Gary Pidd – Studio 26 Architects – CEO Business Marketing Interview 42

Gary talks about the recent rebrand to Studio 26 Architects to freshen the look and style, and how that plays into his long term strategy to bring through the next generation of architects in Hawke’s Bay. Listen to Gary share some of the secrets behind great architecture including ambience, light and volume and why he believes these can make a space feel 100x better.

Gary also shares how he harnesses his 4am moments of inspiration, adopting new drone technology to help clients enjoy the building process where they can’t get on site and why he believes we have some of the best businesses in NZ right here in Hawke’s Bay.

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Gary Pidd – Studio 26 Architects EPSIODE 42

Ryan: This is The Ryan Marketing Show and you’re listening to Episode 42 of 100. Today on the show I have Gary Pidd, an architect based in Hawks Bay who has recently renamed two Studio 26 Architects. Great to have you on the show, Gary.

Gary Pidd: Thank you.

Ryan: Now, tell me a little bit about this rebrand, because before Studio 26 you were Gary Pidd Architect so it was easy to know who you were and who you work for because it was all the same name, and you’ve got this quite exciting change going on, broadening the name to Studio 26. What’s been the impetus for that happening?

GP: Studio 26 is trying to do several things: rebrand in terms of refreshing our look and refreshing our style, and it’s also part of bringing the younger staff through and setting up our company in such a way that they can take it over without having to rebrand every time you take it over. And we hunted long and hard for a new name and there was all sorts of weird and wonderful things, but 26 is our address and we’ve been here, I believe, twelve years and they’re funky looking numbers and we liked– for want of a better word, they’re sexy looking numbers rather than 11 or 17 – the 2 6 look really cool. And the Studio, a lot of architect practices call themselves studio, so the Studio 26 hopefully will give us a bit of a fresh look and it’s a fresh logo and opens us up to more stuff and different stuff.

Ryan: So, really a branding to reflect some of the growth within the business; that it’s not just about you anymore, there is a wider team and you have got these young people coming through that are really making your practice quite exciting. What does it mean for the type of jobs or projects you will go and get? Will they remain the same or have you got some other new types of architectural projects in store?

GP: At the moment, you said it is changing direction; it’s hitting more into addressing residential and eco-friendly and environmentally-friendly housing and into some, again, into some churches, which churches are always interesting to do – a lot of fun. And that’s so that– if you’re going to do this for forty-odd years, you want to make it fun, so that’s really important. Yeah, and so we enjoy what we do.

Ryan: Must be quite unusual doing a church. What goes into designing a church? What are the things that you’re looking for as a churchgoer that you kind of design into the structure?

GP: A church is a lot like doing someone’s house. Because I am not in any way religious, but I also don’t want to live in your house, you want to live in your house and these people want to have their beliefs and have their beliefs in their house of God, so it’s the same thing: you’ve got to try and get into their head on how they want to live and what their religion means to them, the same as we’ve got to get inside a residential person’s head on how they want to live and what’s important to them. This house is not for me; this church is not for me. So, the interesting part is trying to put all your beliefs about what you want and try and get inside someone’s head, and not only in terms of, “Okay, I want a three-bedroom house or I want a church with this and this,” it’s to take it and make stretch it a bit so that it’s not boring; that it’s just on their limits of what they can handle without being too far but without being boring, so finding that limit. And the church, we did a Catholic church, which was absolutely huge fun, and I said to them, “We’re going to do you a feminine church.” And they said, “What on earth is a feminine church?” And the congregation was average age 55-60, they didn’t want– they wanted a homely church.

Their brief was they wanted a church with feeling. Now, how the heck do you encompass that? But the church we gave them, you walk into it, you know you’re in a church, but you’re quite happy to sit down and have a conversation on the front pew and not feel uncomfortable. And they were superb to work with. When I came to do the color scheme, I said, “I’ve done the color scheme, but there’s one color there you’re not going to like,” and they said, “Why? What’s that?” And I said, “It’s called ‘Skeptic.'” They says, “You can use it, but only in the kitchen.” This is the sort of banter they had.

And then they had another– we were doing the altar and the altar had a thing called an altar stone, and nobody knew what an altar stone was apart from the priest, and the priest said, “Where are we going to put the altar stone?” And I said, “Well, what the hell is an altar stone?” So, took us over to the church, got underneath the altar and pulled out this relic from the Vatican all wrapped in linen and carved, absolutely beautiful. And I said to them, “Why do hide it?” And they said, “Because that’s what we’ve always done.”

I said, “So, okay if I put in a glass drawer and put it in the front of the altar so everybody can see it?” “Yeah, that’s fine.” Because I didn’t have any preconceived ideas, I questioned everything they did and why they did it and if there was a particular reason, that’s fine, but they hadn’t questioned it either. So, they got a building that was absolutely funky, and when the priest went into it he said, “Yeah, this is a feminine building.” Had soft edges, soft curves; it was just so much fun.

