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But he handed me this brand new Glock that was on the center console. And I never fired a gun in my life. And I just looked at it and thought, it's quite a beautifully designed looking thing. But what the fuck am I going to do with this?

Episode 18

Turner Design Studio – On Packing A Glock Pistol On The Way To Work, Place Cultivation & Planning Purity

Nick Turner | Founder & Principal | Turner

Nicholas is the Principal and founder of Turner, one of Australia’s leading architectural practices employing around 100 permanent staff from 24 different countries. Within the practice, he leads the design of innovative mixed-use residential, public, workplace, industrial and hospitality projects that are both responsive and memorable, each with a strong identity that reflects a familial approach to repairing and enhancing the urban environment. Projects to date include locations as diverse as China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Iraq, Vietnam and Lebanon as well as locally in Sydney, Wolgan Valley, Melbourne, Tweed Heads, Bowral and a personal project of great significance in Kangaroo Valley – the design of which he literally bet his life on. Recently the practice has opened a new studio in London, offering direct access to opportunities within the UK and wider European markets. Nicholas is an accomplished speaker and presenter of ideas, providing clarity to the process of designing and delivering buildings, helping to steer a definitive course through the often-complex requirements of approvals and construction.

This episode is little different so we’re bringing it to you in two parts.

This Episode: Turner Design Studio – explores everything from packing a glock pistol in Iraq to what it takes to scale an architectural business to over 100 employees, what does good place making feel & look like, managing the complex issue of community consultation, exploring the notion of planning purity as opposed to planning efficiency and all things property marketing.

Episode 17: Kangaroo Valley Fire Storm explores a personal design and building project Nick undertook in the beautiful Kangaroo Valley just a few hours south of Sydney. Now to say he put his life on the line to save this house – is no where near an understatement. He and a few of his mates and some local refugees battled and took refuge from the mega Currowan Fire and Nick’s story of preparing for, fighting and surviving this fire is nothing short of astonishing. It really does talk to Nick’s character and his detailed & thorough approach to everything he does not to mention his courage and self belief in his own design ingenuity – it’s a fascinating story and I strongly encourage you to take the time to listen to the whole thing as Nick is a great storyteller and he really does keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. Enjoy.

Transcript

Anthony Denman:
Nick, welcome to the Property Marketing Podcast.

Nick Turner:
Thanks Anthony. Great to be here with you.

Anthony Denman:
You mentioned that your mother had identified at the tender age of four years old that you’re always going to be an architect. Is there a particular story that you can recount that she’s told you that led her to believe that?

Nick Turner:
Look I think my understanding it was based on behavioral patterns that were perhaps not paralleled with the neighborhood kids with slingshots and cricket. But I think it all stemmed from… I don’t know is in my DNA somehow don’t know where it came from because there’s not an architect in the family as far as I can retrace. But I don’t I know I had a real love for drawing things that sort of over time became more building like for building models out of found objects of structures.

Nick Turner:
And I think it just sort of became over time a bit more sophisticated and progressive out in the garden, building roads and bridges was sort of also part of it. So there was a kind of construction component to this and then I guess when I was nine… eight nine, I started building this three story tree house or cliff house with some help from some neighborhood kids.

Nick Turner:
And we used to find bits of timber and stuff lying around where I grew up there were quite a few houses still being built. And then very quickly after spending time before school going and talking to the tradesmen on various home sites. I cottoned on to the fact that on a Friday if I asked brick layers if I could have some timber and I asked the carpenters if I could have some bricks, they was tending to be very generous with their offering. And I return after school on a Friday with an army of assistants and we’d go gather up probably more than we should have. Anyway this gave us great potential for this evolving construction that went on for years and till my younger brother one day after I left home accidentally burnt it down.

Nick Turner:
And then it got a bit more serious from the age of 11 and I think this was the beginning of the end of my academic career. At the age of 11 I started working on building sites, laboring and doing all sorts of things on weekends and then during the school holidays. And that became a real fascination but also realized that I could earn a whole lot more money doing that or being I was under age for working on building sites but I could earn more money doing that than delivering newspapers or working at McDonald’s.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, certainly delivering newspapers I’ve done that gig.

Nick Turner:
Yeah that’s a thankless task. It really is.

Anthony Denman:
You started your business and career the hard way. You slowly forged your way academically. It didn’t come overnight and easily to you. You started the business from your living room. You managed to build it to a point where you’ve got roughly, a 100 full-time staff. You operate on a international scale. I got to say this is interesting to me. Most people when they head off to work, they take a laptop or a USB or a tomato and cheese sandwich. Can you tell us how you ended up packing a Glock pistol. That is a firearm, on your way to work one day.

Nick Turner:
That’s quite a way to put it Anthony. This story began in 2003. And by the way, I didn’t pack the Glock, the Glock was given to me. Just want to be crystal about that.

Anthony Denman:
All right, do.

Nick Turner:
Through a series of opportunities that presented themselves. We worked on a project in Beirut, in Lebanon. And I started going there in 2003. And it’s quite an amazing city. It’s chaotic, and it’s ugly, and it’s beautiful, and it’s disorganized. The politics are a mess. The people are amazing. It was just a place I really connected with. And I was quite apprehensive about going there initially. But yeah, that very quickly waned. And I’ve been there nine or 10 times now. And certainly, at some point in the future, that will be one of my first top post COVID flight destinations. Can’t wait to get back.

