Studio Nine: Taking it to the next level

Despite being responsible for some of the city’s most recognisable projects, it’s fair to say that local architecture and design firm Studio Nine flies under the radar.

With recent work including Electra House’s spectacular renovation, Glenunga International High School’s redevelopment and restoration work on the North Terrace Cultural Boulevard, Studio Nine is known for diverse projects across many disciplines. Early next year, the local mid–tier firm will undertake a timely rebrand to position itself as a top–tier practice. Studio Nine’s three directors (John Galluccio, David Ey and Tony Zappia) and two associate directors (Andrew Steele and Justin Cucchiarelli) tell The Adelaide Review why. Studio Nine’s story begins 17 years ago when Galluccio was commissioned to tackle a large $10 million project. Needing resources and help, he reached out to fellow solo practioner Andrew Vorrasi who brought in David Ey to join the project. “The synergy was there,” says Galluccio. “We worked together quite well. We decided to form a partnership and amalgamate our work. We helped each other, shared the expenses three ways and split the profits three ways. That was essentially how it started.” Galluccio says the young studio’s growth was organic. “Whatever work came in, came in. If it didn’t come, it didn’t come. We weren’t overly concerned. After four or five months, we engaged our first employee and then our second.” Back then, Studio Nine was completing assorted projects and what they call complex work, something they still excel at today. “We’ve always been diverse,” Galluccio says. “That’s probably what kept us going. There was always a large focus on government work. In addition to that, we had a multitude of private residential projects and we also did a lot of commercial industrial projects and unique projects. A unique project we delivered was the Salisbury Mausoleum. Back then that was quite innovative for this state – there were quite a few mausoleums around but nothing of the size we developed. In essence, the projects we attracted weren’t easy projects. They were always unique in some way, form or manner and always had a high degree of complexity.” “We’re good at solving puzzles,” says Ey. “It keeps it interesting.” In 2006, Studio Nine hired Simon Lehmann to market and rebrand their business. “It was so successful we had to stop him,” says Galluccio. “We just didn’t have the capacity. Tony [Zappia] came on board. He brought the hospitality sector to us, which was significant. That enabled us to have a substantial growth spurt in a very short period. But the key is always diversity and a high level of service, particularly in regards to complex matters.” “Our growth had been fairly organic up until we implemented the marketing program,” says Ey. “I guess one of the reasons we did that, and we face a similar problem today, is that we have the intellectual capacity and skill resources within the organisation, but quite often the group is not perceived in the true light of our strengths. It [the marketing program] increased the scope, and then Tony came on board and the whole thing exploded. Fortunately, we had the infrastructure and it was just a matter of getting a few more of the right people to help us along. Since then our growth has been more structured and strategic.” “I think it’s fair to say that when we came together the three of us [Ey, Galluccio and Vorrasi, who left in 2013] were relatively unknown,” says Galluccio. “We were just getting work though our personal contacts but within the institutional or government sectors, so the marketing program helped us as we wanted to be in the same group of well-known, reputable mid-tier architects in Adelaide. We’ve been in that group for a long time now we want to jump up again.” Considering some larger architecture firms have downsized or merged, is there a risk involved with moving from a mid-tier to top–level firm? “Not really,” answers Galluccio. “We have the infrastructure [they own their Kent Town office building], we have the physical resources. Everything is ready. We have 30 workstations; only 20 of them are occupied [at the moment]. The only risk is employing more people and there are plenty of people looking for work. Financially, we’re quite solid.” “Being cheeky I’d say our biggest risk is failure,” says Ey. “We wouldn’t be doing what we we’re doing if we were scared of failure. We’re just ready to have a go.” Steele, who along with Cucchiarelli was made an associate director earlier this year, says Studio Nine have hired a creative agency to deliver a rebrand in early 2016, which will include the marketing as well as a new logo and website. “We can still do the middle-tier and small work, but it’s to engage with the public about how we’re more than able to do the larger–scale work,” he says. The Studio Nine directors are optimistic about the future. “We try and be optimistic because the industry right now is very tight,” says Zappia. “There are certain sectors that are doing well, aged care is one of them. “ We’re always optimistic irrespectively of where the market sits. We believe in what we do. Andrew mentioned earlier that a great percentage of our work is return clientele. That’s our strength.” “With the optimism, regardless of what the market’s doing, every single person and every single organisation has the one basic human requirement: shelter,” says Galluccio. “We provide that shelter, simple as that. There’s always a requirement for shelter and protection.”