Ryan: So, questioning and listening must be a huge part of your role and also suspending your own beliefs on what you would like in a particular structure. How would you then apply that to – because I know you’ve got this big build on the go at the moment with Taradale High School – how do you apply that in an area where there’s a specific activity that has to go on like learning? How do you build that into such a large structure?

GP: Again, it’s all the same whether it’s small to big; it’s taking the people involved in it on a journey, and the journey is: What do you do, how do you do it, is there a better way to do it, is there something else you want to add into this? And then putting options in front of them, and that’s where we use a lot of 3D modeling, so to be able to show somebody what it’s going to look like before they’ve even gone in there and say, “Right, you’re going to stand here and this is what you’re going to see: You’re going to see laboratories there and you’re going to see students there, and how’s that going to work?” And they’ll say, “Well, I hadn’t thought about that. Let’s delve into that,” and they may do that.

Ryan: So, does that– some of those types of 3D modeling enable people to kind of experience the building before having it actually built–

GP: Yes.

Ryan: — to evolve their thinking.

GP: And that’s really quite crux too: You’re spending a lot of money. This building we’re doing, Taradale, is $3 million and it doesn’t matter whether it’s somebody doing a house for $300,000; to experience the building before you’ve built it and know what you’re getting and know what you’re spending your money on, there’s no hidey holes, there’s no surprises; you know exactly what you’re getting. To translate from a 2D plan into a 3D building is a huge jump; not what everybody’s used to doing. But to give somebody a model they can walk through and look around and see before it’s even started, there’s a huge advantage for the client, and it’s fun for us, too.

Ryan: And there must be a lot of influences that both the client and yourself get from various different sources to decide, “Hey, I really want this in my building,” or, “This is something I love doing.” How do you differentiate between what’s fashion that’s in for now versus great, timeless design?

GP: Don’t really follow fashion and not really interested in fashion, again, because it’s not my building, it’s your building. And while we try and keep things looking– and stylish, we had one lady who absolutely– she had muscular dystrophy, absolutely wanted a Tudor-style house. That was what she wished for was a Tudor-style house, so we did her a Tudor-style house. And no, it’s not identifiable as an architect’s house, but you go around Knightsbridge and you will not be able to miss this Tudor-style house, but that’s what she wanted. It wasn’t my house; that’s what she’d lived for all her life was a Tudor-style house, so design– the proportions are right. The design is right, the layout’s right, the comfort level’s right, the sun’s right, but it’s a Tudor-style house. But that’s what she paid a million dollars for. Fine.

Ryan: Are there particular aspects that are more important in the design process than others, like the ambience or light or the materials? Is there a pecking order of things that make great design?

GP: Ambience and light and volume. People do not put enough value on volumes of spaces. I can’t stand these chicken houses that have got a 2.4 stud – they’re just claustrophobic. No one goes to– well, some of them go to 2.7, but what’s wrong with going to three meters or four meters or five meters? The volume inside a small lounge can double its size without actually feeling– without doubling its area, just by adding a little bit of volume and light. Light’s critical. The right orientation and the right windows and the right number of windows just will make the space feel a hundred times better, so–

Ryan: So, even that short amount, just like 200-mil or 300-mil more, that’s going to make the feeling so much better for us as humans?

GP: Make the feeling better. And this is again what I said about the church: they wanted the building to have feeling. Well, we’ve done a lot of Maori education buildings and they have certain requirements that give them their ownership – when they find their ownership. And again, it’s incorporating that into it and giving it their feeling. Now, same with a house: you want to go into the house and think, “Oh, this is cool.” But it’s cool to you. Who cares what the neighbors think? Who cares what the others– this is not their house, it’s your house.

Ryan: How much of that comes into the process of the hand you are dealt with on this is the section, this is the land, these are the amazing views, or actually there’s no views at all; this is how constrained this steep hill is? How much do you have to factor that in?

GP: Oh, they’re all– it’s just a jigsaw puzzle and those are part of the jigsaws. It’s just as much fun putting a little house– we did a little house on Hay Street that was eight meters wide – the section was eight meters wide – so those were the parameters – those are the parameters you work with. So, it’s like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle in your head and you want to make the best thing you can do for that little three-meter– that eight-meter-wide section. Or if it’s a $3 million section, you want to make the best of it. You always want to make the best– I mean, we did a school – it was a Maori Immersion school – and we sat down at the school one evening at about 5:30 and did a brainstorming round the table – whole brainstorming session. And then between there and home, which was a fifteen-minute drive, I designed in my head, sat down with a piece of A4 paper, and drew the building that we were going to have, that I thought we should have. We went back the next couple of days and gave them the plans, and that’s what we built. But it was a collective of all of their ideas, which just seemed to get plugged– and the bigger the problem, the more they just get plugged into your head. And do you ever wake up at 3:00 in the morning and 4:00 and think, “I’ve got it”? I’ll just take it all in, put it all in, let it mush around, don’t think about it too hard, and then suddenly, 4:00 in the morning, and I have my cell phone sitting beside my bed and if I wake up in the morning, I will write it down or draw it and text it to work so it’s there when I get there in the morning.

