The rise of mixed-use developments is changing the way clients work with architectural practices, creating both advantages and risks.

Building shopping centres is a case in point.

In recent decades, some architectural practices have developed deep experience and skills in this specialist area of architecture. But the rise of online shopping is challenging traditional approaches.

Consumers still love to go out shopping, of course, but shopping centres have a different function for them. They are places to gather, rest and re-energise as well as shop. Shoppers are looking for an exciting, engaging experience, and a sense that their shopping centre is part of their community’s life – with some public and community services, for example.

The redevelopment of Castle Towers shopping complex, in the western Sydney suburb of Castle Hill, illustrates this new approach. As a significant urban land holding at the centre of a growing and evolving community, it is this kind of project that has the potential for innovation and societal direction setting.

The project involves three architecture practice: Hames Sharley, Woods Bagot and the Dutch firm, UNStudio.

Hames Sharley is the lead practice for the project. For Hames Sharley director, Aldo Raadik, it is a matter of uniting these local and international design practices during the project to stimulate highly creative thinking, assemble the world’s best ideas about modern shopping centre development, and to execute the project in the most efficient way.

Only well-guided teams of experts can realise this potential. While clients have the option to manage the consultants themselves – reducing the cost – appointing a single architect to co-ordinate all the design consultants has several advantages, Raadik says. These include:

  1. Innovation Collaboration allows clients to engage smaller practices with fresh ideas that are nimble, responsive and have lower overheads to work with larger practices that have clout in the construction industry and sophisticated processes for procurement and delivery.
  2. World’s best design UNStudio is globally renowned for its creative design work. Their services will be used judiciously on specific aspects to question traditional thinking and to work in conjunction with Hames Sharley’s overall retail masterplan, Raadik says. As well as contributing design ideas, Woods Bagot will contribute its operational skills and experience.
  3. Simplified reporting and decision-making The client sits at the top of the decision-making tree, with Hames Sharley design managing and liaising with the client’s executive team of decision-makers and their support teams. The lines of communication and responsibility are clear: all decisions come through Hames Sharley’s executive team, even though the principals of the other architecture practices are involved in some or all of the client meetings.
  4. All singing from the same song sheet With Woods Bagot and UNStudio reporting via Hames Sharley rather than directly to the client, everyone’s interests are aligned: to work together, support each other’s expertise and do their best work in the field of speciality for which they have been engaged.
  5. Reducing risk Clients can be legally exposed if they take design work from one consultant and insist another practice work according to it, either in detail or to program. If problems arise, the client risks blame-shifting between the consultants, with legal battles quickly eliminating the cost savings and adding to the overall project cost and time.
  6. Speed, efficiency and certainty Specialist practices are fast at what they do. Collaboration allows the participating specialists to share knowledge with each other and learn new skills, but not at the expense of the client. Each practice works quickly through their own tasks, reducing the chance of mistakes and enabling many aspects of the project to progress simultaneously. With an overseas collaborator, such as UNStudio, the time zone difference may work in favour of the client, permitting a 16-hour working day as the Dutch practice takes up each day where the Australian practices leave off.

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