The rise and rise of Fender Katsalidis Architects

Karl Fender and Nonda Katsalidis, founders of Fender Katsalidis Architects

Please note: Images in this article were taken before current COVID-19 safety measures were in place.

Melbourne firm Fender Katsalidis Architects is famous for shaping the city’s skyline and taking it to new heights over the last two decades. Now, it’s reaching new heights of its own.

Most famous for designing Melbourne’s Eureka Tower, dynamic duo Karl Fender and Nonda Katsalidis are making their mark on the urban landscapes of cities near and far.

While the company has undertaken major projects from Shanghai to Gibraltar over the years, a growing demand for its work has seen it establish itself as a global brand. The firm now has offices positioned in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, London and Kuala Lumpur.

At the same time, the company—which has 100 staff in its Melbourne headquarters alone—is broadening its ownership to cater for its far-reaching expansion, which founding director Karl Fender describes as “organic growth”.

Expansion driven by need, not desire

“As a firm, we’re not expansionists,” Fender says. “We’re more about servicing an ever-increasing network and building up a presence in places based on need.”

The firm recently saw a need to set up an office in Brisbane, for reasons Fender explains as: “To service the number of projects that people have brought to us up there.”

“It’s not like we’re targeting cities because we have a view that we need to be 500 people in five years,” Fender says. “The growth is organic. We like to be very involved in all our projects very personally and any expansion that’s happening is being done with consideration of our current circumstances.”

The company has also set up a branch office in Kuala Lumpur where it is working on a 630-metre mixed-use tower which, once completed, will become Malaysia’s tallest building.

Merdeka PNB118 will exceed the height of the 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers and create a significant new landmark for the city.

“It’s a dream project in the sense of its importance in helping shape a city like Kuala Lumpur,” says Fender. The building will not only expand the city’s so-called Golden Triangle but has already attracted new infrastructure—including an underground railway station, road upgrades and bridges to a neglected neighbourhood.

Meanwhile, the company’s affiliated office in London – Arney Fender Katsalidis – is helping the firm service a growing client base in London, as well the US and Canada.

Growth fuels new ownership structure

As the company continues to grow, Fender and Katsalidis, who first joined forces in 2006, have seen the need to broaden its ownership. As a result, it will soon appoint seven directors from within the company.

“The business has grown to a size where it requires more than just a partnership situation. As far as we’re concerned, this is about investing in the future,” Fender says.

“The new directors have all got a tremendous amount of IP and experience to give to this practice in the future, and to spread amongst the architects who work in here. It should be done from a position of ownership.”

On the move

The ownership changes will come just months after the firm relocates from its former offices in the Eureka Tower, to the 2 Riverside Quay building it designed for Mirvac on Melbourne’s Southbank.

The move means the 100-strong team can work from one floor—taking up about 1,000 square metres—rather than over several floors, as was the case at Eureka.

“The office in Eureka was wonderful for over a decade but we didn’t want to become a series of offices within an office,” Fender says.

“The move has been great in terms of how we work together as a group and as a studio and it’s great for clients to see the full extent of our Melbourne operation.”

While Fender Katsalidis Architects might be increasingly redefining the urban makeup of cities like Brisbane, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur and London, there are still plenty of Melbourne-based projects to keep its head office busy.

They include the development of Australia 108 – which at 100 levels and 319 metres high, will become the country’s tallest skyscraper. It’s set to surpass Eureka as Melbourne’s tallest tower, when it is completed in 2020.