Nick Turner:
That said I was also very interested in Middle Eastern politics. Having read a lot, watched a lot, and historically not just of recent times. I’m not talking about from 2001 onwards. I’m always been interested in the Middle East. And I guess the impact of the Romans and the Phoenicians and the Ottomans. And then the division of the Middle East post World War 2, 1945. The mess that created and so on.

Nick Turner:
Anyway, I became very comfortable and fell in love with Beirut. Coincidentally, I had a guy who was actually a Syrian in Sydney. Who rang me up, and said there was a Lebanese guy who was putting together, talking about going to Iraq to approach government with some Lebanese government introductory support. But going to Iraq to take an all Australian reconstruction, rehabilitation team for a couple of projects that involved not only Australian products, but Australian design, knowledge and technology and teaching and learning. So projects that all had some form of teaching academy associated with them, which was really aspirational.

Nick Turner:
And I connected with that. We have, in Australia so much to offer on all those fronts. I met him over a series of say, 18 months and many discussions. A trip via Beirut was organized to Iraq. And there were a whole series of ministerial meetings set up to present ideas and thoughts around how we could use, for example; reuse existing resources there. So redefine and repackage, even for example, a concrete batching plant. And use 21st century technology to deliver a carbon neutral concrete batching plant with high quality concrete for reconstruction, and an associated teaching academy. And then testing laboratories for the concrete.

Nick Turner:
Dealing with the housing crisis there. Quality responsive, culturally aware, environmentally responsive housing on a mass scale. How might that be rolled out and deployed. And the sortof infrastructure you need to ensure, cultural, social integration, consolidating and building on existing cities, not building camps. The rise of religious tourism and the need for hotel accommodation. And bringing an Australian hospitality school to that hotel experience as well, for the training of staff.

Nick Turner:
There were a whole series of projects that we were talking about and presenting and so on. But I’ll just go back a step and that’s really how it came about and what we were there to pursue. But I have to say that coming from short flight from Beirut into Baghdad was a pretty enjoyable flight. But once you got off the plane, you really knew you’re in a very foreign place. And I remember the motorcade that we had of very large SUVs and we had the benefit of some Iraqi Army SAS guys that would look after us. And be with us 24/7 for what was a seven day trip. But coming out of Baghdad airport. It was pretty edgy and it was a completely foreign environment. The razor wire, military vehicles everywhere. And this is 09, so things are still a little volatile there.

Nick Turner:
But it was an absolutely fascinating experience. And I said to my wife, “If it all fails, I will have come out of it with an extraordinary education and an experience.” And so the Glock, I was sitting in the front passenger seat of the second vehicle. And the driver was a guy that had been, he had scars on him where he’d been imprisoned by Saddam a few years beforehand. And served some time and was not well-treated. But he was the most lovely guy. And he for some reason, he thought that I was running the show and I wasn’t. But he handed me this brand new Glock that was on the center console. And I never fired a gun in my life. And I just looked at it and thought, it’s quite a beautifully designed looking thing. But what the fuck am I going to do with this? Other than make a mess and get in trouble. And the guys-

Anthony Denman:
Only Nick Turner would say, “It’s a beautifully designed thing.”

Nick Turner:
Well, I was just coming to grips with the time, with how to deal with this thing. So I started with the familiar, I’m in my comfort zone and work back from there. And I can assure you at no point, did I walk around with that gun at all while I was there. And had no interest in doing so. But we did have some great experiences. And I remember being in that motorcade and the couple of days after we arrived, we stayed in Baghdad. And then we headed out South towards Najaf. And a couple of the other Australian guys and I, were a bit nervous about where we were going. And we’re outside the city, and heading South into what was actually a much calmer part of the country, and really interesting part of the country.

Nick Turner:
But at one point I thought, I just had a look at, bizarrely enough, mobile phone reception in the middle of nowhere in Iraq was actually far superior than to downtown Surry Hills and for obvious reasons. But I had a look on the map to see where we are, because I was curious. Out of the sand you would see for miles and miles. We were into an area that was obviously a very fertile, arable land. And the whole landscape changed. The whole feel of the place changed. There were no more blown up trucks and cars on the side of the road. And you weren’t driving where there were holes in the road and piles of concrete barricades. You weren’t doing chicanes anymore to get round things. We’re just out in the country.

Nick Turner:
And I had looked at my phone, and I realized we’re in Babylon. And anyway, I rang the guy that was in the front car, that was organizing our agenda and meetings and so on. And I said,” Just stop the motorcade. Let’s just stop now. Stop here. Right now, stop!” So he goes,” Is everything all right?” I said, “Yeah. Just stop.” So we pulled up. Everyone got out and they were was sort of, “What’s going on? What’s wrong?” And I said, “I just want everyone just to take a moment, because I want to let you know you’re in Babylon.” And I don’t know when the last time you’re in Babylon-

Anthony Denman:
In my subconscious mind, quite often.

Nick Turner:
… and I don’t know when you’re going to be back in Babylon. So we’re here now. Just appreciate it for what it is. And although we can’t see all of it, we haven’t got time to go and see all of it and ruins and structures and so on. We’re in Babylon. Just get that in your heads.” And then they all relaxed a bit after that. And realized it wasn’t just about the blown up cars. And I said, “We’re going to Najaf. It’s a lot safer. It’ll feel freer.” And the guy that were, or the guy that was looking after it, assured everyone that that was the case. And he was right. You end up with these great stories, great places.

