Creating Collective Visions Worldwide

Click to view in E-Magazine | Click to view Brochure

-By Robert Hoshowsly

Many architectural design firms offer first-class work, but at ThomsonAdsett, the company’s talented designers unite to offer their clients something different than the rest: world-class architecture created with a conscience. A specialist design practice, the team at ThomsonAdsett offers not only premium architectural designs, service and advice in a broad range of market sectors, but believes in concentrating its architectural work, urban design, and interior architecture efforts towards specific types of projects that benefit not only its clients, but aim for the betterment of the built environment and society.

“If I had to put an overarching title on the nature of architecture, I’d say we call ourselves social architects,” says Chris Straw, Principal and ThomsonAdsett Group Chairman. “Our focus is actually on the people. That’s quite a culture that we’ve got within the company itself, serving our clients.”

Over the past two decades, Mr Straw has collaborated closely with clients in strategic development to create master plans, design concepts, planning solutions, and strategies for clients aimed at present and future needs. His architectural experience is in a wide range of projects – including aged care, retirement living, hostels, educational, retail, churches and commercial projects – all of which are indicative of ThomsonAdsett’s focus. “The broader your perspective the more accurately you can gauge future trends and opportunities as well as understand niche markets.”

Initially founded as Thomson Adsett Architects by the duo of Rob Adsett and Ian Thomson in the early seventies, the company has undergone a number of changes over the decades. Ian Thomson retired in 1985, yet continued to take on prominent roles in the company, including Managing Director. Rob Adsett maintains his position as Group Managing Director, Principal. The privately-owned company – which today has partnering arrangements with local architecture firms around the world – has locations in Brisbane, Cairns, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Lismore, Melbourne, Rockhampton, and Sydney.

“We had a vision of growing the practice not only in Australia, but around the world,” says Mr Straw. Growth was accelerated in the late Eighties when the company won praise for a number of their faith-based projects, and took on partners with specifics skills in areas like aged care. “It’s evolved today to where the company is a totally different model to one which was almost a family-based model, although we’ve got a family-based culture,” says Mr Straw. “We’ve got 30 partners today, and we’ve transformed ourselves into a broad ownership base, and that brings with it a whole lot of challenges, as well as a whole lot of joys.”

Four Specialty Areas

By branding itself as a specialist design practice, ThomsonAdsett has attracted talented designers to work in a number of specific areas. Rather than be “˜all things to all people,’ the company prefers to focus on four major design disciplines including hospitals, senior living projects (ranging from geriatric nursing homes to lifestyle retirement communities), commercial, and education, which saw ThomsonAdsett complete almost 500 schools for the Australian Government’s $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution (BER) program, the single largest component of the Government’s $42 billion Nation Building-Economic Stimulus Plan.

Along with these streams, the company has taken on many church designs over the years, an important area for the firm. The firm’s founder, Rob Adsett, wrote about the importance of churches while on a trip to Rome to see the Pantheon. Throughout history, many old churches were constructed in the heart of marketplaces, where they became an important part of daily living. Adsett questioned why we are presently obsessed with hiding churches away in out of the way places. “The suggestion I want to make is to take the large churches out of the suburbs and put them on top of, underneath or adjacent to new or existing suburban shopping centres,” wrote Adsett. “If we are going to learn anything from history, I believe we have to put our places of worship back in the centre of things.” Known for its expertise in designing shopping centres, Adsett wrote of the potential of smaller church facilities, with some being run by the churches themselves. “There is no doubt in my mind that a fresh approach must be taken to church buildings.”

Adsett’s thinking, like that of the other designers at the firm, remains well ahead of its time. Small wonder the company was once again ranked a “‘top 100” architecture firm by British publishing group Building Design in its latest Top 100 list earlier this year.

The Port of Brisbane

With experience in designing practically any type or function of building imaginable, ThomsonAdsett recently completed one of its most ambitious projects to date, the Port of Brisbane. Working with the Port since 2005, the task was to create not just a new Headquarters for the Port of Brisbane, but to fulfill the port’s vision for a commercial and social “heart.” In 2007, ThomsonAdsett and Studio 39 won the competition for the project, and were given the opportunity to create new office space for the Port that was not only functional, but inspirational.

“It was a limited competition, where we pitched our idea on creating an inspirational, healthy place of work,” says Mr Straw of the project which was designed in collaboration to service the organisations out of the port. “We achieved that with the project having a Green Star rating of five,” the first project in Australia to receive a 5 Star Design rating under the Green Building Council’s Version 3 rating tools. The Port Office is much more than an ordinary building. It was carefully designed to create a place that was healthy, positive, kind to the environment, and beautiful to work in.

There are many unique aspects to the Port Office building, the centrepiece of the Port of Brisbane’s precinct. The dynamic curves of the structure itself evoke a place that is fluid, and full of movement and light. Fresh air and daylight are abundant, as there are verandahs in place, and breakout spaces with external balconies and “˜sky gardens,’ which act as informal meeting spaces. The design team of Project Architect Chad Brown at Studio 39 helped to create a place that is not only architecturally stunning, but equipped with personal comfort control and access to inspirational views, keeping the health and well-being of those inside in mind at all times.

In addition to the many integrated systems that allowed the Port Office to achieve a Five Star rating, the 4,000 square metre structure emphasises indoor environmental quality in all areas. The interior is spacious, and designed so there is a visual connectivity between floors, and the expansive observation deck allows for viewing Port operations. The building phase was also kind to the environment – during construction, 95 per cent of all construction waste was recycled, and there was a 45 per cent reduction in the use of Portland cement by substituting flyash. The structure was designed to use recycled water for irrigation, and instead of landscaping with exotic foliage, native drought-tolerant plants which required less watering were incorporated into the overall design.

With an increasing number of clients eager to create structures that benefit the environment through the use of fewer resources, and benefit occupants by creating a healthier place to work, Mr Straw says “˜going green’ is here to stay. “More and more organisations are committed to it, and wanting office buildings with a higher Green Star rating, which will lead a lot in the future as well,” he says. “This is a trend we welcome.”

Advanced Design Software

At ThomsonAdsett, the firm’s designers take on hundreds of architectural commissions every year; last year, they reached a milestone with their 10,000th project. The nature of their work varies. This year, Mr Straw estimates that approximately 20 to 30 per cent of their work has been senior living, 20 per cent education, 20 per cent commercial, and the remainder being hospitals and other civic works. Instead of taking on enormous jobs, the company tends to focus on medium-sized projects in the $10 million to $50 million range. “Being in the area of social architecture, that’s the nature of the buildings you do,” says Mr Straw. “Last year, we took on between 600 and 800 projects.”

To enable designers to create their projects, all studios are fully networked and have the most up to date design and 3D Building Information Modelling (BIM) software. Additionally, the company’s integrated IT systems allow teams from different studios to work in real-time on the same projects. From shopping centres to churches, and senior living facilities to government offices, all projects are different, but the outcome is the same: thousands of designs from a firm that embraces client satisfaction and adding value for their clients now and into the future.

Never one to stand still, staff are always learning through activities such as SAGE Study Tours – international study tours which provide learning and networking opportunities for the aged care and retirement living sectors, formed as a partnership between ThomsonAdsett and Aged Care Association of Australia, Aged and Community Services Australia, and Retirement Villages Association.

“One of the areas in which we excel is understanding our clients’ business,” says Mr Straw of the company which believes in taking a hands-on approach with its customers. “By understanding their business, we are able to provide strategic advice on the business model now, and trends in the industry. The buildings, in fact, almost become a by-product of the work or the process we do with clients.”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

September 27, 2020, 4:47 AM AEST