Ryan: So, you’re just letting your subconscious do a lot of the work, make sure you do a lot of listening to the clients upfront on how they’re going to use the space or how they want or need to. Then, once you get that sign off, then it kind of gets into the reality bit where you’ve got to deal with the plumbers, the builders, the subcontractors, the people that are looking at your instruction set, not necessarily your creative process. How much of that– or how do you go about preserving that all the way through to completion of build?

GP: Once the building’s generally sorted, then it’s just on a path where it’s compliance. It’s compliance with the council’s rules, it’s compliance with the building codes, and it’s compliance in terms of totaling the cost. That’s it. So, once you’ve– again, it’s part of this journey: you’ve got the building designed and sorted, now it’s making sure it’s compliance with all the usual rules and regulations, and it comes in on budget.

Ryan: And how much of that process is sort of backwards and forwards? Do you find that having been in it so long, you know what certain materials are going to cost and complexities of space, and so does that sort of, quote come back bang on, or is the price materials moving quite quickly and you can you can get a few surprises?

GP: No, it’s very important to keep up to date, and when we do a house or an alteration or even a large building, after the building’s finished, we go back and back-cost it. So, we add in all of changes, we add in all the variations, and then we work out what that house costs per square meter, plus the incidentals so that when the other buildings come along similar, we can get a very good idea, and the only thing we take out is we take out P&G, which is Preliminary and General, and we take out the margin, because those are the two things that will fluctuate. If the contractors get busy, the margin will go up, so it’ll go up from 3.5% to maybe 5 to maybe 7.5%. So then we can take the base cost, add on the– builders are busy at the moment, so they’ll probably charge a 7.5% margin. And P&G is, again, the administration costs, and with the new health and safety rules, that has gone up from typically 4-5% to about 7.5-8%, so we use those to moderate the cost, but the base cost we keep lots and lots of records of where are things at. So, it’s very important the client is kept informed of the budget right from the word go. How much do you want to build? This is roughly what it’s going to cost you when you go ahead, and keep monitoring that cost.

Ryan: That would then give you a great understanding and insight across multiple projects of where costs are at, where various builders are at, not only for your own use, but kind of keeping the market honest as well, because you know where you’re sitting in the marketplace. What are some of the exciting projects you’re working on right now?

GP: We’re doing a large house down Harding Road, which has taken two years to get this far. It’s pre-cast concrete, it’s probably going to be $2.5-3 million when it’s finished. Really interesting client who– clients wanted to be really involved in the construction process, and it was an interesting tender in that the client’s number one thing wasn’t price. Yes, they had a budget, but they wanted to be involved with the construction side of it and wanted to feel free to talk to the builders and come along and see them. So, when we tendered the job, we have tender parameters that they’ve got to hit. So, price was worth 20% of the mark, their operating procedures are worth 20%, who their foreman was going to be was 20%, and there was something else. I can’t remember what it was. But what’s really interesting is that we tendered this to three major firms in Hawkes Bay, and on a $2.5 million job, the price difference was between first and second was $800.

Ryan: That’s almost nothing.

GP: Yes. The price between second and third was $2,200. Oh, there was a fourth one, but he was so far out it wasn’t funny. He was half a million over above all those others. So, the client looked at me and says, “Well, I guess their price is $2.5 million,” I says, “Yes it is. Who do you wan to use?” So, they went and interviewed all three of them because they didn’t really give– it was only $3000 between top and bottom, so they went and interviewed all three and picked the one that they felt most comfortable dealing with, who happened to be second or third. Second. And so, the important thing is it’s a journey, but at the end of the journey I want the client to have had enjoyed it and have enjoyed the process and felt that they’ve got value for money, I want the builder to have enjoyed the process and felt that he’s made a bunch, and I want to enjoy the process, and if everybody does that, I’m happy.

Ryan: So then moving on from there into the marketing side of your business, how important is it to have each of those people happy at the end of the project to then create new work for you?

GP: That’s what we rely on is repeat business, and we’ve got clients that go back twenty something years now. We’ve been dealing with them for twenty-five years, some of them, right from– and some of them are onto their second and third house or build or alterations. And also word of mouth, that this client has really enjoyed the process, so what are they going to do? Not only are they going to pay you, they’re going to go and say, “I really enjoyed that. That was fun,” and that’s what it needs to be. It doesn’t have to be horrible, and yes there’s going to be ups and downs along the way, but it’s how you deal with them that makes the process fun.