Nick Turner:
We ended up having a lot of successful meetings. Somehow ended up on Al Jazeera, on the evening News one day, with the other guys talking about this Australian initiative. But in time the politics changed, the individuals changed. And the whole thing fell in a heap and didn’t go anywhere. But the experiences of being on the forecourt to this extraordinary mosque in Najaf. With a million people out there just before Ramadan started. And being escorted by the Imam into the mosque at midnight one night. Was, yeah, a once in a lifetime experience.

Nick Turner:
As was this insane situation after we came back to Baghdad one day. Where, we’d come from a meeting, it was late at night. And I remember our three SUVs and the military vehicles were coming around the river in Baghdad. And I saw this gelato shop coming up. So I rang my mate and I said to him, I said, “We’ve got to stop for ice cream and gelato now. It’s so bloody hot. Let’s stop!” So the motorcade made a detour straight across the road, straight into the car park. Military guys all jumped off their vehicles. We got out of the SUVs. And there were these people were queuing for gelato. And they all started a scatter, thinking what’s going to happen here. And anyway, we managed to stop them and say, “No. It’s okay.”

Nick Turner:
And we made them get back in the queue. We joined the queue behind them. And anyway, there must’ve been about, all that with them, the people that were there and us. About 30 people in this queue for gelato. And I’ve never seen a bloke that owned a gelato bar smile so much. He could not believe his luck. And we have had shouting a whole bunch of people there, just to say, “Sorry, we didn’t mean to frighten you, their gelato.” So we fill this place up chock-a-block. All sitting there for an hour and having gelato. It was the most ridiculous looking scene. But one of those great memories of being in a foreign place, doing something that’s quite familial.

Anthony Denman:
Can I just say, I mean, you’re big on familial strategy and design application. But before we go there, because you run a large business, a 100 people. For those people who have any idea about what that might mean operationally, from a risk perspective. I mean, there’s a lot that can go wrong. You can lose a lot of money very quickly. I’m just curious as to your risk profile and how you handle risk. I mean, clearly you’re prepared to gamble your life on the quality of your design. You’re prepared to have these life experiences that been lucky enough to encounter. How does the operational risk of running a business like yours compared to those moments and what do you get out of it?

Nick Turner:
Look, risk tolerance, risk assessment, dealing with risk within a business has no parallel with going to Iraq or defending a property in a fire. Perhaps there’s a degree of recklessness about that. When it comes to business, there is no recklessness. And we deal with risk every day. Risk operates at different levels within I guess, our own organization. But within the profession the industry that we currently operate in.

Nick Turner:
But for us, I think it’s mostly about not managing others well. So not managing client relationships, consultant performance. They’re probably our two biggest risk areas. And we mitigate that in a whole number of ways. But I have to say that the key to that is that this is not a…yeah, the business is not autocratically run. That there is depth in the senior leadership team. And that risk is diluted because of that expertise and the responsibility and understanding that senior leadership team has and the experience that they have and the mindfulness, they have all of our key areas of risk.

Anthony Denman:
And is that how you were able to scale your business? Or a lot of property developers, they’re quite good Gregarious as characters that they know what they want. And more often than not, that is to work with the principle of the business and the principle of the business only. Which makes it hard to-

Nick Turner:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
… in the property sector to scale. How did you manage to achieve that?

Nick Turner:
Yeah, I’ll come back to that aspect. But I think the opportunity for scaling comes from size and complexities of projects as they tend to grow over time. And they have done from a market perspective as well over time, certainly over the last 20 years. The potential for a more intensive pipeline and the ability to grow the practice structure. And that’s the challenge, and structure is absolutely critical. But so is having a clear vision, mission and understanding of what we stand for.

Nick Turner:
And being able to align projects, leadership team members, with that vision and direction and the values and so on. And then over time we’ve been able to, as I said, we’ve developed organically over time. Not deliberately trying to position ourselves with a certain number of team members. Yeah. Really the success of a business and the maturity of a business is not measured by the number of staff we have. But more so around the quality of work that we have in the studio and that we deliver and the commensurate profitability that needs to come with that.

Anthony Denman:
Correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve never studied architecture at university. But I assume that don’t teach you, or do they? The importance of being profitable at university? Was that something you learned via trial and error in running your own business?

Nick Turner:
Yeah. Certainly wasn’t at university. Obviously, there was an architectural practice component to the university. And not to devalue my education. It was an awesome experience at UTS. When I studied there from 1980, when they eventually let me in. So, 1987 through it about to end of 93. And with some now lifelong friends that were two dozen teachers there, people like Winston Barnett and Adrian Body and some really terrific guys that were there at the time.

Nick Turner:
But yeah, the notion of running a business, how to run a business, the principles around operating a business, the idea that one needs to establish values and behaviors and pull the business in for the team to get alignment. And just all the fundamental principles of business were totally devoid in that architectural practice course. And so that’s, I guess, some people go off and do a supplementary tertiary course.

