Two things strike you when you visit Woods Bagot’s fourteenth floor studio: the sweeping views of Adelaide from city to hills, and the Lego set in the waiting area – a playful nod to their role as one of the world’s largest architectural practice.
From this vantage point, Global Management Leader Thomas Masullo points out a few of Woods Bagot’s works in progress:
“That’s BHP’s new workplace under construction next door – you’ll see the Kodo Apartments going up over there—”
Thomas knows the Adelaide skyline well. He joined the company in 1995 for a stint as a fresh University of South Australia graduate, and has been there ever since.
“It’s my first job and my only job,” he laughs.
From graduate to global director, his enthusiasm is tangible even after more than two decades.
“I say I’ve got a new job every five years,” he says. “I’ve seen our business go from being an international practice to a global practice, it’s like having a new job in the same place.”
Woods Bagot’s origins in Adelaide trace back to 1869, when architect Edward John Woods was commissioned to design St Peter’s Cathedral. Woods joined forces with another prominent local architect, Walter Bagot, in 1905.
The company have been designing some of the city’s most recognisable and renowned buildings and infrastructure ever since, from heritage-listed Bonython Hall, to the sculptural, space age design of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI).
“SAHMRI is our new St Peter’s Cathedral,” says Thomas, pinpointing the medical precinct as a new architectural landmark for the state.
With South Australia’s first project, and Australia’s first laboratory building to achieve LEED Gold certification, Thomas says the globally-recognised development is “a thing of the world in Adelaide”.
The second instalment, SAHMRI 2, is currently in development, and will be home to the first proton therapy unit in the southern hemisphere.
Another of Woods Bagot’s projects, the Tonsley Park redevelopment, took out the prestigious Property Council of Australia/ Rider Levett Bucknall 2018 Development Innovation award at the Innovation & Excellence Awards in Sydney last week.
It is one of 15 projects featuring in the Australian exhibit at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, in an exhibition presenting architectural approaches to repairing the environment through design.
“Everyone I bring to Tonsley is just blown away,” Thomas says. “The project is an amazing demonstration of what we can do as a community, creating a brand around South Australia.
“It would be very difficult in other parts of the world to deliver a project at this scale and innovation.”
Today, Woods Bagot has a team of over 850 working across 15 studios in Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America.
Thomas spends his time managing a bustling global business – with all the Skype calls and long hauls that involves – as well some of the major built infrastructure projects in SA, spanning medical, cultural, educational sectors and beyond.
Woods Bagot remains proudly local, with 40 staff based in Adelaide.
“It’s a global organisation but we stay local – I call it ‘glocal’. We’re very much embedded in our community here.”
Described as “one global studio”, Woods Bagot has a unique business model: there’s no head office, they have a flat management structure, and the team’s skills are dispersed across a worldwide network.
“CEO Nik Karalis, an ex-Adelaide boy, he’s in London; we have our CFO and COO in Melbourne, our head of digital technology in New York, I’m global management and I reside in Adelaide…” Thomas says.
The model means the company can “activate the globe” quickly and easily.
“The best people are deployed to the projects wherever they are, so our clients can tap into our global knowledge, but can be delivered from the local studio.”
From drawing board to business structure, Woods Bagot embodies its ethos of ‘people architecture’ and future oriented design. One way these ideas manifest is in their approach to young up and coming talent in South Australia.
“We have a great talent pool in Adelaide,” says Thomas. “We can offer our staff global experience in a local context.”
Woods Bagot also maintains strong ties to education through Woods Bagot scholarships at the University of South Australia.
The blend of global and local means the firm also works on smaller projects, which saw the team deliver the Gold and Platinum Carriage interiors for Great Southern Rail, at the same time as the Adelaide Convention Centre.
Thomas says it’s about building something for future generations.
“It’s all about people and their experiences, so the size of the project is almost irrelevant to a degree, it’s about the sorts of legacies we’re leaving for our community.
“I want to make South Australia and Adelaide the best place for the next generation, I feel like I have a responsibility as a professional to do that.”
Thomas says this unique model has given him the chance to develop at a global level, while staying at home in Adelaide.
“Being a director of arguably one of the world’s largest and best architectural practices, but still being in Adelaide, that’s a significant achievement,” he says. “I recall when my directorship was approved, I think I nearly veered my car off the road in excitement.”
Adelaide’s scale not only drives new ways of thinking, it’s a perfect place to live and to do business, he says.
“The strong connection between private sector and the business community in Adelaide is something that’s pretty rare.
“South Australia has an incredible infrastructure that allows you to do business here, and there are some really amazing thinkers here. You can definitely make a difference.”
Visit I Choose SA for Industry to learn more stories about key industry leaders, why they’ve chosen SA as a base and how the state is enabling them to succeed.