Creating for Communities
Australia’s DBI Design prides itself on creating spaces that enable communities to thrive, its vast and varied portfolio of projects at home and abroad being built up over four decades of craft
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Eddie Clinton
Australia has faced more than its fair share of challenges in 2020.
From the bushfires that raged at the beginning of the year to the ongoing battle to contain the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, you could be forgiven for wishing to fast-forward into 2021 with the hope that brighter times lie ahead.
However, what this year has also shown is tremendous societal resilience and innovation in response to a crisis.
Aussies have rallied to do their bit for the greater good by complying with restrictions which in ordinary times would be unfathomable in an advanced democratic society. Meanwhile, businesses have continued to operate in what are now newly normal parameters.
In the real estate development and construction sphere, there is certainly cause for optimism.
“We are seeing major interest from development companies both Australian and internationally owned, from New South Wales and Victoria in particular, wanting to purchase development sites,” says Raith Anderson, Managing Director of national architecture practice DBI Design.
“The residential property market in Southeast Queensland remains strong with an influx of purchasers from the southern states looking to secure a more balanced lifestyle. Canberra is another market that continues to perform extremely well, and we have a number of projects there that are being well received in the marketplace.”
Anderson and DBI are better placed than most to comment on the matter. The company is an international multi-disciplinary design studio with a focus on design, able to deliver major projects anywhere in the world and with a proven track record for doing so.
Indeed, DBI houses the full spectrum of knowledge and skills, its architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, master planning, and procurement experts combining to present a truly catch all offering for its clients.
“A perfect example of this is our Etihad Towers project in Abu Dhabi,” Anderson adds. “We were the lead consultant responsible not only for the design of every element, but we installed all furnishings right down to the knives and forks for the hotel.”
This neatly parallels the Managing Director’s personal enjoyment in being hands-on in his approach to the creative process. An avid problem solver by nature, he got involved with DBI Design more than 24 years ago, lured in by the challenge of creating large-scale world-class projects and then delivering them around the world.
Back then the company was 16 years old and well established, 2020 marking a significant milestone of four decades in operation.
“It is an extremely proud moment for us,” Anderson says. “I myself am a third-generation owner of the business and we have in place the next generation of owners within the practice.
“The body of work that DBI has delivered over the years is amazing and we have been fortunate to be involved in numerous international and national award-winning projects during this time. It is a great story to sell when you are sitting down with a new client and you are able to walk them through our history and project experience. Looking forward, it is exciting to think what great projects DBI will be involved in over the next 40 years.”
Jewel in the crown
The past 14 of these years has seen DBI involved in what the Managing Director describes as one of the most complex projects the practice has undertaken.
Nestled on Australia’s Gold Coast is Jewel, a AUD$1 billion mixed-use development made up of three towers ranging from 34 to 47 storeys in height and inspired by the crystalline volcanic hook that forms the underlying structure of the area’s coastline and hinterland.
“It has been quite a journey,” Anderson says. “DBI has been involved in the project since the first developer amalgamated the site back in 2006 – due to the global financial crisis the project did not proceed at that time.
“The site was then purchased in 2010 by the Ridong Group, who began the journey to the project we have today, which is owned by AW Jewel Pty Ltd who are continuing to complete the development in keeping with the original vision, and their own exemplary standards.”
DBI secured the project in collaboration with Oppenheim Architecture as part of an international design competition run by invitation only, the company being responsible for architecture, interior design, landscape design and master planning of the development.
The central and tallest of the three towers, Tower 2, contains a five-star Langham Hotel with 169 rooms and 170 serviced apartments, with the remaining two towers housing luxury residential apartments (Tower 1 with 232 apartments and Tower 3 103 apartments) and all areas enjoying beach views. Extensive five-star facilities are contained on the ground floor and podium, with the podium to Tower 2 containing the residents’ facilities.
“The podium is central to Jewel’s success as an urban design outcome, and will have the most direct interface with the adjoining streetscape where its crystalline design and use of triangular metal and glass facets will be viewed in close proximity by pedestrians,” Anderson explains.
“The Jewel development is expressive and sculptural. It employs innovative materials and detailing for a project of this type, ensuring the Jewel towers will become an important urban landmark and make a significant contribution to the Gold Coast’s cityscape.”
The Managing Director, full of admiration for his team’s delivery of such a complex development, is also quick to highlight the importance of collaboration with key partner Multiplex.