Nick Turner:
There are some amazing books, some very relevant, well thought through a structured books that are very useful to read. But the old school of hard knocks, I think is pretty powerful. And learning through experience, learning from failures and understanding the need to run a profitable business is critical. If it’s not profitable, it doesn’t survive. You can’t support your clients, you can’t support the families of those that you employ, you can’t research, you can’t progress, you can’t develop, you can’t evolve. It’s really important. And a lot of it has been intuitive. I’ve got some help along the way, and continue to get help from time to time.

Anthony Denman:
What sort of help?

Nick Turner:
External help in a advisor-

Anthony Denman:
From what sort of-

Nick Turner:
… in an advisory capacity from those that can provide a perspective to help facilitate internal team discussions around our vision, our values, direction sort of level audit planning principles. So that we don’t just talk about stuff and go away and never deliver on it. That we actually putting training parallel with our project work, a series of evolutionary processes within the business. Yeah, there’ve been some great mentors and facilitators that we’ve connected with over the years, and from time to time plugged into certain pieces of the work we do internally.

Anthony Denman:
How do you find these people?

Nick Turner:
I guess through a network. You meet them through those that have similar problems, you share experiences and difficulties with like-minded people, you discuss who’s around. I’ve introduced some people to others in the corporate world that have utilized their expertise to help mentor them through the growth into being CEOs of listed companies and so on vice versa. They’ve been able to exchange resources coming back the other way as well.

Anthony Denman:
I love this YPO thing. It’s like Fight Club. Right? First rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club.

Nick Turner:
Yeah. It’s a bit like that. But it’s all-

Anthony Denman:
I mean, the way you danced around that. And you wouldn’t mention YPO is fascinating to me. But we don’t talk about YPO because, you don’t talk about Fight Club. So we won’t go into that too much. Plus we’ve got a whole lot of other stuff I want to talk to you about as well.

Nick Turner:
Well, I think, I’ll go back one step. And that just fundamentally it’s basically lifelong learning through shared experiences. And this is where we are able to help one another. I think most people in most businesses, it doesn’t matter whether you’re running an $11 billion business as a mate of mine is, or our little business or a aged care business, or a cosmetics business. You’ll seem to deal with the same shit. And it’s quite leveling to be able to understand that it’s not just you, it’s not just me going through whatever it is. We’re all experiencing the same thing on a daily basis, just on a different day. That’s all.

Anthony Denman:
Finally, we’ll get onto some marketing stuff. I want to talk about your crafted book collection. I know what it takes to design a book, let alone three. Well actually, I know what it takes is I have brochure. Which is like a book, but not what you’ve done in terms of producing the three books. It’s four books actually, the Place Book, the Black Book, the Gold Book and the Stay Book.

Nick Turner:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Why books?

Nick Turner:
Well, I think these are, let’s not overstate what they are in the book world. These are not literary masterpieces for those that can’t currently see them. But this is marketing collateral. These are useful little booklets that enable us quite quickly to be able to package up a body of work that relates to a typology or the story of an evolution of a series of projects. It’s marketing collateral. But it’s also storytelling collateral. And we’re using them obviously both in hard print, but also digitally. And there’s another one just about to come out, which is our Green Book. That is establishing a whole series of values towards sustainability wellness. And that will be an ongoing book.

Nick Turner:
But there are also a series of key objectives and undertakings that will be measurable, that we can apply to each project on a project by project basis. But also stepping back and looking at what’s our position. And crystallizing what we’ve discussed and put out there for a long, or for quite a few years now. Some of this started back back in the late 90s for me. But they’re books that give or communicate a position that we’re taking on a facet of practice, or a typology of work, or a body of connected work. And hence that’s what they’re all about. But yeah, they’re booklets not books.

Anthony Denman:
I’m just curious as to how you see architectural design translating to graphic design and brand identity work?

Nick Turner:
That’s a really good question. I think it’s starts and stems from the basis that all our projects have a story. And the best projects where graphics and marketing enhance and reinforce that story, are evident when collaboration starts early with all those that have got a contribution to make. So unlike your circumstance, where you say you might come on board a year or two after we’ve been well and truly entrenched in a design process, and the evolution refinement of a scheme. I think, early alignment, so when you have a strong team alignment early on the power of the distilled idea, or story remains strong throughout not only the project. And helps those that are coming late to buy in. But if they’re there from the outset they’re bought in. And that story, then if that process has occurred at the right time and earlier, rather than later. That story then is sustained long after completion of the project as well.

Nick Turner:
And that also goes to graphics at our end, graphics at your end. The integration of graphics in a more architectural manner at our end. But often there are design cues that get taken from branding and positioning as well. And I think what happens is it’s all about the reality of having, or the key driver is actually about an integrated, authentic design principles and solutions led process. So being authentic and integrated go hand in hand. I think if you just come too late, you’re looking at trying to apply a story that’s late in the process. To post justify where the scheme is going or could go and where it needs to land. And then I think you get a shorter, lived benefit out of all of that work. Where you get that disconnection or that artificial overlay.

Anthony Denman:
Because I know that, and in that ride it’s so important. And you talk about making sure that there’s an authenticity in the thinking from start to finish. Finishing also requires a certain amount of way finding and environmental graphics. A lot of the time that’s just an afterthought for most developers.

Nick Turner:
Yeah, it is.

Anthony Denman:
But that’s something that you’re really big on and strong in the designing of those way finding and environmental graphics is an internal resource.

