Alex Longley, principal at Arcadia, founded the firm in 2011.

He is currently working on Friedlander Place, working with Lane Cove Council and with current and prior site owners.

Architecture and Design spoke to Longley about Friedlander Place, public space, and the importance of company culture.

You're working on Friedlander Place with current and prior site owners. How much complexity has it added to include prior site owners?

It has been an interesting project to be part of, despite the ownership changes. The masterplan process for Friedlander Place, which will link two proposed high rise residential development sites on the Pacific Highway in St Leonards, was a collaboration between Leightons, Charter Hall, a private investor and Lane Cove Council, all as individual land owners, and today none of them are involved. 

Fortunately, as the project has moved forward, the current developers, Mirvac and Urban, have retained the same design teams for each tower development and both have seen value in retaining Arcadia as the sole landscape architects. This decision ensures that the public domain that ties the precinct together is delivered as a seamless solution. This collaborative response is beneficial to all parties and I believe that their joint cooperation will add to the precinct and as a result have an impact on the value of properties and sales. 

How important is it to include usable public spaces in developments?

From our perspective, public spaces are essential in developments across all sectors Arcadia works in – from residential, through to health, aged care, education and commercial developments. It’s about far more than providing open space – there is an expectation that public space is designed for comfortable all day amenity throughout the year and that the space offers a rich diversity in options to encourage multiple visits by end users. People want the option to live a public life and open spaces that help build a community and offer a space for chance meetings, are highly desirable.

How often do you think this happens in Australia?

Australia provides more communal amenity space than many other countries. It’s due in part to our strong connection to the outdoors and enviable climate. In the past five to 10 years there is a definite trend for all parties involved in the development process, from developers, planning authorities and design teams, to work together to deliver stimulating, sustainable and durable public open spaces. This is a response to a higher level of expectation from the end user, but also a realisation that when done successfully, usable public spaces will assist in the longevity and economic viability of a development.

Is there a city around the world that you think does this particularly well?

I think that the whole of America does this really well, but in my opinion New York delivers at the turn of every street corner. The spontaneous and intriguing evolution and gentrification of the Meatpacking District is one example of the diversity that this snippet of Manhattan has delivered through the developments and public works that have occurred over the past 10 years. What I love about these developments is that their successes have come from working with the local community and responding to their needs – that level of consultation and collaboration is inspiring.   

You founded Arcadia in 2011. What has been the most important lesson you've learnt since then?

I hate clich├ęs but ‘You’re only as good as your last project’ is something that Mike and I have used as our internal benchmark to motivate the team to higher levels of project and design outcomes. I have been advised that regardless of what line of business you are in, to run a successful business over a number of years, the evolution of all elements of your operation is key.

For Arcadia, the quality of our projects, from conception to delivery, is the indicator of our evolution and development. 

How has Arcadia's company culture influenced how your designers work?

Key to our culture has been our philosophy to hire like-minded people we can see ourselves not only working with, but also having fun with outside of work. We don’t live in each other’s pockets, but we do have a lot of Arcadia social traditions that have evolved over the years – our annual ski trip, our Friday BBQs on the deck and our infamous Surprise Christmas Study Tours. This has helped foster our close-knit team and the highly collaborative environment of our studio. 

What's one piece of advice you would give to someone establishing their own firm?

Have the mindset that no doesn’t mean no – persistence pays off.