03/08/2011 - 10:26

Ambitious plans built on strong foundation

03/08/2011 - 10:26


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Ambitious plans built on strong foundation

AFTER a decade in Dubai, Woods Bagot architect Mark Mitcheson-Low has moved back to Perth with big ambitions for the city he sees as the regional growth hub of Australia.

Mr Mitcheson-Low has returned to Western Australia to take up the role of chairman of the regional executive, Australia, a role he plans to leverage to increase Woods Bagot’s international profile as well as win major work in Perth and the broader region.

Woods Bagot’s Perth studio is already working on the long-awaited redevelopment of the international airport, as well as the second stage of the City Square project in the CBD.

And Mr Mitcheson-Low has identified the shortage of hotel rooms as an area where the firm can apply its international experience to benefit the redevelopment in the city.

But it’s the chance to utilise some of the knowledge and experience he gained in the Middle East that most excites Mr Mitcheson-Low about working in Perth.

He said projects such as the sprawling research, education and development hub that is the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) are directly relevant to WA as it aims to build new industries to power the economy beyond the resources boom.

 “There are ideal locations in WA and Queensland for these types of facilities that are funded by industry working with government,” Mr Mitcheson-Low said.

“QSTP is all about educating people in the region about the resources industry and oil and gas, as well as how they can keep the intellectual knowledge in the region and not have to rely on fly-in, fly-out from overseas.

“If we are going to have 20 years of solid growth then we should be educating people here on what that industry is and where it’s going ... and eventually, if it ever runs out, we have the expertise that we can export.

“We don’t want to be known as the dumb end of the industry where we are just digging it up.”

Founded in Adelaide in 1869, the Woods Bagot business is based on an international network of studios stretching from Perth to Dubai and New York.

The firm’s investment in communications technology means staff in any of its offices can work on any project and apply their specific skills and experience to the challenges of design and construction.

Architects from Woods Bagot’s Perth studio played a central role in the design and construction of the landmark Emirates Twin Towers in Dubai, a 54-storey and 56-storey tower set in more than 16 hectares of gardens.

This project was one of the catalysts for Woods Bagot’s decision to establish a Middle East office in Dubai, which now works in concert with studios in Qatar and Azerbaijan to win projects in the region.

From the Middle East, Woods Bagot seeded the capital to set up studios in San Francisco and New York in 2008.

Unlike many of its global competitors, Woods Bagot doesn’t have a centralised head office and it’s a structure Mr Mitcheson-Low believes protected the business from the GFC.

But he said the opportunities this structure afforded its staff was the key to its success in Australia and around the world.

 “We have made sure people are very mobile and we have sent them overseas; they have gained a lot of experience and now we are bringing them back,” Mr Mitcheson-Low said. “Principal Grant Boshard, who we brought back to the Perth studio, the project he was working on is under construction in Abu Dhabi and it’s a $1.5 billion resort for St Regis Hotels.

“You wouldn’t get a $1.5 billion resort here but the experience of doing that means it makes most other projects a lot easier to undertake, understand and deliver.”

Mr Mitcheson-Low puts his own tall building experience in the same category. 

He worked on a number of high profile towers in the Middle East, including the 1.2-kilometre-high Nakheel Tall Tower.

Australia may not be ready for a 200-storey skyscraper yet but Mr Mitcheson-Low said the technology that drove these super towers had applications across commercial architecture.

“We have a huge amount of design intelligence about how to build tall, I don’t think we are going to be building a 1.2 kilometre tower in Australia for a while but the science behind it is all applicable,” Mr Mitcheson-Low said.

And as population growth drives greater density in Australia, these skills are likely to become more and more valued in the Australian architecture sector.

“Australia is not going to stop growing, the buildings are going to get larger just purely because of density. Perth is going to undergo a different planning regime where potentially the density has to increase,” Mr Mitcheson-Low said.

“For us to be doing 86-storey towers in Dubai, I don’t see it as too long before we are doing that in Australia.”

Perth’s proximity to the broader Asian region is another major positive for the city and while China is the powerhouse economy in the area, Mr Mitcheson-Low said a lot of the big investment decisions were made in Singapore, just hours from Perth.

“We see the WA region as the powerhouse for the Indian Ocean rim and Australian economy,” he said.

 “WA is set to enjoy strong medium to long-term growth with the presence of the most productive and diversified mineral and petroleum regions in the world.”


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