For the past 30 years, Cottee Parker Architects have been delivering projects that have shaped Australian skylines – and on their 30th anniversary, they’re looking at how they can use their experience to continue making their mark on urban development across the country.
The Urban Developer sat down with one of Cottee Parker’s founding partners – Rob Cottee – to learn about the highlights and challenges from the past 30 years of running a leading architecture practice, as well as what the next 30 years will look like for the practice.
Although Cottee Parker has grown into a firm with more than 170 staff across four offices throughout the country, it started off with two childhood school friends – Rob Cottee and Geoff Parker – merging their firms in an effort to start working on larger projects that they didn’t have the capacity for individually.
“Geoff Parker and I actually went to school together. But, when both of our individual firms were starting to take off we merged them together,” Rob Cottee said.
“We went 50-50 and started Cottee Parker on 1 July 1989.”
Quickly, Cottee Parker began picking up larger projects within Brisbane, such as Centro on James and Emporium, both of which are still staples of Brisbane architecture today.
“The first large project we did was Centro on James Street, which was the urban renewal of James Street in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.
“We converted the original Coca-Cola factory into an urban renewal precinct and did the original master plan and all of the buildings around where Palace Centro is now. We even won the award for urban renewal from the UDIA for that project,” Rob said.
“A lot of the buildings in Centro on James Street have been redeveloped and refurbed now, but the master plan – the backbone and structure of it, and the original landscape design – were all done by us and our consultant team way back in the beginning.
“After that, we went on and did Emporium – also in Fortitude Valley – and we started to focus on high rise inner-city apartment projects.
“The first one of those was Felix on Felix Street in Brisbane CBD, where we were in the heart of the renewal phase of people starting to move back into the city. In Felix we created some two-level apartments that are called ‘sky homes’ and I don’t think they were done anywhere else in Australia.”
“We were also involved in a lot of infrastructure work, including Brisbane’s southern busway, but for me personally, it was Centro on James Street that has had the biggest impact on my career because it was what got me interested and going after the bigger, more noteworthy projects.”
Being in business for 30 years has seen Cottee Parker go through a number of growth phases, and when hit with the GFC in 2008, Rob reflects that although it was an enduring time, it showed him that it is the staff who have had the biggest impact on the business.
“During the GFC we learnt a lot about managing a downturn, so in a way it was both good and bad. We tried to hold onto our staff, because at our core, we recognised that our staff were and still are the key to our successes,” Rob said.
“When I look back over our last 30 years, I realise that our success wasn’t all me or Geoff, but it was all of the people that we’ve brought along with us – and all of those people have really stepped up. That’s why it was crucial for us to celebrate our staff in a big way on our 30th anniversary.”
Celebrating their team on this milestone occasion was crucial, especially given the importance the staff have played on the overall success of the business. That’s why Cottee Parker opted to celebrate in a way staff would remember for years to come: with a 3-day trip to Hamilton Island.
“Thanks in a large part to our general manager Kirrily Murphy and her team, we managed to take all of our staff up to Hamilton Island for 3 days to thank them for the past 30 years,” Rob said.
“We organised strategic planning sessions, training sessions and we had Layne Beachley AO, the surfing champion, deliver a keynote speech to everyone.
“Feedback from the trip has been unbelievable. I was impressed with the commitment and engagement of everyone and attendance at all sessions was great.
“We even had some training sessions run by internal staff – focusing on marketing, office/project updates and specific technology advancements – and they were all high quality and extremely informative.”
Based on Cottee Parker’s success over the past 30 years, the future is set to be even bigger and better with the team working on some of the largest and most noteworthy projects across the country – including Queens Wharf in Brisbane and West Side Place in Melbourne.
In addition to the next stage of growth, Cottee Parker’s executive team is also looking at how they can strategically diversify their offerings across the industry into new and upcoming realms of architecture and design.
“We’ve been working to bring on the next generation of directors and shareholders within the company.
“Our managing director, Matthew Caswell, is working with the executive team to come up with an exciting strategic plan for the upcoming years and, ideally, the plan is to grow initially within our four Australian offices and to focus on expanding our range of services within the industry,” Rob said.
“We’re no longer just doing high-rise residential, but now we’ve got a focus on seniors living, automotive dealerships, retail, mixed-use and commercial.
“We’ve got a range of services, and so while we’re diversifying our services we hope to also diversify our geographical locations.
“I think the most satisfying thing for me, especially as I transition out of the business, is to know that we’ve managed to create something that both Geoff and I wanted: to leave an enduring business that could go on for another 30 years.
“I wanted to create a strong legacy to leave behind, and I am extremely confident that I have done exactly that.”
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