Place Studio: the young guns of architecture giving the industry a fresh new look


When James and Marie-Claire Alexander-Hatziplis met at university, they noticed something about the architecture industry in Australia. 

It was an industry that was predominantly made up of older people, men and architects working specifically on grand, expensive projects.

Their response, as millennials, was to start their own business, and more importantly, change that status quo.

“We like the fact that there’s an opportunity for us to show there’s a different way of doing things,” said James.

Place Studio was founded in 2016 by James and Marie-Claire, who were both just 25 years old at the time. In a sector where emerging architects were being publicly recognised and awarded when they were well into their 50s, it was certainly a challenge to work against the tide.

But their business’ focus on housing affordability and design for yield has set them apart from other architectural firms in the country, and now, they have their sights set on partnering with some of the biggest developers in Australia. 

“We’re trying to do things differently, and because we are young, we have a fresh take,” Marie-Claire said.

“We have pushed ourselves to use technology in new ways and in different ways to really accelerate and use the fact that we’re young to our advantage.”

Where it began, and how it is growing

Place Studio began in Sydney seven years ago with James, Marie-Claire and a few of their other university mates.

“Initially, particularly the first few years, we just did whatever work we could,” James said.

“But that quickly evolved over the coming years into us specialising in projects where the value you get for the value you spend is really taken seriously.”

This was something that James and Marie-Claire found was missing from their competitors – that the more mature a traditional architect firm became, the more they tended to move towards higher end projects. 

So in the early days of Place Studio, they focused on developing properties for mums, dads, families and ordinary Australians, a market that was missing out on quality architects who were exclusively servicing higher end markets.

“We really understood that kind of ‘bang for buck’ aspect, where you still get really good outcomes for the users,” James said.

Their efforts to focus on the “design for yield” side for clients paid off. Now, Place Studio is developing around 7,000-10,000 apartments in NSW, which James said could be up to 10-20 per cent of all apartments being delivered in the state.

“That’s been a very organic result of us really caring about how people are spending their money,” he said.

Growing from a team of 12 to a team of 50 wasn’t without its challenges. Since Place Studio was one of the first of its kind, James and Marie-Claire developed their own way of doing things that didn’t necessarily follow the traditional methods of running an architecture business.

“Because we’d never run a practice before, everything was a first,” James said.

“We formed our own ways that made sense for us, which then became a bit of an issue when we started hiring more people.

“But that’s probably why we’ve been successful, because we haven’t just accepted that the status quo is the status quo.”

Design for yield

Place Studio prioritises creating spaces that people want to be in, in a way where “there are no losers”. The core business is about housing affordability and accessibility, developing a place that is useful and cost-effective for the client.

But this doesn’t translate to “ugly”, the co-founder said. The team at Place Studio strikes a balance between how the building looks and its effectiveness.

“It’s not just about what a property looks like from an aesthetic point of view, but also considering how people use it and the financial aspects of it,” Marie-Claire explained.

“I think what makes us different in a sense is that we really focus on the yield of a project, which is obviously the financial aspects of it to make sure that the money is being spent in the right place to get the best outcome.

“But then from our end, to address housing affordability issues and making it the best value that you can get in that space.”

Rather than solely following the traditional “retail exchange” model in the architecture industry, where services are provided for a price paid by the client, Place Studio follows a hybrid model of the retail exchange and “equity exchange”.

“For about 10 per cent of our projects, we invest in the project, instead of being paid for the project,” James explained.

“So in our minds, what we’re really saying is, if we believe in the project, then we won’t be a mercenary on it, we’ll actually really invest ourselves.”

James and Marie-Claire aspire to grow into a business that purely follows the equity model.

“That would probably turn us into one of the biggest practices in Australia, if that was the case,” James said.