In 2018, HHH Architects celebrated its 40th anniversary on the Gold Coast, an opportune time to reflect on past achievements, succession planning and the challenges ahead.
Founding partner Alan Hayes and next-generation Directors Nik Mitens and Aaron Beattie.
When the practice established and what was were its early ambitions? How has the practice evolved over time?
In 1978, a Perth-based firm Silver Goldberg Hamilton was engaged by developer Eddie Kornhauser to create the largest comprehensive commercial development in Australia, the Paradise Centre in the heart of Surfers Paradise, transforming the tourism capital. In 1980, one of the senior partners, Max Hamilton, moved his family to the Gold Coast to become lead architect on the Paradise Centre and the practice became firmly entrenched in the city.
The firm became Hamilton Hayes Henderson in 1985 when Alan Hayes and Lach Henderson joined the business to help complete stage two of the Paradise Centre, comprising a 40-storey tower linked to the twin tower residential development and over 4 hectares of shopping mall, fronting onto the famous Cavill Mall in Surfers Paradise.
Fast forward 40 years. With a strong work culture and loyal, talented team of architects, the rebadged HHH Architects continues to contribute to the continuous period of change in Australia’s premier internationally acclaimed leisure, resort and tourism destination.
What is the practice philosophy?
“Architecture is the art of improving people’s lives through well-considered design” – Alan Hayes
Effective communication between client and architect is essential. Throughout the process from concept through design development to project initiation and final delivery, key questions are at the forefront: “Does this solution meet the client’s needs?” “How can we better satisfy the client’s needs?”
We believe great design is simply design that positively improves the way people occupying the space interact with the built environment and its surrounds. Architecture is the art of designing places to fit the needs of people. HHH’s founder Max Hamilton and his colleagues share an unwavering belief; Max insisted that the practice should not simply meet the needs of the firm’s clients, but each design solution proposed should ‘stack’ the goals needed to be viable. By this he meant that it was simply not good enough to produce an award-worthy design; the solution had to meet the set of objectives defined in the brief and deliver on the economic, social, environmental and other goals the client had nominated as essential for their project’s success. The firm upholds the values defined by the founding partners, who have consistently provided high standards of service, design flexibility and innovation.
Can you tell us about a key project or business initiative that provided a turning point in the life of the practice?
Completed in 1986, Paradise Centre was the gestation of the company. The development is situated in the centre of Surfers Paradise overlooking the famous beaches of the Gold Coast and was the largest comprehensive mixed-use commercial development in Australia at the time. Horizontal strata title laws were changed to accommodate the project, giving developers greater opportunities in the future.
HHH has played a significant role in the way the region has grown from sleepy beach lovers holiday destination to a modern city, and nothing emphasises the continuously evolving nature of the HHH ethos more than the Gold Coast skyline and its continuously changing built environment.
What are some of the most important business management lessons you have learned?
At the core, managing a business is about managing people. We have members in our team who started working with the firm 30 years ago. Nurturing, encouraging and celebrating the skills and talents of our people has played a defining role in our success.
What have been the biggest challenges and successes in recent years?
One of the biggest challenges the practice had was to endure the GFC. During this period we had to reduce all staff to short working weeks, but we were able to trade out and retain all staff. In retrospect, we have come out of this period with our positive culture intact and seasoned staff being available to mentor the next generation.
We continue to deliver projects throughout Australia and find that the red tape, from all levels of government, continues to be a challenge. The red tape often bottlenecks or stops projects. No consideration is given to the economics, nor the benefits to the community, of delivering a well-considered outcome. But these challenges are part of the job, and lead us to problem-solve unique solutions for our clients, who often ask us how we can stomach dealing with all the bureaucracy all the time.
What are the biggest issues involved in running the practice in 2019?
One of our biggest challenges continues to be the education of clients and providing an understanding of what good design can bring to their project. Acquiring the kind of clients who have the courage to trust us initially is difficult, but once we have them they become our greatest advocates.
The current trend towards D&C contracts is leading the profession to undercut each other and deliver more of the same. This form of contract does not encourage or support design innovation but preferences off-the-shelf solutions.
How has technology impacted on how you conduct business?
Computers and email have created client expectations that information is available immediately and that design changes can occur instantaneously. Management of these expectations to allow proper review and coordination of changes is essential and challenging. New clients need guidance to understand the process of architecture, which can be a long game.
CAD technology has greatly improved efficiency and enables us to manage a much higher turnover of work with only half the staff that were previously required. In the early days of the practice, we simply didn’t have the technology to take on multiple projects the way we do now.
How do you market your practice?
We are fortunate that we can leverage off the fact that we are a 40-years-plus professional practice and with that comes many deep-rooted relationships with consultants, associates and clients. These strategic alliances, coupled with a strong reputation, have provided the majority of our work. However, we do recognise that we are in a more competitive market and keeping those touchpoints with clients requires constant digital marketing and local media exposure.
In 2017, we engaged Zuraya Hamilton, the daughter of our founding director Max, to provide marketing services. She has 25 years’ experience in media and a passion for architecture, so it’s a perfect fit. With our brand refreshed, she continues to create content and deliver that content via strong communications and social media strategies.
Emmanuel College, Carrara.
What are the ambitions for the practice?
We are five years into our succession process with founding partner Alan Hayes and next-generation Directors Nik Mitens and Aaron Beattie now steering the ship. Collectively we have a diverse range of skills and experience, which complements the firm’s service offering in a broad range of sectors.
With the next generation of developers coming through, our succession plan enables us to match the right Director with the client’s expectations and requirements. Our ambition for the practice is to keep attracting the kinds of projects that require innovation and push our creative limits. There is certainly a demand for more sophisticated design with the migration of people from NSW and Victoria seeking warmer climates and a more relaxed lifestyle, and with that comes opportunities to create more courageous solutions.
Where do you see the business in the next five years?
We continue to grow into the education sector after having a solid 20 years’ experience and a thorough understanding of the pedagogy of education design and architecture. There is some really interesting research around learning environments and how to maximise those spaces for students both mainstream and specialised. This research, together with ongoing analysis of completed projects, will allow us to create learning environments that effect positive change for generations to come.
The luxury multi-residential sector on the GC is really thriving, along with hospitality venues. We intend building upon our reputation of delivering in these areas and continue as one of the Gold Coast’s most enduring professional practices.
If you had one piece of advice for someone starting out, what would it be?
Relationships are everything! Work hard at developing your personal and professional connections. The beauty of our profession is that we build, we produce and we create. The journey of architecture is a shared experience. Client and architect collaborate to create. It’s like our DNA goes into every project.
Photos: Zuraya Hamilton (profiles), Scott Shirley (Emmanuel College) and Andrews Projects (Vue Broadbeach)