“No single person is responsible for a project like this, and DBI worked closely with Multiplex’s construction team over a four-year period to deliver this outcome,” Anderson continues. “It takes a full team starting with the client and their vision, the full spectrum of consultants, the builder, subcontractors, and authorities, to work together in realising the dream.
“There are an incredible number of consultants, sub-contractors, and suppliers that make up the team on the large complex projects that we like to be involved in, and every one of them is important in the successful delivery of the project.
“Successful business has always been about relationships and surrounding yourself with people that you can rely on to do an excellent job. It is never our intention to start a project with an end goal of creating an ‘average’ development. We need to push as hard as we can within the allowable parameters to deliver the best possible design outcome, and the people we work with understand this.”
Creating for the community
This is certainly this case in Brisbane, where DBI is fully immersed in its largest urban renewal project at South City Square.
Located two kilometres from the city’s central business district, the company’s involvement dates back to 2012 when it was engaged in preliminary master planning with the client, a joint venture between Melbourne’s Pellicano and Perri Projects.
There are eight phases, three of which are already completed. Once finished (in 2024), it will serve as a mixed-use lifestyle precinct with 850 apartments, a 140-room hotel, 1,500 parking spaces and 12,000 square metres of retail space including a cinema, supermarket, childcare facilities, markets, restaurants and shops.
“At the heart of the project is a public green square,” describes Anderson. “This central feature is the focal point for the commercial uses and provides an attractive outlook for those apartments that look into the development. It is a space that is intended for children to play, to relax in, and to be activated with the numerous restaurants, cafes, and retail outlets that front it.
“One aspect of the project that enables a smooth transition from the design phase into construction is that Pellicano are also the builders for the development.
“With both DBI and the client providing a range of inhouse skills with less external input, it enables for ease of communication and approval process resulting in the ability to deliver the project in a quicker and more efficient manner.”
This bodes well for timely and successful completion of the eight phases by 2024, the South City Square scheme already on the receiving end of a number of awards.
Once more Anderson is eager to emphasise the commitment of the client and his team in ensuring the project remains on track, prompting the Managing Director to explain how DBI’s people are, without doubt, the company’s greatest asset.
“We are very team focused,” he says. “The projects that we work on are large and complex, and no single person delivers them. It takes a team of dedicated people, each contributing a different skillset that enables us to successfully create city building developments.
“Training and personal development is a combination of company focused goals, such as bringing everyone fully across onto a single software platform, and more individual based goals, such as assisting architectural graduates in obtaining their registration, or providing the opportunity to develop into new roles.
“We are fortunate to have a dedicated group of professionals who enjoy what they do and the exciting range of projects that we get to work on.”
And such dedication to the task has been invaluable during what has been a challenging time both for Australia and the wider world.
Anderson realises that the timeframe for returning to some form of normality is uncertain, so when asked about his future priorities for the business, he is grounded in his response, simply stating that the short-term plan is to keep securing exciting projects that will enable DBI to deliver the best design outcomes possible.
The Managing Director also reveals goals to further expand its operations in New South Wales and ACT once provincial borders are opened up, with new ways of reengaging international clients being explored.
The difficult realities facing us all in 2020 provides an important moment for reflection, and it is here that Anderson chooses to end the conversation by reminding us why DBI exists, and why, ultimately, he continues to dearly love the work he does.
He concludes: “One of the great outcomes of what we do as designers in delivering large scale city changing projects is that we get to influence how people engage with the built environment that we create. It is extremely rewarding when you see the community interacting in the spaces we have created in the way they were intended.”
Another award-winning development is the AVEO Gasworks project, located in Brisbane.
It is DBI’s first vertical age-in-place tower, the 19-storey building being placed over the existing Gasworks retail precinct. The new tower will include a residential aged care facility, assisted living units, and independent living units, along with extensive recreation facilities, a commercial office component, parking, and a commercial kitchen.
A range of accommodation options allow seniors the flexibility to move from independent living to residential aged care within the same building – this essentially means that they could transition within the same community as care levels or circumstances change, helping residents retain important connections and support networks.
“AVEO are extremely experienced in the Aged Care sector and worked closely with the DBI team through the design process to ensure all design considerations would benefit the residents by providing the flexibility, comfort and safety they need,” Anderson comments.
“The development provides an amazing range of facilities such as a gym, day spa, library, private movie theatre, restaurant and bar, business centre and beauty salon. A wellness suite with a GP and allied health services also provides residents and their families with additional peace of mind.
“One of the challenges of this project was building over the top of the original Gasworks retail precinct. It was a credit to the team to successfully complete the tower and still maintain full operation of the retail precinct below.”