A strategic alliance with an international partner can help boost skills and promote shared global expertise, writes Simon Dunstan

Simon Dunstan, director at GT3 Architects

Simon Dunstan

I’ve been working in the architecture industry for almost 30 years, initially for three well-established companies before founding GT3 Architects in 2016 with my co-director Mark Gowdridge. The focus of GT3 is and always has been, to place people at the heart of our business. It’s an approach we like to call ‘People Architecture’. It means placing the needs of people at the heart of our business and work, whilst also championing a positive and collaborative approach with those who work across our projects.

In 2021 we set out a new business plan for GT3, with a strong focus on diversification. It recognised our ever-growing portfolio in the UK sport and leisure sector while highlighting our ambitions to expand that same offering overseas.

Knowing UK architects have a strong reputation in the USA, we – with the support of the former Department for International Trade – built a proposal and headed for the States. With the help of our friends at Myrtha Pools (an Italian swimming pool specialist) and a RIBA representative, we lined up conversations with a number of complementary architectural practices along the East Coast, primarily in Miami and Boston.

We enjoyed many insightful and encouraging conversations – particularly in Boston where practices have clearly benefited from the talent produced by the vast number of top-tier universities in that part of the world. However, of all the conversations we had, Sasaki was undoubtedly the stand-out – and coincidentally the practice that caught my eye before our trip.

Sasaki’s experience in the sport and leisure sector naturally stood out, but right from the first conversation with the team, it was clear that our values, culture and ethos were aligned and that an alliance could provide a fantastic opportunity for both practices. They were also impressed we’d got on a plane and travelled 6,000 miles hoping to find a partner!

GT3 X Sasaki

Source: GT3 X Sasaki

Simon Dunstan (left) with Bill Massey (right), architecture principal at Sasaki Associates

First and foremost, our alliance with Sasaki has given us a platform to carry out work in the USA – a stumbling block for many US developers in the past, who were happy to give us projects but were uncertain how we would deliver them as a UK-based firm. It also gives us greater access to a larger pool of resources while opening reciprocal opportunities for Sasaki to grow their own portfolio in the UK in partnership with GT3.

Having now spent time with members of the senior leadership team at Sasaki, the opportunities and benefits to our staff are front and centre in our minds. There is clearly so much to learn from one another – for example, sharing best practice across sectors and skills or in consultancy work.

We’re not just involving the directors of both businesses, but also our wider teams to allow relationships to grow across the two companies. I truly believe there is so much to gain from that element of the alliance, as by offering a willingness to be open and transparent you gain fresh perspectives and new insights. The team is also excited by the prospect of travel exchanges as well!

Our relationship with Sasaki is not transactional, as you often see with international partnerships, instead we are determined to build genuine foundations for a long-term relationship where we grow together and share success. We’re already developing a solid pipeline and have a couple of conversations lined up with developers. It’s exciting to see the progression from the theoretical discussions during our first visit, to practical and realistic conversations now about how we’re able to deliver work on the ground.

As mentioned earlier, diversification is key to a more sustainable future. Opening a market as big as the States is a welcome challenge and gives us significant scope to commercially grow the business. It also offers some level of protection against any potential European market downturns by offsetting this with projects in the States, and vice versa.

I’m a big believer that standing still in business is effectively going backwards. The challenge we face now, having formally launched the alliance, is to maintain and build on that momentum and start getting some projects under our belt, working side by side with the Sasaki team.

>> Also read: Partnering with an international practice can realise the true potential of collaboration