In an example of a firm doing more with less, in April RMJM announced the launch of a sports design studio. The studio is based in the company’s Hong Kong office and is overseen by new hire John Pauline. Pauline had lead all of PTW Architects’ projects for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, including the Watercube, and served as a competition venue planning specialist to that host city’s organizing committee.
RMJM is no stranger to sports venues—the firm designed the 2.9-million-square-foot Beijing Olympic Green Convention Centre, and it is vying to design facilities for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Pauline expects the new studio to earn additional commissions in the Middle East, which “has a very ambitious sporting program.” Currently Pauline is assembling designers from among RMJM’s ranks. Although he will not estimate the ultimate size of his team, he notes that he may draw other industry contacts into his fold.
RMJM’s decision to establish a dedicated sports studio falls in line with a strategy it set in motion in 2002 when Sir Fraser Morrison and his son Peter Morrison took control of the Edinburgh-based architecture firm. Culminating in RMJM’s acquisition of Princeton, New Jersey–based Hillier Architecture in June 2007, the company expanded from less than 300 employees to 1,250. Peter Morrison, who serves as RMJM’s chief executive, says this growth took place with an economic bust in mind. “Our ultimate strategy was to ensure enough diversification that when the markets fell we had the ability to move people into different markets,” he says.
Now, in the throes of worldwide recession, RMJM has shifted its focus from geographic expansion to establishing expertise in building types for which public funds are still readily available. Since 2007 the firm has been setting up global practice studios in education, healthcare, and transportation infrastructure that capitalize on different governments’ stimulus plans. Similarly, the sports design studio takes advantage of increasing government investment in high-profile athletic contests. Pauline says he will pursue “opportunities for the bidding and host cities of the next winter and summer Olympics, such as the Chicago 2016 city bid. Other super-events, such as the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, also are a strong focus.”
Although RMJM has had to lay off 10 percent of its staff, the global-studio strategy has “protected a large amount of jobs,” Morrison says. “This strategy has been the heart of why I think we’ve done pretty well during this downturn.”
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