Conversations with…Chris Straw

Last week we launched a new exclusive interview series featuring the ThomsonAdsett team. The ‘Conversations with….’ series highlights the incredible and collective knowledge of our people as well as their experience and diverse skills.

The expert minds behind our business are instrumental in driving the future of design across health, seniors living, retail, education and commercial sectors.

Our talented seniors living team are the first to be featured.

In part one, we interviewed new consulting partner David Lane. Read the interview here.

This week we interview other consulting partner Chris Straw about his architectural learnings and breadth of projects.

Chris Straw – Architect, Partner

How many years have been at ThomsonAdsett? 30 years.

How many years as an architect? 40 years.

Did you always want to become an architect? What drew you to the profession?

Since I was an 11-year-old. The idea of creating buildings and spaces always fascinated me.

From when you started to now, what fundamental changes – good and bad – have you seen in the seniors living sector?

Our early clients were predominantly church and charitable groups, many owning only one or two facilities. As the industry matured more “for profit” groups entered the market with a consolidation of ownership of facilities occurring.

The critical mass of facilities has also continued to increase. While there has been continued integration of sites including continuing care retirement communities, community developments, university based retirement communities, and the construction of more medium-rise and high-rise developments. There has also been a stronger alignment of product to end user – particularly in the retirement living market.

In your experience, what have been the changes in the ageing cohort?

For the care setting cohort: more frail, shorter length of stay, greater consideration for dementia, palliative care, transitional care.

For the retirement cohort: while the Retirement Village Association nominates the over 55 aged group, the average age of entry is over 70. Clients are generally mobile looking for a lifestyle move with a focus on security, minimal maintenance and socialisation.

They are also looking for access to care for themselves or partner through home services or an associated facility. Clients are looking to align themselves with likeminded people with similar interest. They tend not to move more than 10km from where they have previously lived to stay close to past community, friends and family.

Can you describe 9d thinking?

Regulatory frameworks often lag current industry trends and demands. The introduction of class 9c was to recognise an “aging in place” trend and the flexibility required in hostel and nursing home settings. Class 9d would extend this thinking to allow “aging in place” in all residential settings.

How would you describe your design approach?

 As a specialist designer, my design approach has always been underpinned by the development of a strong project vision informed by an understanding of:

  • The site and neighborhood setting
  • Client brief and requirements
  • Design opportunities
  • Industry and product trends
  • Strong operational understanding
  • Understanding of key business drivers

This allows any development to stand the test of time with project success measured not just in its physical appearance but also how it functions and operates at a commercial level.

How can seniors living design extend beyond the built form?

 As specialist designers our understanding and client services extends beyond the built form into boardroom discussions on strategic planning, future trends, products, business models etc.

What are you looking forward to in your new consulting role?

Apart from reducing my contact hours, this new role will give me an opportunity to continue to focus on providing a strategic resource to ThomsonAdsett as well mentoring and passing on three decades of experience in this area.

What will the new role see you doing within the seniors living team at ThomsonAdsett?

General business development, specific project reviews, design input and training, thought leadership, mentoring, knowledge bank, specialist advisory role.

What have been the significant projects you have worked on and what has made them significant?

Menzies Malvern – one of the first high-rise retirement communities in Australia.

MECWA Greville Street – first project where we began to create a clarity around social structuring in aged care creating households structures.

Redmond Park – repurposing of an existing 1950s structure into an upmarket retirement community. Its success was aligning the inner city (Parkville) location to the market. The sales rates were exceptional, selling most of the units prior to opening during the Global Financial Crisis.

What do you consider the responsibility of an architect?

To assist in bringing dreams to life exceeding people’s expectations.

 How would you describe your time at ThomsonAdsett?

ThomsonAdsett has been a wonderful vehicle to practice architecture. It has provided the opportunity to travel the world, study the world’s best practice, particularly in the area of accommodation for older people and bring this information back to local clients, government, peak bodies etc. This formula defined us as industry leaders and specialists and allowed us to participate in many groundbreaking projects and initiatives.

How do you continue to innovate and avoid similar designs?

By continuing to understand industry trends and opportunities and embedding these ideas in new projects. By treating each project as unique developing a first principles approach to each solution.

By involving fresh design ideas but combining them with a strong operational understanding.

Finally, what are your future predictions for the seniors living sector?

Seniors living developments will continue to become more connected with other community assets and been seen as community hubs. They will continue to develop as “outward looking” facilities and integrated seamlessly into larger urban settings.