Starting his working life way back in September 1979 as a one-man-band in a small office in Bourke Street, Surry Hills under his father’s office fitout business, GroupGSA managing director Mark Sheldon says his early working years offered a very steep learning curve.
“My early work was providing a design service to the workplace market, and also D+C with my father’s business, Sheldon Bros. As well, I designed workstation systems, partition systems, as the workplace fitout market was really just getting recognised as a sector, hence my interest and support of workplace to this day.”
“At the same time” he says, “I also sought out property developers for townhouses and apartments. I did quite a few houses and large alternations and additions for wealthy clients. We then started to approach the NSW Department of Works for Schools and TAFE buildings. This range of work underpinned a diversity of design opportunities across Architecture and Interiors.”
“At age 14 I decided I wanted to be an architect, and pretty much had a vision for my entire life from that point on.”
Having started tech drawing at Randwick Boys High, Sheldon realised how one could design 3-dimensional forms on two-dimentional plains.
“That seemed to me an amazing creative skill. After school, I wrote to hundreds of architect practices and got a job as the office junior at Stafford Moore and Farrington, a well-regarded practice in its twilight years, as Jack Farrington then retired.”
“While there, I got to appreciate which architects I admired and wanted to work for, and went on to work for Ken Woolley, Anchor Mortlock and Woolley, and Harry Seidler. I just pestered them until they gave me a job. Harry inducted me into the Bauhaus design school of thinking, and became a great mentor,” says Sheldon.
“He later came and skied with me in Zermatt, in southern Switzerland’s Valais canton, where I took two years off after leaving Harry to become a ski bum, working in Zermatt.”
“The eight months summer in between, I travelled 60,000km around Europe with Jeff Maitland, an architect friend who graduated with me from UTS, where I did the six-year part-time course working for the three architect firms for the entire three years.”
“We travelled every country in Europe except Albania and Russia. Visited every Corb and Meis building in big cities and remote locations. We visited every worthwhile hill town following the Michelin guides fanatically for 8 months on $10/day including Turkey, Morocco, Scandinavia, above the Arctic Circle and all the eastern bloc countries in a Citroen I ordered from Australia and collected in Zurich at the start of this two-year adventure.”
“On returning in 1977,” says Sheldon, “I went to work for Don Gazzard, on Harry’s recommendation, who still had work after Whitlam was deposed and everything turned down. Don was Harry’s first employee in 1948; they were great colleagues. Don had just separated from Clarke Gazzard, a national design and planning firm. We were just three then.”
“I worked for Don for two years until starting Mark Sheldon and Associates, until we merged our practices 6 years later in 1985 to become Gazzard Sheldon Architects. We had 10 great years together. Don was a great mentor and I learned a great deal from him. When Don retired in 1994, I bought him out and changed the name to GroupGSA.”
“When I started in 1979, there was no such thing as a desktop computer. We bought our first Apple Macintosh in 1986 for basic things. When I worked for Harry, there was not even a fax machine. That came along in 1981, so we worked through post with marked-up drawings. Then to Pier Luigi Nervi, the Italian engineer I was working with on MLC.”
“Technology has been by far the biggest disrupter over the 40 years. My first mobile phone was bolted into the car in 1986. From a procurement method, D+C was in its infancy; having worked with Civil and Civic, Dick Dusseldorf, the best model.”
“Time has seen fees get reduced as clients could see we were able to deliver more quickly. The value was still in design and not production even back then.”
“Over the 40 years,” says Sheldon, “we went through four economic downturns and recessions; 1987 share crash, 1990-1992 recession, 2008 GFC, 2012/13 post GFC and weathered them all with varying degrees of pain.”
Technology, 4G, iPhones, Wi-Fi, the Cloud notes Shledon, “have all made working remotely or while travelling seamless, so starting new offices and now doing work globally has become a fairly easy reality.”