Based in the town of Rockhampton, architectural firm BEAT Architects has earned a reputation for bringing the kind of architectural innovation and creativity usually associated with big-city architects to regional Queensland.
A specialist in residential, education, commercial, heritage, and medical projects, BEAT is a proudly regional firm employing experienced designers and architects to deliver high-quality for a reasonable fee. Managing Director Carl Brown spoke with The Australian Business Executive recently about the realities of being a regional architect, the benefit of having experience in a number of specialist segments, and the firm’s need to develop a new model in order to stay competitive and relevant in a changing industry.
Consistency and quality
In 1991, fresh from his architectural studies at Brisbane QUT, Mr Brown escaped the pressures of big city living by moving to Central Queensland, settling down in the more relaxed regional environment of Rockhampton. It was here he first established the company, which began as Carl Brown Architects. No matter where Mr Brown was based, there was little doubt architecture would be a big part of his life. His father was a quantity surveyor, his grandfather an architect. Add to the mix his own passion for fine art and photography, and it was always likely a career in architecture would blossom.
In the early days, the company ran with a staff of just three. Driven by the desire for creative and innovative design, the company expanded gradually over the years to match Mr Brown’s growing architectural ambition. In 2010, the company purchased another local architectural practice, Tropical Architects, which was merged to form BEAT Architects. With this acquisition, the company grew to become a 20-person practice, greatly increasing capacity and providing a new level of consistency and quality to its service offering.
“One of the services we’re pleased to be able to offer is consistency” Mr Brown says. “Most of our staff have been here 10 to 20 years, so returning clients will see a familiar face and a known service level, and that ensures a comfortable reassurance.” For some time, BEAT was the region’s largest architectural practice outside of Brisbane in terms of staffing. Since the GFC and economic changes in regional Queensland, BEAT has consolidated its office size to become more of a medium-sized practice.
“Where we differ from big city practices is we offer a broad range of experience in a number of areas. Specialist firms, which just do hospitals or education projects, wouldn’t survive here, because there’s not enough work regionally for just a specialist firm.” This means regional practices still need the experience to complete a range of specialist jobs, big and small. One of BEAT’s key strengths is having skilled know-how in a number of different industry segments, adding a level of flexibility that along with its innovative design makes a BEAT project all the more attractive. “We have a small team that focuses on education projects,” Mr Brown explains, “and another team that does mainly medical projects, and another specialising in heritage and commercial work.”
With all of BEAT’s architects having worked in big city practices in the past, in cities like Dublin, Brisbane and Sydney, the firm has amassed plenty of specialist experience, allowing it to offer innovative design in a variety of sectors. The primary growth corridor for regional architectural firms currently appears to be education, although the medical sector has also been growing significantly, with the work of regional firms becoming increasingly important on smaller medical projects.
These specialist sectors are a core part of BEAT’s business, although Mr Brown admits that certain sectors, such as local government, still have a tendency to look towards bigger city firms for larger projects, rather than the local economy. “There’s a misconception that the best services come from big cities,” he says. “It’s something we’ve identified and which needs to be addressed. By producing quality architecture incorporating innovative design, we are continually working to turn this misconception around.”
A good architect offers quality design built on experience and creative talent. BEAT is made up of design specialists, and its staff work passionately to develop the skills needed to offer the best possible service. “We also offer our clients methods for saving money,” he says, “and make spaces more efficient, to reduce the footprint but not lose any of the functionality. Architects are known as very good lateral thinkers. How can we approach a solution differently, or more effectively?”
As well as saving space, a good architect ensures the design is easy to use and a joy to be in. Good architecture should be fun as well as functional. “We love hearing our clients’ feedback on the difference good design has made in their daily lives. A house can be more like resort living for very little difference in the build cost, simply with creative design.” For BEAT, being the best architectural firm it can be means employing senior, diversely experienced, qualified architects and designers, making it better equipped to take on a variety of projects at a high level. “A lot of the big city firms rely on less experienced students or overseas staffing to keep costs low. However, this means less experienced staff are providing the design documentation.”
At BEAT the focus is on architectural credentials, making sure clients know they are benefiting from the work of top-of-the-line professionals for a fee similar to those charged by larger firms, giving the company an edge over its big city competitors. “We also have a very broad range of experience, which actually adds to any client’s project, whether it’s related to that particular field or not. Bringing experience of a wide range of projects will benefit the client.”
BEAT prides itself on knowing the Central Queensland region incredibly well, having a good understanding of the climate and people, which often proves invaluable. “Importantly, we know the planners, the council and the political state of the town. This helps in achieving planning and building approvals quickly and with less problems.” Over the years the company has applied its passion for innovation and creativity to a number of high profile projects in the area, including the impressive Rainbow Valley Childcare Centre in Gladstone, for which it won a state award.
“We were asked to do an extension to their existing facility, for after school care. Our client desired a space that was engaging, artistic and creative – they wanted something that the kids and the students were excited to be in.” Another significant project was the stunning redesign of the Yeppoon Town Hall, commissioned by the then Rockhampton Regional Council. The existing building was partly demolished, with the redesign aimed at achieving the feel of a facility found in a capital city.
By thinking big, BEAT was able to bring this historic building into the 21st century. “The old hall was from the 60s, very tired. We designed a new state-of-the-art facility with a 300 seat auditorium, function rooms and offices, creating a building of remarkable appearance and functionality.”
A new future model
In the current economic climate, it is essential for companies to look ahead at what might be coming next. Mr Brown admits to often asking – where is the regional architectural profession and practice going in the future? “One of my concerns in the industry,” he says, “is we’ve noticed a growing trend, particularly with a lot of larger firms, to outsource architectural services and have drafting completed overseas.”
With firms sourcing a low cost workforce outside of Australia, it is becoming difficult for smaller regional firms to compete. It may be that the solution is to offer a more personalised, quality service, to cut office size, and to outsource work to experienced local contractors. This would mean that work is kept in Australia. BEAT recognises that in order to stay relevant there must be more focus on working from home or in smaller cooperative groups, without the need for a large office.
“My concern is that in the near future, medium-sized practices like ours won’t exist. They’ll either be the work-from-home architect, or they’ll be the very large firms in the city. We know a number of midsized, regional firms that are moving towards this model.” Mr Brown believes this issue has already created difficulty in operating a midsized practice, and that the trend of sourcing labour from overseas is going to continue. Firms need to adapt their work model to keep work in Australia and to stay competitive.
“In Australia, it appears that the public believe the best architectural services are those that cost the least,” Mr Brown concludes. “We are trying to encourage the community to look for quality services. Our focus is to provide a high-quality of service for a reasonable fee, and see Australians benefit. This is something I feel quite passionate about.”
Find out more about BEAT Architects by visiting www.beatarchitects.com.au.