion potentially offshore in the not-too-distant future?
TJ: We're definitely open to it, but it would be opportunity driven if it were to happen. Hayball do work in South-East Asia at the moment but we do it all from here in Melbourne. In terms of opening an office in SE Asia, that's probably beyond a 5-year plan.
LD: Do you mind providing us with an overview of the practice's staff numbers and the number of projects in progress at any one time?
TJ: Sure, we have a current staff of around 120 with all bar four located in our Melbourne office. In terms of project numbers we have around about 50 at the moment that are currently being worked on and there are others that are dormant.
LD: Are those projects predominantly multi-residential and education?
TJ: Historically they've made up the majority of our work but we're increasingly getting a lot more urban mater planning work, interiors work and institutional work of various types. So even though education and residential make up about 80% of our work the other sectors are starting to see an increase as an overall proportion of our work. It's been our strategy to maintain a diverse project mix as much as possible.
LD: With high-rise apartments in Melbourne being largely driven by offshore developers in recent times, have you found that your clientele has changed somewhat? Obviously the practice continues to work with Lend Lease on projects such as Studio Nine.
TJ: I think site acquisition is driven by offshore investors rather than developers. We've got one or two mainland Chinese clients but the majority of our work continues to be with Australian-based developers. We're doing work with Mammoth Empire (Malaysia) and we've been working with them for about five years both locally and in Malaysia.
They are a professional developer, not a land banker and are particularly active. But we're still doing work with Lend Lease, MAB and a host of smaller developers.
LD: Would the experience and publicity gained via working on a project such as Library at the Dock, being the first CLT (Cross Laminated Timber) public building to be built in Australia reinforce that view?
TJ: The effects of that are still emerging, but we expect that it will have a profile generating result. It will be really interesting to see where CLT goes and how widely adopted it becomes.
LD: Do you see the practice becoming a really strong proponent for CLT or is it something that is driven by developers?
TJ: Yes CLT is a great system but it does require quite a specific technical understanding as it's not a conventional construction system by any means. We've developed that from working on the library so I do think Hayball are a proponent of it.
We’re really pushing forward with it because of the range of benefits in terms of cost, ESD, minimal wastage, reduced embodied energy and very quick on site.
LD: The practice has recently introduced a employee share scheme, becoming the first in Australian architecture firm to do so. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
TJ: We have a small number of non-director shareholders and we recently expanded that group. It is about acknowledging the contribution people make to the practice, retaining and attracting talent which leads to growth in the business and giving key staff a connection to the financial performance of the business.
LD: Do you think it's something that will become more prevalent in the industry?
TJ: Possibly, but it will be slow. Obviously engineering practices have been doing it for a very long time with great success but they're different beasts relative to architectural practices. I don't see it as being a dramatic shift in that direction. We're undertaking it in a systematic and targeted way, steadily broadening the ownership and we see it as very positive program for our practice.
LD: And just to finish off what do you think the future holds for the practice and what do you see as being some of the major challenges facing the industry in the future?
TJ: What we have in our plan is expanding our exposure geographically particularly along the eastern seaboard including Adelaide - we've got a bit of work in Tasmania at the moment - but also getting more exposure to higher education and commercial sectors that we don't currently have a lot of. That's where Hayball's heading.
Overall the profession does face a number of challenges. I think the influence that architects have in the procurement process has diminished over the last 10-15 years and there is an opportunity to strengthen our role through the whole building delivery process, not just during the early design and planning approval phases in order to achieve high quality built outcomes for the community.
LD: Thanks again for your time, Tom.