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Group GSA’s founder and current Managing Director Mark Sheldon envisioned his career path as an architect at the age of 14: studying the subject at university, owning his own practice, and then going on to become one of the best-known design firm leaders in Australia. Minus a two-year stint admiring architecture around Europe and working as a ‘ski bum’ in Switzerland, Sheldon has followed through with his childhood dream: over a 33-year span, Group GSA has established itself as a top-10 architecture and interior design firm in Australia, operating globally through a network of alliance partner offices.
Group GSA as it is today didn’t come about until 1995. While studying at the University of Technology Sydney (or UTS), Sheldon worked under several distinguished architects including Ken Woolley, whose Sydney roots were apparent in his style of work around the city, and Austrian-born Harry Seidler, who pioneered the ‘Bauhaus’ style movement in Australia and with whom Sheldon worked for the final 18 months of his course.
Sheldon says he’s lucky to have made it into university in the first place: “I wasn’t a great school student, but I had the passion for architecture,” he told UTS alumni magazine TOWER. “I went to the Dean and asked him to give me a go.” Sheldon has since spoken with then-Dean Peter Middleton about his entry into the university and recalls him saying that “he had no doubt I’d make it, but he said ‘you know, on the numbers, I shouldn’t have let you in.’”
GROUP GSA RISES
Upon Sheldon’s return from living in Zermatt, Siedler recommended that he find work with Don Gazzard, who had been Seidler’s first employee at his firm, Harry Seidler & Associates, back in 1948. This arrangement worked for a couple years before Sheldon, longing to build his own firm, broke away from the company to found Mark Sheldon & Associates on 29 September 1979.
Six years later, Sheldon and Don Gazzard merged their efforts to begin Gazzard Sheldon Architects in 1985, which offered Sheldon the opportunity to complete projects abroad in Southeast Asia and the Solomon Islands. A decade later, Sheldon bought out his share of the company and in 1995, Group GSA was born.
Over the next three decades, GSA expanded its presence over five continents and built an impressive portfolio spanning 12 sectors. Standout projects include Sydney’s Aurora Place building on Macquarie Street, winner of the prestigious 2002 ‘Property Council of Australia Rider Hunt Award’ and for which GSA partnered with architect Renzo Piano and the Lend Lease Corporation, and the international shooting range for the Beijing Olympics, which had led to several more building and design opportunities throughout China.
Sheldon is proof that deep passion and commitment to the craft can lead an aspiring architect down the path to success, and as such, GSA is dedicated to assisting NSW-based university students with their careers. At the University of Newcastle, GSA offers a sponsorship to the top architecture student, as well as sponsoring an award for the top interior design student in the course at UTS. Through the Australian Institute of Architects, a group of GSA directors run mentoring teams (from UNSW, Sydney and UTS) at the Sydney office to expose students to real projects. As a result of these and other university-based efforts, GSA is able to retain several of its students as employees after graduation. “If people are ambitious and care about where they want to go, we [will] harness and manage that,” says Sheldon.
To attract budding talent to GSA, the company ensures that its office atmosphere is upbeat, productive and cutting edge, from the building design to the stimulating projects being worked on within it. “Part of our business plan is to be an employer of choice,” says Sheldon, where employees “learn by being challenged and mentored.”
TECHNOLOGY DRIVING PROJECTS
Within the past 18 months, GSA has invested in two key programs that have changed the way they conduct business and stay organised. On the organisation side, purchasing BST Global database management software has allowed GSA to track projects, profitability, resources, utilisation, invoicing, expenses, accounting and other details that ensure the company is running smoothly.
On the design side, the capabilities of Building Information Modeling (BIM) software have permitted GSA to streamline their 3D documentation drawings and achieve greater accuracy when these drawings are developed into 4D, 5D and 6D platforms. The implementation of this program won GSA the prime opportunity to design all of Australia’s Costco warehouse stores in 3D-BIM. So far, three stores have opened in Melbourne, western Sydney and Canberra, with four stores scheduled to open every year thereafter. “We try to be leading-edge in the way that we manage the business,” says Sheldon of GSA’s technology initiatives.
Implementing environmentally-sound policies has also been a top priority at GSA over the past 10 years. “We embody sustainable design principles across all of our projects. All of our key people are educated and trained to understand green building principles,” says Sheldon. According to company policy, all GSA architects must be Green Star registered through Green Building Council Australia, and their certification is funded by the company.
While every Group GSA project is an innovative and aesthetic solution, there are rarely similarities in the design: “We design for context and to our clients’ needs, so buildings often look quite different from one another,” says Sheldon. To become globally successful, the firm has had to remain adaptable among the 12 sectors within which they work: “We have to be able to move with whichever sector is hot at that time.” With an award-winning portfolio brimming with a diverse range of projects, the path of success appears to be a long and continuing one for Group GSA.
Aurora Place and Macquarie Apartments
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