Baldasso Cortese: A blueprint for future success

Baldasso Cortese has been a leading architectural, interior design and master-planning practice in Australia and New Zealand for 30 years, specialising in groundbreaking architectural designs in the fields of care, education, and lifestyle and community.

With its strong, customer-centred approach, the firm provides award-winning architectural design services to a diverse portfolio of clients, with a wide range of ongoing projects that push the boundaries of what can be achieved in the architectural space. When he joined the practice last year, CEO Andy Scott was tasked with preparing the next generation of leaders to take Baldasso Cortese into the future, as he explained recently to The Australian Business Executive.

Collaborative and forward-thinking

Baldasso Cortese was started in 1987 by Anthony Baldasso and Steve Cortese as a small-scale operation specialising in residential, industrial and commercial buildings. Last year, the firm celebrated its thirtieth anniversary.

“I believe [it’s] a fantastic organisation,” Mr Scott says, “and it’s clearly focussed on client needs and expectations of building a collaborative team. We do have a very strong social conscience, so we do give to charities and the like on a regular basis.”

Over the last thirty years, the practice has been involved in a diverse range of projects for an equally diverse range of clients, including household names such as TLC, Australia Post and Coles, as well as smaller organisations less well known on the public stage.

“There’s been a number of changes in the practice over the years,” Mr Scott adds. “When they started thirty years ago, we were on drawing boards – now we have 3D computer model and visualisation.”

A key element of the firm moving forward is in embracing the increasingly blurred lines between design and contractor work, a change in the industry which has seen a more collaborative approach to architectural design develop.

“As an architectural and interior design practise, we will develop a brief with a client and develop that through to a set of construction drawings, traditionally then they’re tendered and then a builder takes over and builds the project under our supervision.”

Planned Cover commercial and residential insurance

In recent years, the delivery method has become more varied, and the firm has become more involved in early contractor involvement, meaning contractors have come in at an earlier stage to be involved in the design itself.

“[This] is interesting, because we can build into the design some of the techniques and methodologies and innovations that the builders would have, which otherwise we don’t get to see until post-tender.”

Leading expert in three key areas

Baldasso Cortese has seen most of its success come from the key sectors of care, education, and lifestyle and community. Mr Scott admits the time is right to start diversifying this portfolio by expanding into other sectors.

“Education has been particularly successful for us,” he says, “because of our focus on primary and secondary schools initially, and then moving into tertiary. There’s been a great deal of expenditure from governments and independent schools alike in that space.”

This has allowed the firm to develop some significant Intellectual Property in this area, helping rank them in the top three architectural practices in the education sector in Victoria, a ranking reflected in the awards received and the number of opportunities the firm is offered.

“When most of the significant clients in the area go to tender for architectural services, we’re usually on that list. That part of our work probably represents about 35% of the total portfolio, so it’s a fairly significant piece of work for us.”

Clients in the education space include big names such as Catholic Education Melbourne, the Ministry of Education in New Zealand and the Victorian Schools Building Authority, as well as a number of privately run schools in the area.

“The care team are focussed on aged-care, healthcare and childcare. They’ve completed projects both here, in Melbourne, and in Sydney. That is about 25% of the income of the business as the moment, but it’s rapidly expanding, particularly in aged-care and healthcare.”

Over the last thirty years, Baldasso Cortese Architects have been involved in a diverse range of projects for household names including TLC, Australia Post and Coles
Over the last thirty years, Baldasso Cortese Architects have been involved in a diverse range of projects for household names including TLC, Australia Post and Coles

The most recent demographics suggest that aged-care is seeing particularly high demand, prompting Baldasso Cortese to build four aged-care facilities of over 120 beds in and around the Melbourne area to cater for the demand.

There is also plenty of activity in the healthcare space, both in primary and secondary healthcare, where the firm is working with a large number of hospitals around the state to improve facilities.

“Lifestyle and community is our term for what others might term ‘mixed-use’. We brought two teams together about 12 months ago – one was a residential team; one was a commercial and retail team.”

These teams were merged as a response to a marketplace trend originating from overseas, involving these two particular typologies being combined into one element, when usually they remain separate.

“We combined a team that would match that, and had that capability in one integrated team. The team has built now to be about 40% of our overall income, so it’s been highly successful over the last 12 months, and we’re forecasting that it will continue to grow.”