Nick Turner:
Yeah. It’s a really complimentary resource. And it spreads well beyond the environmental graphics for a project. It’s also a great resource for us internally here. But it helps with these threads of continuity that run from our own material and submissions through to the merging with architecture and embedding into key decisions for delivering a project. And historically this way finding attention to detail has been forgotten, or rather it’s an overlooked necessity. And the last thing to complete on a project, it’s always the last thing to complete on a project.

Nick Turner:
What we’ve found is often it’s cobbled together with whatever is available at short notice. Almost from the nearest door hardware supplier. And again, early integration is critical. And we’re finding now that clients and users appreciate the value of a considered an integrated approach as well. I think, a real shift there’s real recognized design value in this. And it’s something I’ve noticed over the last five to six years. Then you get the benefits and those benefits line these critical components of a project being an extension of the building and also the marketing collateral of a project. We often take cues from that. It helps the story to live on as well whilst offering holistic design decisions to be made on the way through.

Anthony Denman:
As do display suites. I noticed that you’ve really put a lot of time and effort into designing beautiful display suite environments.

Nick Turner:
Yeah, but they’ve evolved incredibly over the last 20 years. And they’ve become more like an experience suite over the last five or so years, I think. I guess there’s a real importance placed on these. As they become a communicator of quality trust and experience to enable purchasers to know better the team behind the project.

Anthony Denman:
Speaking about the team behind the project. How do you feel about being featured in marketing brochures and videos and the like?

Nick Turner:
Yeah, it’s an interesting one. When it’s done well, it’s really good. And we like talking about our projects. We like selling the benefits of our projects to our clients, to purchasers, to the audience. That we’ll ultimately occupy these buildings. And we’re very comfortable to talk about the evolution or inception here, evolution and delivery aspirations for these projects. So I-

Anthony Denman:
When it’s done well. So can you think of an give an example of when it’s not… I don’t want you to mention any names of course. But can you think of an example where it’s not done so well?

Nick Turner:
I’ve seen examples of it where it’s not being done well. It comes down to the marketing strategy itself. And the emphasis that strategy places on aspects of a project, rather than it being an authentic telling of a story, and the team behind the project. It’s like, you guys will have had experience with this. It’s like seeing a marketing brochure for a project. Doesn’t matter if it’s commercial, retail mixed use, urban housing. The-

Nick Turner:
market’s pretty savvy now. And when you get stock images of flying kites in parks and rolling around on a picnic blanket, that kind of superficial backfilling doesn’t contribute to an affirmative considered story of belief about the project.

Anthony Denman:
Don’t tell me, anybody, but is anyone’s tried to get you to walk through the park flying a kite in your hand?

Nick Turner:
Not us.

Nick Turner:
I’ve been told to go and fly my car, but I’ve never been in the house to have it.

Anthony Denman:
Very good. How do you feel about being involved in there? Probably know the answer to this question in some ways you’ve already given us the answer to this question about being involved in brand creation and marketing workshops.

Nick Turner:
Yeah. I think there’s real benefit in this. I hate the idea that members of a project team can work in silos and in isolation because they just can’t. And we don’t bring all the good ideas to a project and neither does anyone else ideas strengthen with a benefit of intelligent, robust discussion debate. And I think stronger ideas emerge out of that process. So we welcome it. And I think our best, the best projects, the most seamless projects from inception to completion have come about through workshops with the appropriate team members at the right times.

Anthony Denman:
For those of you who don’t know Nick’s offices in Darlinghurst, a beautiful creative, sophisticated environment. Can I ask, what value, if any, does the physical nature of your office environment add to the creative process?

Nick Turner:
Yeah, it’s the physical nature of our studio is critical to the design process. More recently COVID and an imposed work from home regime last year has given us the opportunity or rather than necessity to reevaluate our working environment. And that is why do we come here? And we do come together in the studio for reasons around collaboration, for ideating and creativity, for shared learning experiences, for visualization of our design process and for technological reasons, our VR space, which is now being used more and more, and the 3D printing and testing within the studio. So it’s really crystallized why we are in a studio. Actually, there are some tasks that can be done remotely. And we now have a flexible working arrangements policy for people who have built a case around spending some of their working week away from the studio. But that said, we need to be able to make team-based project spaces for people… the predominant team, when they’re here for all those reasons, I’ve just, just outlined.

Nick Turner:
What we’ll do over the next short period is we’re going to revisit and re-imagine some of those collaborative working spaces and start to make them work a bit harder and question really honestly, about the success of some of those spaces to date and how they need to change, how they need to evolve to help reinforce the experience of the team members in the studio when they’re working together, driving design outcomes and having these conversations. So it’s really critical. We did really well when we moved in here five years ago, we’re going to do better in the next couple of months. And I think COVID has, whilst we were probably aware of it. We were motoring on or motoring along rather in a business as usual fashion. I think COVID has really given us the impetus to just stop for a second and refine and recast some of these spaces.

Anthony Denman:
In your opinion, do you think that the Turner brand adds value to the end purchaser?

Nick Turner:
Yeah, I do for a couple of reasons. I think because that we adopt the concept that design is for everyone and that we don’t have or rather there are no B -team projects in the office. The other thing is that after 25 years of creativity, commitment to good design and livability and the consistent quality of our projects purchases do place value on our brand and they research, they look at the design teams behind projects. So I’d like to think that we do and that we are recognized by not only clients, but also purchasers for delivering really high quality projects. And we deliver on a promise. We deliver on the vision. The vision is realized. The aspiration is realized.

