Architects in merger wave

A new wave of smaller Australian architecture practices are following the international footsteps of larger firms such as Woods Bagot and Hassell.

A new wave of smaller Australian architecture practices are following the international footsteps of larger firms such as Woods Bagot and Hassell.

Last week Sydney-based Rice Daubney was acquired by US firm HDR. The deal will allow healthcare and defence-facility specialist HDR to get access to the Australian market while Rice Daubney will take its commercial and retail architectural skills - something HDR lacks - into the vast North American market.

Expanding territorially is an imperative for even mid-large sized operations such as his 120-person firm, managing director John Daubney says. "Australians can't just be Australian," he says. "They've got to be part of a global community."

Australian firms have traditionally expanded overseas by setting up offices and building a presence over time. This is how small specialist Melbourne-based Brearley Architects + Urbanists created a thriving China business since opening a Beijing office in 2001.

Not everyone agrees with the push to mergers. "It leads to increasingly homogenised product, like the high street disappearing. You've got big offices ... and then smaller, more boutique practices. And then everything in between is increasingly disappearing," says Annabel Lahz, a partner at the 10-person Sydney firm Lahz Nimmo.

But it remains a move many are making. Melbourne-based Gray Puksand, a practice with 100 staff, are planning a similar strategy. "That's part of our game plan in the next five years, to have a practice of our own internationally," says founding partner Rob Puksand. "In our experience, the embryonic growth of a company is a very difficult road. It's much easier by synergy. But it's best just to take over another firm."

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