28/01/2003 - 21:00

Feeding frenzy as firms feast on slice of action

28/01/2003 - 21:00

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A LOOK at the history of Perth’s top architectural sector reveals a past full of expansion and cannibalistic mergers.

A LOOK at the history of Perth’s top architectural sector reveals a past full of expansion and cannibalistic mergers. In the process, some firms have been propelled into the national and international arenas, while others have chosen to remain autonomous and purely Western Australian.

Cox Howlett and Bailey Woodland director Greg Howlett said it was while reading a research paper in the early 1990s that he realised his firm (then Howlett and Bailey) needed to expand to compete for the top projects in the future architectural market.

Mr Howlett said the paper predicted that, in 20 years’ time, a number of global construction companies would do all the major construction and that these businesses would expect to work with architectural firms of similar size and experience.

“At the time my firm was one of five major firms in Perth, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to win the larger projects,” Mr Howlett said.

Clients were beginning to look for larger, more widely experienced firms, he said.

Philip Cox approached Howlett and Bailey – after the office of Perth firm Philip Cox Etherington Coulter and Jones office was closed – in what Mr Howlett said was an ideal opportunity to merge with a national architectural organisation.

In 1998 Cox Howlett and Bailey absorbed Forbes Fitzhardinge and Woodland, which became Cox Howlett Bailey and Woodland.

Mr Howlett said the significant changes in the com-position of the firm were not unusual, with most of Perth’s current leading firms consisting of local operators and national architectural companies.

The Buchan Group used to be Oldham Boas and Ednie – Brown Partners, Spowers Archi-tects was formally Puddy Lee and Woodhead International was Brand Deakon Hay.

One of the State’s oldest firms, Cameron Chisolm and Nicol, placed fifth in the 2003 WA Business News Book of Lists list of architects, has a history dating back to 1884 when JW Wright established an office in Perth. After a succession of partners the firm emerged as Powell Cameron and Chisholm in 1930 and finally in the 1950s as Cameron Chisholm and Nicol, after which time the firm focused on building its national presence.

Since combining with Roger Gregson and Associates in 1992, Cameron Chisholm and Nicol has extended its reach offshore and now has an international office in Jakarta, Indonesia. 

Among the top firms in Perth, Jones Coulter Young is the only one to choose to remain purely Western Australian.

JCY emerged from the dissolution of Philip Cox Etherington Coulter and Jones in 1995.

Director Richard Young said one of the reasons for the split was that he, Paul Jones and Ross Coulter did not want to become part of a national firm.

“We wanted to run and be accountable to ourselves,” he said.

“They have carried on as national firms and we have carried on as a WA firm. I think we have done well since 1995 and we have worked the way we wanted to work, controlled our own destiny and retained our autonomy.”

Mr Young said rather than expand through the national market the firm preferred to increase its growth in the local market.

“We have a good share of the local market considering our size,” he said.

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