Starting a new studio at any given time is a challenge. The adversities range from logistical to personal, from financial to contractual, in terms of securing projects. But opening a studio in the onset of a pandemic? Near impossible.

Arcadia, for the better part of a decade, has provided premium public spaces and landscape architecture across the country. Their new Melbourne studio was the subject of careful planning over an extended period, with the practice making waves in the garden city through their work on a range of projects in their home city of Sydney, and then north in Brisbane. The Melbourne studio opened in February 2020, weeks away from the COVID-19 pandemic. The standard trials and tribulations associated with opening the studio paled in comparison to the pandemic, that brought with it a cloud of uncertainty over the built environment industry, but the practice moved forward, being able to produce 25 projects from the time of opening, until the end of 2020.

Studio Lead and Arcadia Principal, Nelson Gomes, found himself entrenched within a testing situation like many within the industry. Joining the studio in April last year, Gomes’ transition between Arcadia and his previous role at Aurecon was simply closing one laptop on a Friday afternoon, and opening another the next Monday. As you would expect, his expectations of the role immediately shifted from leading a studio with the gift of human connection, to nurturing a studio within a completely digital environment.

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As the landscape architect explains, built environment professionals rely on one another, and establishing that reliance from a digital standpoint was a challenge of unprecedented proportions.

“With a new studio, our processes, protocols and culture, all had to be started from scratch in Melbourne, or engaged with through people working virtually. COVID has, you know, unique challenges and challenges for all of us, but in comparison to other companies that I know of, the transition to working from home is that these people know each other, even if they’re doing it online, so we had the unique situation of all of that, plus learning to work with each other and learning to work at Arcadia virtually. I didn't get the opportunity to meet the team until I think it was late June,” he outlines. 

“We had to establish that very, very quickly early on about trying to foster a studio environment from a virtual standpoint, which takes time and effort. We’re designers, we thrive on collaboration with others in person. We trace paper over a screen and pin things to walls, and we lost that spontaneity. 

“We had to make sure that we were in constant communication throughout the day, and that varies in terms of just touch points, as you would expect in a studio environment. The simple act of getting on a (Microsoft) Teams call and asking a quick question was something we had to be committed to in order to establish the new team.  

Arcadia’s business development in Melbourne was committed to significantly by the team. Gomes says that through reaching out to the practice’s network and simply touching base with other industry professionals, the team came to find there was a strong interest in their arrival, coupled with a sense of connection from their peers.

“What we started to realize as we networked was that there was this sense of camaraderie within the industry, that everyone knew things were tough. At the time, there was a great amount of uncertainty in terms of the market and how things would turn out, but within the industry and the collaborators we were talking to, everyone wanted to kind of help each other out.”

In the space of ten months, Arcadia’s Melbourne studio has worked across a range of  high density residential commercial, mixed use, retail master planning, health, education and infrastructure projects. The studio has expanded its staff members from four at its genesis to eight, with an eye on expanding the team in due course. The practice’s presence in the community as a leader in Indigenous consultancy, connection to Country and providing opportunity to First Nations peoples in the design community will only be furthered in Melbourne, underlining Arcadia’s unique and imperative place within the built environment. 

To find out more about Arcadia’s projects and personnel in Melbourne and around the country, visit