UK architects WilkinsonEyre look to muscle up Down Under

Hans van Leeuwen

London | Elite British architecture firm WilkinsonEyre is dispatching one of its dozen directors from London to Australia permanently from next month, as it looks to expand its operation Down Under.

WilkinsonEyre, the architects behind the controversial Crown tower One Barangaroo in Sydney and more recently 600 Collins in Melbourne, will field newly promoted director Ed Daines to helm what is now a four-person Australian team.

“The huge distance and time span between London and Australia, the practicalities of trying to deliver a big project, do require you to be there,” said Dominic Bettison, one of the firm’s London-based directors.

WilkinsonEyre directors Dominic Bettison and Ed Daines with the protected view of St Paul’s from 8 Bishopsgate. Grainne Quinlan

“It’s not to say you can’t still design projects from London, as we do, and also have a local presence. But I think there’s more of an expectation now in the Australian market that people need to be there, and really absorb the local culture and be part of it.”

WilkinsonEyre first opened in Australia in late 2019, repatriating young Australian architect Stuart Dow after he had spent a few years with the firm in London, hoping to capitalise on the One Barangaroo calling card.

Advertisement

The firm subsequently won business in Brisbane, designing a pedestrian and cycling bridge called West End Green, and also in Melbourne, where it is working with Architectus, on behalf of US-based landlord Hines, on a 60,000 square metre, 180m-tall office tower on Collins Street.

WilkinsonEyre has something of a reputation for tall towers. One of its most recent British projects is 8 Bishopsgate, a just-completed 51-storey office block in the City of London financial district.

The tower is made up of an idiosyncratic series of blocks or steps, largely because London planning rules require an uninterrupted view along certain corridors or axes, from St Paul’s Cathedral out to the horizon.

This forces most architects in the City to design towers with one side sloped, creating a sort of ravine that preserves the sight line. WilkinsonEyre tried to break the mould, and used the flat surfaces of the steps to create terraces and roof gardens.

Rethinking the office

Mr Daines said this constraint had been fortuitous, as it coincided with landlords and tenants’ struggling to lure workers back to town after the working-from-home culture took root during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Advertisement

“We’re quite pleased that this building has predicted some of the things that are responding to that, in terms of the amazing terrace spaces and roof gardens,” he said.

“People can come back into the office space and still enjoy some of the things that they enjoyed about working from home – you know, being able to get out in the garden, have a break, have that range of amenities to make use of.”

The changing nature of offices since the pandemic is also playing out at ground level, at Bishopsgate and at 600 Collins.

Artist’s render of 600 Collins in the Melbourne CBD. 

“There’s a certain ramping-up of the expectations of what the building needs to do,” Mr Bettison said.

“Years ago, you did an office building, you had a lobby, and the lobby was nice, and that was good enough. Now you need to attract the best tenants.”

Advertisement

That means cafes with food as well as coffee, town-hall-style spaces for meetings and events, work spaces, gyms, spas and greenery. Mr Bettison said offices now had to emulate the lobbies of high-end hotels – and the PCA grades for office buildings might start to reflect this.

“There’s also an obligation, when you’re doing tall buildings in particular, to consider how it hits the street, how it addresses the city, what do you experience when you walk past it, walk around it, walk through it?,” he said.

Play to strong suits

Mr Daines said WilkinsonEyre was planning to grow its Australian operation organically and locally, and did not plan “to helicopter in people from the UK to Australia”.

But there were also times when clients would be looking for the particular expertise or approach that WilkinsonEyre had incubated in its London HQ.

“For example, we’re finding on the infrastructure projects, there’s a lot of demand for people who have done the hard yards on High Speed 2 or on the Elizabeth Line, and what lessons can be taken from that to be applied to infrastructure projects in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane,” he said.

Advertisement

Mr Bettison said WilkinsonEyre was keen to bid for Australian projects that played to the firm’s strong suits – high-rise towers and transport infrastructure projects. But he added that “the work we do here has much more range to it, and we’re very keen to get out and demonstrate that range in the Australian context”.

WilkinsonEyre’s Sydney-based Stuart Dow. Steven Siewert

Mr Daines described the firm’s Sydney-based studio as “small and nimble”, but Mr Bettison said it would “”scale up to suit” when new projects came in.

“We hope then that when a project finishes, we replace that project with a new project and our people continue,” he said. “We always take people on with a positive frame of mind that this is a long-term job, it’s not just to deliver a six-month piece of work.”

Mr Daines said what he enjoyed about working in Australia was “a very strong sense of optimism, a sense of things happening”.

“In Sydney, and in Melbourne and Brisbane, for example, all in their ways, you definitely get a sense of cities that are somehow moving to the next step, or they’re growing,” he said.

Advertisement

“There’s a sort of grand sense of what the city can be in five years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years. A can-do attitude and optimism about how that might manifest itself. It’s very exciting to be a part of that, to dip your toe into that.”

The redeveloped Battersea Power Station in London. 

The firm was shortlisted for the AMP-GPT $650 million behemoth office-retail redevelopment at Cockle Bay Wharf in Sydney, but lost out to Danish architects Henning Larsen.

In London, WilkinsonEyre’s latest showcase project has been the Battersea Power Station redevelopment on the Thames, a hugely complex effort to turn a 1930s industrial relic into luxury flats and a shopping and entertainment complex.

Hans van Leeuwen covers British and European politics, economics and business from London. He has worked as a reporter, editor and policy adviser in Sydney, Canberra, Hanoi and London. Connect with Hans on Twitter. Email Hans at [email protected]

Sign up to receive the best Underground art & real estate news in your inbox everyday.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

This post was originally published on this site be sure to check out more of their content.