The portfolio is designed to facilitate market diversification. With each of these markets subject to peaks and troughs, like any other sector, the firm is able to build up business resilience and move people between sectors depending on how well they’re performing.

Mr Scott believes the education sector will stay busy for the foreseeable future, especially the tertiary space, and that aged-care and healthcare will also sustain. It’s the lifestyle and community area where the biggest growth for the business is expected.

“We are seeing more and more of what you might call urban village developments, or precinct developments, where there are entire areas or small suburbs being developed in one go. There’s several of those happening in the Western suburbs of Melbourne right now.”

This ongoing trend can be seen all across Australia, and represents some significant developments. Such changes can be attributed to growing urbanisation, driven by the continued population growth in the country.

Equally important are the differences in architectural requirements in each of these individual sectors. Education, in particular, is usually aimed towards catering for the different teaching methodologies offered by each individual establishment.

“For example,” Mr Scott says, “there’s a growing trend for having integrated facilities for special needs children. We’re increasingly designing all facilities across the campus to accommodate special needs.”

Baldasso Cortese has a designated team for understanding and catering for the different teaching methodologies the firm are asked to work within. This often involves working with teachers to understand how they deliver their curriculum.

Award-winning customer service

“Our focus, from day one, is on clients. I listen to feedback from clients on a regular basis, and one of the criticisms they make of architectural practices is that they are fairly arrogant and try to impose their will on design upon them, rather than listening to their needs.”

For Baldasso Cortese, it is imperative to put in the necessary time to listen carefully to what the client is looking for, developing a brief alongside them with their needs at the very forefront of the process.

“We’ve won quite a lot of customer service awards based on the fact that we actually take the time, with care and attention, to listen to the actual needs. We explore them, we put options up, and we develop a design in conjunction with the client.”

This commitment to service excellence has been a key driver of the firm’s sustained success, resulting in a number of clients coming to Baldasso Cortese as a direct result of a negative experience elsewhere.

“Our focus, from day one, is on clients. I listen to feedback from clients on a regular basis, and one of the criticisms they make of architectural practices is that they are fairly arrogant and try to impose their will on design upon them, rather than listening to their needs.”
“Our focus, from day one, is on clients. I listen to feedback from clients on a regular basis, and one of the criticisms they make of architectural practices is that they are fairly arrogant and try to impose their will on design upon them, rather than listening to their needs.”

With such a diverse portfolio of clients, the firm often finds itself having to work within very different budget expectations, meaning it must be particularly shrewd about how it converses with clients regarding budgets.

“Managing a client’s expectations with regards to budget can be very difficult. We do have clients that come to us and outline their aspirations for a development, and we’ll quickly determine that the amount of money they’ve got to spend is about half of what they need.”

This is an ongoing challenge for the firm, and the outcome will often depend on the strength of the client’s vision. Usually, some diligent work early on in the briefing process will identify which parts of the design are essential and which are expendable.

“At the moment we’ve got another problem in that area,” Mr Scott adds, “which is that there’s an increasing demand on resources across the industry, both people and materials, and that’s driving up construction costs as well.”

This means the firm has to attempt to forecast potential additional costs at the beginning of a project, building them into original client discussions to make sure the expectations on budget are accurately represented.

Wide range of ongoing projects

“At any point in time, we’ve probably got about 70 projects on the go,” Mr Scott explains, “and they range from individual residences up to a project which has recently been appointed for – a large precinct development of up to about $1b worth of construction.”

The company’s most recent work includes the highly impressive TLC Clifton Hill project in the north of Melbourne, an integrated aged-care and healthcare facility, which will be completed and handed over to the client in August 2018.

“It’s a ten-level, high-end aged-care facility, and it incorporates an integrated health hub with 127 rooms, a basement car park, rest room, ancillary spaces, communal spaces. It’s got the local GP clinic in there, nurse’s treatment room, pathology, gym and physio suite.”

This project has been driven by a shift in the desired location of aged-care, which has traditionally been situated in the outer suburbs. The Clifton Hill development is designed to serve those who have been living in the area all their lives and want to stay in the community.

“Because of the density there, it drives the development upwards – hence the ten levels. Another important aspect was having the local GP’s clinic in the ground floor of the building, so that helped to serve that integration with the community that’s been there for so long.”

Another key project is the recently completed 750-seat Performing Arts Centre for Huntingtower School in Melbourne east. The centre provides excellent sightlines, with exceptional acoustics, whilst also maintaining a feeling of intimacy.