Anthony Denman:
I’d like to talk a little bit about the idea of placemaking right, which is for so many people is really just misunderstood. The spaces place-making, I mean, the spaces between within, in some cases, in terms of the curation of the operators, but mostly between the built form – Andrew Hoyne, I had Andrew on. He’s fantastic. He’s so passionate about placemaking putting the end-user first and his opinion as you put the end user first, and you do risk the project in doing that. In fact, it’s his company’s. I mean, it’s pretty much his auntie’s company’s main purpose.

Nick Turner:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
In fact, he’s got a whole process around place visioning. I’ve also heard it, I’ve read in one of his books, the place economy upon any it’s also, and this is my favorite actually way of describing it. It’s also been referred to as being similar to beta production, where the built form and the areas around it are like a stage and that the end-users are the actors and good placemaking is about the art of choreography in that sense. That’s my favorite. That’s my personal favorite in terms of describing it- how best would you describe the process of placemaking?

Nick Turner:
Well, I think I refer to the term curate, which probably parallels his term, but I’d say firstly, for us, we’re actually going back historically when the practice really kicked off. We’ve always been focused since then, as much on the spaces between buildings, the buildings themselves, and whether that’s in the public domain or the communal domain, but in terms of placemaking process, firstly, understanding the existing context and the people that we use, the future space is critical. And then the creation of the spaces comes first, which the buildings then frame or contain. And in terms of overlaying the programming of these spaces, synergistic or curated retailers are also critical to ensuring that the solution is a local specific one, that the creative spaces are authentic and that they’re not generic gestures.

Nick Turner:
And you can see this not only in Sydney, but around the world, localized solutions that are very much of that context and the neighbourhoods that exist around those spaces, those that succeed, not just generic squares, those that succeed bring all sorts of qualities in terms of ammenity, but shade and landscape and restbite and flexibility for multipurpose uses on surfaces, topography, the introduction of typography working with existing topography.

Nick Turner:
Yeah. I think these are all components and qualities that need deep levels of consideration when formulating and creating new urban spaces.

Anthony Denman:
What’s the best example of placemaking you’ve either been involved.

Nick Turner:
Anthony to answer a question. I don’t think there’s a singular place, places that resonate with mayor, always those places that you come across that then surprise and delight you. You could be walking through narrow lane ways in Barcelona, up the Hill, away from the main part of town meandering through these lane ways and all of a sudden pop around the corner. And there’s this beautifully proportioned, small public space. That’s just pumping with pop-up markets, kids playing, people dining, and it’s not over-designed, it’s almost incidental, but the canvas was there to allow these programs to work harmoniously together. And then you’re surprised and delighted. And you want to stay. You don’t want to just keep moving through the space and keep moving on your journey. You want to stop and pause and really engage with that space because it draws you to do so.

Nick Turner:
And it might be the backdrop may have been made up with buildings by architects and non architects and evolved over time over hundreds of years in some cases, but with the careful curated programming of functions and the flexibility for people to adapt and interpret how they want to use those places, make them hugely successful. And to some degree they’re often quite gritty. And when you’re creating in certainly in urban renewal and regeneration projects new spaces, they lack that grit, but somehow we’ve got to find a way to allow over time, the incremental evolution of those spaces to become naturally or authentic to their specific location context and the demographic makeup of that neighborhood and the nature of the uses. And that’s really difficult. That is really difficult.

Anthony Denman:
So a little bit like raising children.

Nick Turner:
I’m not sure what’s more impossible, but…

Anthony Denman:
That’s great, mate. It’s a really good insight. Okay. So Ihad a chat to Adam Haddow of SJB about community consultation, he mentioned that he’d fence posts to be most of his waking and working hours consulting with the community. And you sat down to wider fall in love with it. Like profitability, I suppose, one of those things it’s not necessarily taught at university. In fact, he recited a story where he was at a community consultation in, for a project called St. Margaret’s not far from your office actually whereby he was literally spat on by one of the people in the audience. I mean, firstly, do you have any stories like that? And how do you feel about community consultation?

Nick Turner:
I do have views about consultation, but in terms of older anecdotes, I think it was the back in the late nineties when I worked on a very modest – what was modest in terms of scale, low impact in terms of urban repair and an energizing part of Alexandria that was obsolete and poor quality streets inactivity was near a great park. This had the ability to help energize the fringes of the park and the whole thing. So it was politically pear shaped and eventually it was built and everyone loved it. But I remember going to an evening consultation process that was not well run.

Nick Turner:
And it was my first major consultation session. And I do remember being spat on and sworn at people that were residents that were just fueling each other, firing each other up. And it’s quite appalling to see as a pack, how they can behave sometimes when just a measured discussion around the project and why the project was the way it was. It wasn’t even really breaking any rules, planning rules. In fact, it was cementing and reinforcing some of those planning controls that existed for the site. But yeah, that was my first and worst. Yeah, I think it was the school of hard knocks. It was badly run, set up the wrong way. And then me in the firing line, cannon fodder, architects as cannon fodder.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. But like seriously not a patch on a Kangaroo Valley fire. Or, the glock pistol incident.

