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Meet Gary Anderson of Ai + Architecture in Concord

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gary Anderson.

Gary, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I moved from Minnesota to Boston as a young architect to pursue advanced studies in architecture & urban design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Upon graduation from Harvard, I began working as an urban designer and architect at an area firm that was involved in planning, landscape architecture and architectural design assignments for prominent clients and interesting projects. I greatly enjoyed working with multidisciplinary teams of talented professionals including planners, landscape architects, engineers and architects. Our projects for domestic and international clients were often at the very beginning of the development process when a site had been identified, but no definitive planning or design approach had been established.

My assignments were frequently on complex mixed-use international projects including urban developments and destination resorts. I was fortunate to travel regularly for extended project assignments in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, including projects such as a film studio tour attraction near London known for James Bond and Harry Potter films, a 1000-room port village resort on Egypt’s beautiful Red Sea coastline and the sailing venue for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Shortly after I started my practice at Ai in 2003, I was contacted by a former colleague who asked me to travel to China to work with his group to develop a master plan for a 5000-acre agriculture retreat and golf resort, and new opportunities developed during that project and on almost every subsequent trip to China. Over time, Ai built a compact team of talented landscape architects, planners and architects that allow us to be involved on projects in their very early stages. While we don’t actively market, the Ai crew and I have been very fortunate to have had continuous opportunities to collaborate with good friends and great clients on major public and private sector projects in China, the Middle East, Europe and recently in Africa.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Interesting journeys are seldom without drama, and running a small yet diverse practice has included some challenges. Ai has usually been fortunate to have worked when we need it, yet the process of being paid in a timely manner for work in foreign countries can be complicated and uncomfortably extended. Regardless of contract, there is little recourse if a foreign client decides simply not to honor an agreement. Since starting Ai we have focused on a personal approach to our client relationships and projects, and thankfully we have seldom experienced disappointing outcomes.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Ai + Architecture – what should we know?
Ai is a compact, yet quite diverse group of talented designers capable of addressing complex planning and design assignments that include planning, landscape and architectural design. Our clients appreciate that we can seamlessly transition from site analysis and master planning directly into conceptual architectural and landscape architectural design. Many firms can address one or the other end of this spectrum, but our clients appreciate the concentrated intensity that we bring to a project to consolidate design phases, and simplify meeting schedules that allow them to compress their schedules.

It is really gratifying to see our projects successfully realized, and at a scale that is hard to imagine for a compact practice. One China project that is nearing completion on Hainan Island is a resort community comprised of six curvilinear 28-floor residential towers plus a new hotel and serviced apartment complex totaling almost 2 million square feet of building area that has already become a recognized landmark for the area. It is very gratifying to work on significant projects that are successfully realized.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Over the last decade, it has been both a privilege and absolutely amazing to witness what China has achieved in terms of civic improvements and private sector development. Ai has had regular opportunities to establish an in-country business presence in China with Ai branch offices and local employees. In order to maintain professional focus and a family-friendly lifestyle that is enhanced for me by my office being located a comfortable and beautiful bike commute distance from home, I elected not to pursue building an in-country presence for Ai in China. While this decision simplified my life, it periodically made business more complicated regarding contracts, invoicing and management on occasion when a client’s project schedules require immediate meetings. This choice also may have limited Ai’s potential to grow in China, and looking back, I might have chosen a different path to evolve our business.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Prince Saud Bin Naif Park: Manfred Erber
Sanya: Zhiping Liu
Others: Ai +Architecture

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