“That’s an outstanding facility,” Mr Scott says. “The quality and standard of the facility that’s been delivered to the school, I still find unbelievable. I’m really pleased with the job we’ve done there.”

Perhaps the most significant element of this project has been the feedback received from the school, which is absolutely ecstatic to be in possession of such an impressive venue. This kind of feedback only enhances Baldasso Cortese’s longstanding reputation for excellence.

Another project about to commence construction is the second tower at the Fivex building on Flinders Street, in the centre of Melbourne. Being in a city centre location has already presented significant development challenges for this project.

“It’s a very tight urban space, surrounded by towers, and we’re actually putting a tower on top of an existing podium, which will remain occupied during the construction. So that’s a particularly challenging project.”

The way the structure is being built means that the tower needs to be lightweight, and so has been made out of a mix of timber and steel. This has involved some innovative construction work and has been prefabricated offsite to be craned into position.

“I’m very focused on people in the organisation. I strongly believe that, if I do the right thing by them, they’ll do the right thing by me. We have that ethos in the practice as well, and it seems to be working for us.”
“I’m very focused on people in the organisation. I strongly believe that, if I do the right thing by them, they’ll do the right thing by me. We have that ethos in the practice as well, and it seems to be working for us.”

Industry trends will come and go, but one thing that keeps Baldasso Cortese’s designs fresh is their lack of desire to follow fashions. The firm’s approach is much more geared around individual needs rather than what everyone else is doing.

“We tend to design our buildings bespoke to the needs at the time. We do try to build in some longevity to them, and most of our designs are very contemporary and clean in their nature, and they will probably live past the fashions in architectural design over the years.”

A solid platform to grow from

Mr Scott joined the practice as CEO in 2017, on the back of extensive experience leading architectural practices of various sizes all over the world. The industry has taught him many lessons, most of which have revealed more about what not to do in business.

“If you watch the people around you,” he says, “you can learn a great deal. I learned a lot from a CEO that I worked for back in the UK. He was an incredible people manager, always took time out for the people around the office, even in crisis situations.”

This experience taught Mr Scott that leaders of businesses are, more than anything else, people managers. If they forget this key distinction, then they will struggle to do their job effectively, and everything else will fail.

“I’m very focused on people in the organisation. I strongly believe that, if I do the right thing by them, they’ll do the right thing by me. We have that ethos in the practice as well, and it seems to be working for us.”

Mr Scott was hired to drive the next generational change within Baldasso Cortese. There is already a huge amount of work going on to prepare for this, including moves to diversify both the portfolio and the firm’s geographical footprint.

“That’s just to build some resilience into the practice,” he says. “We’re actively looking at establishing a centre in Sydney and Brisbane, and perhaps overseas, and we’re developing healthcare and tertiary education markets and strengthening those.”

The overall plan is to give the next generation of the firm’s leaders a solid platform to grow from. In addition, the firm is actively working towards a vision of what skills the future leaders of the practice will need.

“We’re doing a lot of work to understand what our new leader needs to look like, in 20 years’ time. We’ve carried out a number of workshops, where we’ve sat down and said – what’s it going to look like in 20 years’ time when we’ve got robots building on site?”

With technological innovations such as Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality rapidly changing the way buildings are designed, the firm is aware of the need for a different managerial mindset in the future, and is working hard to prepare for all eventualities.

“We’ve devised a measurement framework now, so that we’re going to measure everyone in the organisation who wants to opt-in to being a future leader, and each of them will get a report from that, and that becomes a development plan for the individual.”

This approach will give potential new leaders room-to-grow and succeed existing leaders, taking ownership of the company. Equally important is encouraging existing leadership to pass the baton efficiently to the next generation.

“It’s an interesting dynamic that we’re working with, but we’ve got a good period of time to make it happen, and I’m very confident it will happen very well. We’re hoping in 100 years’ time we’ll be on the fifth generation of the practise and still going strong.”

Despite having travelled all over the world in his career, Mr Scott is extremely happy to have settled finally in Australia. In terms of Baldasso Cortese’s industry, the future for the country looks very promising indeed.

“I can see the next five to ten years being very exciting for us all,” he concludes. “I think there’s a lot of infrastructure development going in that’s driven by population growth in various parts of the country. I truly believe [Australia] will be the envy of the world.”

Find out more about Baldosse Cortese by visiting www.bcarch.net.