Nick Turner:
You asked for my view on consultation, I think ideally consultation should be done at the early strategic planning phases when zones and built form and controls are established and not at the DA stages. We have to take the emotion out of those latter stages. I think, and planning phases often fail to communicate and sell the vision around the benefits of change as well. So, and the benefits of increased density and whilst we, aren’t the ones that are always able to deliver the new school, the hospital or the park often our projects contribute to making these happen though. And these projects are the catalyst for longer term benefit. We’ve also been in circumstances where a resistant and hostile community have done a complete flip on completion of the projects and then totally embrace them. And that’s really satisfying. And as I said before, satisfied to deliver on that promise because you stand there and you assure people that one, as a team, that these are not arbitrary decisions that have been made, that there’s been a rigorous and long design process.

Nick Turner:
And that will before design analysis of context and understanding of community. And so on that underpins the key decisions and key maneuvers that are being made. I think they get fired up when there’s misinformation, that’s broadcast as well. And that’s really difficult to respond to first session in, if you like, it’s really useful to have someone that’s highly skilled in running and facilitating these sessions to make sure that everyone starts off on a level platform. And your integrity is questioned. When you start tell these stories about how and why the project is the way it is and what our considerations and concerns have been. And those interests that we have that go beyond the project – SO it’s difficult. I don’t do as much of it as I used to.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. I mean, I want to talk about integrity and I think the idea of balancing efficiency versus creativity. I mean, efficiency, a bit of a dirty word in the industry in that sense. And I guess, you turn out very good at it and have a really good reputation for it, achieving great outcomes. So I just wanted to get your view on that whole journey

Nick Turner:
Well, I don’t think firstly, it’s creativity underpins all of this and continues. So it’s not in the absence of creativity, but I use the words, planning, clarity, or planning purity, efficient, as you say, efficiency can be seen as a dirty word, but I think for the wrong reasons, it shouldn’t be seen that way. If it’s about sustainability in the context of resources, reducing waste about the creation of, and about the quality of spaces, for example, first spatially, it means making the most of what you have and making it work hard like every meter squared and by doing so you don’t end up with compromised workspaces, proportionally, compromised workspaces, or a bunch of poorly designed and resolved apartments that end up not selling well because they’re awkward and convoluted. And they sit there and then the developers profits tied up in those poor, poorly laid out apartments and sits there till the end.

Nick Turner:
They discount them and profit gets eroded. And so on. There has to be a consistency, certainly on an apartment project. All apartments are great apartments to live in. And I often say to my guys, whilst we don’t want to be wasteful in terms of excess areas and appendages to buildings that aren’t working hard because not only is the waste of resources, but it erodes our cost base for rechanneling money to areas where we get better value. I say to them, if you’re designing those apartments, would you buy that apartment? And would you live in them and have a look at that and go, “Oh no.” I said, well, why are we conceiving this apartment this way? You need to be able to commit to buying that apartment and living in that apartment. If you’re going to present it as an acceptable well-thought-through design proposition to go into this project, there’s an attitude there about quality of planning.

Nick Turner:
And that comes back as well to a position where ideally we have the attitude that every element has to be working hard and being contributory in at least three ways. So when you put that all in the mix, ultimately if we have absolute planning, clarity, it means were able to spend the money on parts of the building that enhance the experience of the user and its contribution to the public domain and as seen as a quality architectural outcome, rather than wasting or having wastage in areas that provide no real benefit to people’s wellbeing or architectural merit. And there’s simple ways to do that. And it’s no dirty word. It’s just good practice of architecture.

Anthony Denman:
I think with all of us, I mean, definitely like more so for the architect involved in our project, we get to the end of it and it’s completed, and there’s not much attention that’s given to the completion of a project. There’s celebration if you like. All of the project being completed, how important is that? Is celebrating the completion of a project to you. And, and how do you celebrate the completion of the project?

Nick Turner:
Yeah. I don’t think you need to bring the circus to town, but we are not good internally at just marking the end of a project and celebrating the end of a project. And we’re doing it more and more now. And look it’s for the benefit of the team, the commitment of often years of their working lives to projects. And there are others involved, other team members, clients, partners, so on. I think we all tend to rush. It’s a rush to finish a project, conclude it, tenants moving workplace tenants move in or purchases moving to their apartments. And it’s really anticlimactic. And everyone just races off to the next thing. And I think it’s really critical just to pause and not only celebrate the completion, but also look at talk to the team and just talk through what were the successes and the difficulties in that project as well, and understand and learn from them before just in a fluid way, just moving on subconsciously to the next project, because there’s something urgent to do.

Anthony Denman:
Which we do right. We all do it.

Nick Turner:
Yeah we all do.

Anthony Denman:
The amount of times I’ve been involved in a project where it’s been, God, can you just get emotionally involved in how good it’s going to be when it’s finished and to live there-

Nick Turner:
Yeah. The moment it comes and goes so fast-

Anthony Denman:
No, but very rarely do you revisit that place and get to experience what that feels like you just celebrate?

Nick Turner:
Yeah, no, we’re conscious of that and changing that.

Anthony Denman:
You recently a little bit of a mini seminar with some of your key directors down at Kangaroo Valley, and you titled that session. How do we solve the future and how do we design the future? How did that go? Did you get any resolution from or did you just, did you go through a crateof Bordeaux?