Ryan: I think that the competition for architects is not within architecture, it’s within the alternatives that look and feel much easier, maybe like a Design and Build or renovating a house, whereas architecture and going down that route can be just as easy and more fulfilling, because it’s a space and a building that’s designed for your needs, not just the builder’s needs. And there’s a lot of building at the moment round the Parklands area and around Te Awa. How do you go about getting potential customer who’s never gone down the architectural route, who is fearful of it – would love to do it, but is fearful of it – and likes the idea of just buying and renovating or buying off plan at Design and Build?

GP: Well, that’s a really interesting question, because just in this year, we would have four clients that have never used an architect and never built a house before and they’re doing it and have come to us. I don’t know why – I still haven’t quite figured it out, but it’s unusual that we’ve got four housing clients that have never used an architect and never built a house before but they’ve come to us. And they’re four from totally different ends of the spectrum. But that’s– oh no, wait, there was a fifth one today. But that’s a big plus for me, and so we must be doing something right and I’m not quite sure what it is. If you can tell me, that would be very handy.

Ryan: Well, you do have a big– a very well-documented presence on your website of jobs you have done, and those jobs do look like you’ve got great experience across commercial, the schools, and residential. And also it’s good when you look at your Facebook page, there’s– you’ve got history. It’s like, “These guys are really designing right now this place that I recognize and have driven past.” If they can do that, maybe it’s because of that. Maybe they see that and think if they can do that for them, sure, why can’t they do it for me? Is that a big part of the marketing is what you put up on Facebook?

GP: No, it’s not deliberate, it’s purely enjoyment. And you would’ve seen some of the photos we’ve done, some of the aerials we’ve done; we’ve got a little drone and we’re taking photos. But it’s amazing how much the Facebook pages– and they only go on there purely because I think– okay, well like for the school job, we’ve got a school of a thousand students and all the teachers, they can’t get on sight, so we get on sight, we take photos, and we put them on the website and then we tag them and so they can get to participate in the building process without having to bypass all the health and safety rules and get on sight. So, it’s a way of vicariously having the clients and anybody associated enjoying the building process. And the same with the house: people are– it’s a very prominent house; people walk past it, so they don’t get on sight, but they can get to see what’s going on inside the house by visiting our Facebook page. So, something a Facebook page is getting six and seven hundred hits on some of the photos, and some of them– we’ve got a like from Abu Dhabi from the pre-cast panel people in Abu Dhabi when we were putting the pre-cast panels in.

Ryan: Of course, because suppliers get to see where their products are going as well.

GP: Yes, so it just figures its way up. Really, really clever.

Ryan: So, communication through social media, both for your clients for practical consideration that they can’t get on sight because of health and safety, suppliers get to see where their product’s being used and how you’ve interpreted their use, and that becomes its own referral–

GP: Then they start referring it out, then you see our label, our little logo, on the side of the thing. So, it’s a way of just figuring it out without actually having to do an awful lot, but it’s done because we enjoy it.

Ryan: Now, last question before we finish up, around building in New Zealand or in Hawkes Bay, there seems to be a real building boom going on right now. How long do you think that’s going to continue for? Are we at the cusp of it all finishing, or has this really just begun in Hawkes Bay do you think?

GP: No, I think Hawkes Bay is on an up and I think it’s going to be on a continual up. I think Hawkes Bay is really lucky; it’s got some– a lot of what really hecks me off is the fact that people do not value what’s local. We’ve got some of the best companies in New Zealand in Hawkes Bay, and it really narks me when you have the likes of the government go overseas to Australia to do building and over pay when Hawkes Bay has got IMS. It’s one of the best bloody accounting programs in the world, and the local council seem to think if they go out of town they’re going to get a better job. They’re not – there’s such good businesses in Hawkes Bay that are going ahead. You’ve got Future Products and all the rest of it, and I think Hawkes Bay will continue to grow because it’s also so diverse: you’ve got the farming, you’ve got dairy, you’ve got the wineries, which just keep growing bigger and bigger, you’ve got some really– you’ve got building companies, and you’ve got some really leading edge companies in Hawkes Bay and I think it’s in a good position where it’s not too far from Auckland, not too far from Wellington, and with the internet and everything else today, it’s a piece of case to run anything.

Ryan: Well, the great thing about talking with you today, Gary, is that from an architectural perspective, you put a big mark on the landscape, and so for Hawkes Bay, each of these buildings you’re creating is creating the environment we all get to live and work in. I’m really excited to see some of the future projects come to life that we’ve discussed today and for you to receive more of this type of work in the future.

GP: Thank you very much.

Ryan: Thanks for your time.

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