Woods Bagot celebrates 150 years of moving the practice of architecture forward

Global architecture and consulting firm Woods Bagot is celebrating 150 years in practice. Founded in Adelaide, Australia, in 1869, Woods Bagot now operates from 15 studios in major cities around the world.

Chief executive officer Nik Karalis described the achievement as immensely affirming.

“I’m often asked how we created a truly global organisation with a talent pool as diverse as the regions we work in. Simply answered, we put our people and our clients first, in equal measure,” said Karalis. “We are inclusive in our approach, we’ve celebrated diversity long before it was politically correct and, most importantly, we’re prepared to travel to the four corners of the globe to apply our expertise to our client’s visionary ambitions.”

Woods Bagot was established by two visionaries – Edward John Woods and Walter Bagot – passionate about designing for the future growth of their city and its people. This clear driver remains the firm’s foundation and has fuelled expansion from one studio in Adelaide to fifteen globally, covering more than nine sector typologies which commonly combine to create holistic buildings and precincts for their cities.

As he leads Woods Bagot into its next era of creative practice, Karalis attributes the firm’s longevity over a century and a half to an enduring interest in moving the purpose of architecture forward.

Karalis said,

“What makes us different is that we’re not afraid of change. We maintain a rigorous curiosity about advances in construction processes and the building industry, emerging technology, and always, always, how people actually use space, not how we think they use space.”

One of the dramatic shifts in the built environment this century has been in shared space and the aggregation of communities. The work for architecture, says Karalis, is now a tangled and fascinating web of interconnections.

“Projects are more complex as a huge mix of uses and needs are brought together in cohesive developments. We call it sector blur, where boundary lines of uses are erased and replaced with connective tissue.”

Digital design, robotic fabrication, ecology, and new methods of assembly are the current disruptors in construction. Karalis predicts advances in digital construction and the relationships with contractors and clients will better align design with intent.

“It’s a really interesting time for architecture to respond ethically and not continue its old ways. Woods Bagot is trying to redefine a new kind of empathy methodology. Creativity is not born with the genius – it comes with the client, the communities and the creative. A triple input.”

In moving architecture forward, Woods Bagot continues to invest heavily in a research and technology agency which is superseding the traditional area space analysis with an experiential analysis.

“Through SuperSpace, our research entity, we see the world of possibility that exists in our ability to map and gather data across scales, whether it be for cities, economies, clients, buildings, or end-users. To create ‘user briefs’ we harness data and engage early in the process, asking people what they need to fulfil their human potential.”

Experiential analyses bring in the tactility and the emotional dimension of how people respond to space, volume, and light and darkness which is what Karalis thinks the practise of architecture should be. He refutes the notion that technology and data mean a loss of human connection.

“Changing social economics and the profoundly different values of millennials compel a reconstruction in how designers regard the built environment. I want to nudge audiences to think about this a little more carefully.”

Wood Bagot’s milestone celebrations across three centuries commenced with a dinner at the site of the firm’s first project – the St Peter’s Cathedral, Adelaide, Australia.