Nick Turner:
Well, yes and yes. Look, it’s a work in progress. We had a really healthy discussion listing a whole series of really positive elements in terms of the way we do things, areas for change, but more importantly, re-establishing our purpose. And from that, having a series of five key actionable items that were just finessing at the moment, but the bones and the spirit of those I think are laid out and really promising for the business. And I’m very optimistic that with the incremental deployment of these within the practice and then the alignment of the staff, I think it’s going to set us well for the next sort of one, two and five year horizons. And that’s really the horizon – we’re looking at up to five years at the moment, but the next one and two years are really critical I think this year for many businesses is a really defining year.

Nick Turner:
And it’s also happens to coincide with us being in practice for this business for 20 years. And after 20 years, I think a mate of mine said to me other day that firstly, yeah, congratulations one in 500 businesses survive to being in existence for 20 years, but there is this natural need to have a fairly critical look at yourselves as business owners, given that 20 year milestone. And that now has a confluence with post 2020 COVID where this has been the catalyst for us, then looking at a strategy for the future. So we’re clear on our values, but fine tuning and crafting a mission and sorry, rather a vision. And from that our why, how and our what crystallizing those so that we make sure that we don’t assume that everyone has ownership and alignment within the practice, but one that can be bought into and align.

Nick Turner:
And we need to now go back to the rest of the team and talk through a whole series of propositions and ideas and potential actions, actionable items to bring them along the journey over that we have to move very quickly because a year flashes by either we’re almost at the 1st of April. So we need to move very quickly now. And we’re all enthusiastic about doing that as part of that, we spoke about our media and social media, digital media. And I think historically, I don’t think we’ve done a great job with digital marketing, but we are getting much better at it. And what we do know is that we’re all ambassadors for the brand and more than ever, marketing needs to be more sophisticated and it needs to be more considered and authentic and continually evolving and fresh, and that it can’t underscore the power of a succinct, clear and purposeful messaging that is consistent with your why or your purpose, and also your values and behaviors that so many people are becoming more and more interested in and being expressive of what they actually are being clear about what they are.

Anthony Denman:
I think like I’m choosing Kangaroo Valley as a physical environment to explore your life or after literally putting your life on the line. And in fact, coming closer to most of us will ever know. I mean, closer to monumental tragedy using that environment as the catalyst or for your business in so many ways, you think you’re lucky that you’re even there, right. To drive that change.

Nick Turner:
Well, lucky to be there, but I think also lucky to have it as a place where we can do this. And historically over the years, over the last 10 years, we’ve used it from time to time for that purpose. And it’s a place that’s the guys know well and really comfortable with. And it’s just great to have a complete space change and environment change for looking back and asking yourselves a whole series of tough questions.

Anthony Denman:
So what is your purpose now?

Nick Turner:
So, Anthony, just to answer your question, I don’t think our purpose is changing or going to change radically in itself. It’s everything that hangs around it. That’s going to need more clarity. So to answer your question our, our purpose is to make living better. And that means for those that are occupying workplaces that we’ve designed, that are visiting rural hospitality facilities, they’re engaged in retail experiences and yeah, retail that’s more experiential rather than just transactional. And those that are living better quality lives in the apartments we’ve designed for them because of the way in which we’ve crafted those spaces.

Nick Turner:
So to make living better is really our driving purpose in terms of how that might be different from a business and the personal perspective. I think there’s an overlap. I get out of bed every day and do what I do because I love the challenge of continually learning and succeeding at better improving, or rather better creating a better repairing the urban environment and the buzzy get out of the physical legacy that this profession creates.

Anthony Denman:
I love that.

Nick Turner:
I think it’s really exciting. And that has driven me for consistently since I had my first job back in 1987.

Anthony Denman:
And I really liked that parallel too. Because I can see you there with that same purpose at Kangaroo Valley, watching those new plants and trees and shrubs and grasses and everything around you come to life and improve on a daily basis. And that’s, so I think that’s a really nice synergy with your business purpose. I think they’re both really nicely aligned.

Nick Turner:
Yeah. I mean the parallels between the two are interesting to that is that, with, I think at one point we were talking about how’s my love of landscape design and landscape construction relate to business. And the parallels are that it’s around being aware of the need to plan, to research, develop knowledge through learning and experience both the failures and the successes, cultivating plants or ideas, the germination of ideas and the creation of a diverse range of spaces and places, the making of place.

Anthony Denman:
Thank you so much for taking the time to share those really personal and emotional and rational and creative insights with us all because-

Nick Turner:
Pleasure mate.

Anthony Denman:
A learnt a lot. I sort of say, cool man, if someone wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way of getting in touch with you?

Nick Turner:
Anthony, if people want to make contact with me, they’re welcome to ring the office and we can talk or probably the best email address that we’ll get through straight away, given that I’m not always looking at mine, running around is office@turnerstudio.com.au and I know the guys are really diligent at making sure that anything that comes through I get notified of straight away.

Anthony Denman:
Perfect. Thanks again, Nick. Look forward to catching up having a glass of wine with you – one day soon.?

Nick Turner:
Pleasure, Anthony. Great to see you mate.

About Us

The Property Marketing Podcast is an original podcast hosted by Anthony Denman, co-founder of Our Agency. In each episode Anthony talks to Australia’s most experienced property professionals, unearthing their tips and providing insights on how to create the most successful place, property, corporate & personal brands possible.

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