A new focus on smaller-scale public works such as museums and community precincts has reaped rewards for Crone Architects, with benefits including employee satisfaction and industry recognition.
Crone has about 65 staff across its Sydney and Melbourne offices, with the smaller Melbourne office expanding to 15-plus. The team has experienced a huge generational transition in recent years. “If we look exactly at the numbers we have today to what we had three or four years ago, it’s virtually the same but 80 per cent of the workforce is completely new,” principal and design director Sandra Furtado said.
There is an equal gender split within the Crone team as well as cultural diversity, with 70 per cent of staff from around the world.
Recent Crone projects include Sydney’s 20 Martin Place commercial tower, which achieved a 6-star Green Star rating and 5-star NABERS rating, and the Wanda Vista Hotel. In Melbourne, the team recently completed the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation building and were closely involved with wework on its first Victorian site at 345 Bourke Street.
Principal and design director Niall Durney said when he joined the firm five years ago he set out to change the way the studio designs and thinks about projects.
“Crone had always done big-scale commercial, residential, hotels, anything that was in the hundreds of millions,” he said. “So I started to target smaller projects, like public works – so museums, community precincts – anything we thought we could experiment with architecturally and try and do something differently.
“And also just get ourselves out in the market and be seen as somebody who does beautiful bespoke projects just as much as we do really largescale work.”
As a result, the team designed the Orange Regional Museum, which was awarded the prestigious 2017 Sulman Medal for Public Architecture at the NSW Architecture Awards. The project also won the Delivered Outcome Small Scale award at the Australian Urban Design Awards.
“Basically that project has put us into a new category of design, amongst our peers anyway,” he said.
The Planning Institute of Australia recently recognised another Crone public work, The Connection – Rhodes Community Centre, with the NSW 2017 From Plan to Place award.
“So we are now quite diverse in the sense that we can do anything from a $2 million museum that we are working on in Goulburn to a $350 million office project in Parramatta.”
Ms Furtado said these smaller notable projects were helpful for staff retention and employee satisfaction.
“When you are working on larger projects you have endure a process which sometimes takes three to five years for it to become realised and, when we are working as a team, sometimes – and quite often it happens – the team transitions once or twice until the building is realised.
“With small projects you can see it from concept to completion looking at maybe two to three years – so it’s a much faster turnaround,” she said. “It gives the young architects an opportunity to follow a building from the design to delivery and it’s also an opportunity for us to showcase some of skills faster than if we were waiting for a large project to be completed.
“The community precinct in Rhodes, it’s been designed and it’s been completed for almost a year now, so that’s actually really positive,” she said. “And it’s also a spirit boost for people in the office because the architect wants to see things built and that tangible side of things is important to keep you going.”
Mr Durney said architects can spend years working on one project that doesn’t even happen. Diversifying and doing smaller work that actually gets built quickly can have a bigger impact. “You may not get huge fees, and they may not support the practice but, as far as marketing the firm as an evolving practice, it’s extremely important.”
The Sydney team has relocated from its Kent Street home of some 25 years to a dramatic, double-height space at 680 George Street – a building that Crone designed in 2008.
The entire team is now accommodated on one floor with a New York loft-style feel, incorporating exposed ducting and service pipes, ample natural light and an outlook over the CBD.
Ms Furtado said the majority of the firm’s work is currently in NSW. “We have a large commercial building in Parramatta and we’re working on a mixed-use precinct in Penrith,” she said. There’s also a large town centre development under construction in Dee Why. The Melbourne team is focused on town house projects and conversions of heritage buildings.”
“We have a very diverse mix of work in Melbourne and around Sydney,” Mr Durney said. “Like everybody else we are starting to do a lot more work in Parramatta. We also have a few key projects within the CBD as well.”