Building a successful career in architecture doesn’t happen overnight. It takes vision, passion, know-how and a strong desire to deliver excellence with a positive impact. New York-based Perkins Eastman doesn’t just have what it takes – it set the standard.
“We not only bring design excellence, but we also bring real expertise to various specific project types. And that expertise extends beyond the traditional scope of most architectural services,” explains Perkins Eastman Co-Founder and Chair, Bradford Perkins.
“It’s not just about putting up a building; it’s about designing places and spaces that put the user at the heart. Our diverse teams partner with our clients globally to deliver next-generation projects that are uniquely suited to users who will live, work, play, learn, age and heal within the environments we plan and design.”
Bradford founded the firm in 1981 alongside Mary-Jean Eastman. It was their vision to create an architectural, interior design, planning and strategic consulting firm that could serve clients around the world.
They never envisaged a generalist design firm like what was taught in architecture school. “Instead, my partners and I planned on building specialised capabilities to serve the needs of specific client types,” Bradford says.
“Initially, we focused on six specialised practice areas and over the years, that number has grown to 15. In each one, we strive to deliver innovative strategic planning and design services combined with design excellence. Our goal is to be both a thought leader and a design leader within our chosen areas of expertise.”
From education and healthcare to mixed-use and transit-oriented developments, Perkins Eastman weaves a common thread of humanity into every project it takes on. “We define our firm as ‘human by design’,” he says.
“Our focus is on doing work that has a positive impact on people’s lives. This central theme has led us to develop expertise in specialised areas, and has been recognised by our clients. As a result, we have grown to become the largest US-based architectural firm still led by its founders.”
Today, the firm has a network of 17 global studios – soon to be 20 – and roughly 1,000 employees. It’s served leading clients throughout North America and in more than 40 countries worldwide. It brings international expertise with local delivery.
When Perkins Eastman first decided to broaden beyond its New York City roots, it looked to China. A land of opportunity, China was developing at a faster pace and on a grander scale than other parts of the world. It was also a place to which Bradford had a connection.
“My family has had strong ties to China for more than 100 years,” he shares, explaining that his father and grandfather were also architects.
“Both of their firms were very involved in China. My grandfather planned and designed the original campuses of Nanjing and Cheeloo (now Shandong) universities – both of which opened in 1917. So establishing ourselves in China was our first goal as we began to build our international practice.”
Over the years, Perkins Eastman has tackled more than 100 projects in China across 22 provinces. Its office in Shanghai not only serves its clients in China but also other countries in East Asia.
Part of the reason it’s been so successful and why Bradford sees more opportunities for growth here is due to the fact that China needs the project types that Perkins Eastman boasts leadership in.
It’s important for us as a firm to create quality work that our employees can take pride in … we’re all part of a team.
“We are recognised as having the largest specialised practice in senior living in the world. And China has the biggest senior living challenges, having the most elderly people of any country in the world,” Bradford explains.
“We understand the complex strategic, financing and planning issues facing many companies in China that are entering this challenging field. And thanks to our reputation, we have been commissioned to design senior-living facilities throughout the country. And the same goes for our work in education, health care and all of the other building types that we are currently working on there.”
However, the firm can’t do it alone. “Architecture is a team sport. Not only does it take architects, but it requires structural engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, plumbing engineers and landscape architects for every one of our projects,” he says.
“So it’s important they’re all good team players who understand the position they’re playing and are focused on playing that position well. Our business partnerships are absolutely essential, and we could not do our work well without them.”
The same goes for the firm’s team. Motivated by their love of architecture, these passionate professionals show up each day to make a difference with their work. And Perkins Eastman makes sure it shows up for them as well.
“It’s important for us as a firm to create quality work that our employees can take pride in,” Bradford says. “We must also continue to make and lead a firm culture that creates a happy and mutually supportive workplace. As such, we invest in group social and professional activities that build the feeling we’re all part of a team. We also invest in the training and mentorship necessary for our employees to grow professionally.”
Perkins Eastman has been around for nearly four decades, showcasing the power of excellent design, delivery and teamwork. And Bradford considers himself a very lucky person to have the chance to do what he loves every day.
He created a firm that has allowed him the career of his dreams. It’s taken him around the world with his family in tow, meeting and getting to know new people and exploring new cultures. “I’ve been able to travel to more than 50 countries and do projects in 35 of them,” Bradford reflects.
“However, China has probably been the most important, enjoyable and professionally rewarding part of my international experience. My colleagues and I have had the opportunity to work on challenging projects that test the full range of our capabilities and experience in a place where we have always enjoyed the people, the cuisine and the culture.”
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