Urban planning

Bringing talent down to earth

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 April, 2011, 12:00am


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Robbert van Nouhuys is director for international projects at ACLA, a member of Hyder Consulting and a leader in the field of landscape architecture, regional planning and urban design. ACLA is now working on the Greening Master Plan for Hong Kong. After graduating in urban design and landscape architecture, van Nouhuys left his native Netherlands in search of broader horizons. He worked in the Middle East - Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia - for six years before moving to Malaysia and, eventually, Hong Kong. He says he is committed to delivering sustainable urban development projects for the benefit of future generations. The burden of great responsibility, along with the almost 24-hour work cycle in bringing a project to fruition, is offset by deep personal satisfaction, he adds. 'Nothing is more satisfying than walking around a project you've conceived. I can recommend it to everybody. I can't see anything bigger than that.' He talks to Liana Cafolla

What attracted you to urban planning and landscape architecture?

When I was growing up [in the Netherlands], I thought there was very little attention given to open space and developing livable cities. There was a huge rush to harness the urban population and developments were just sent out of the ground like nobody's business, like suburban areas which all became very impersonal. Why isn't anybody saying anything about it? That's what actually got me to become an urban planner and a landscape architect.

What are the first things to be resolved when you are faced with a new project?

It's important to understand the client's expectations and, secondly, to see how you can match the client's expectations with the project's opportunities. That's what we're good at. Normally, the client has a preconceived idea based on what he has done and maybe doesn't fully understand the opportunities if you think more laterally or innovatively.

Who do you work with?

We have been communicating a lot with third-tier cities on the mainland because they have been growing quickly. We think they should be looking at new solutions and be relevant to the 21st century not by copying what was done before but finding new ways to do things better. They understand that if they want people to move out of first-tier cities into third-tier cities, they have to give something totally different.

What's your biggest job headache?

My biggest headache is not spending enough time with the family. Today, I came to the office about 7.30am and I'll probably leave about 9pm. It sometimes involves extensive travelling. It's extended hours but, again, it's a creative business. You never stop thinking and running scenarios in your head and there's always something going on. We always say this type of business - architecture or urban planning - is not a job, it's a way of life. And you have to take that seriously.

How do you identify key talent in your business?

The word 'talent' is overrated sometimes because in business, talent is not so much being gifted in one aspect. We see talent more as the readiness to take on extended responsibility, give it your best and have the ability to overcome failure. To us, that's much more important than excelling in one aspect.

How do you develop your employees?

If you, as an organisation, provide the opportunity and prospects for people to grow with you and they understand that the biggest effort you try to make is to grow the organisation longer term, that's when you can find a lot of talent coming to fruition. We have this quality-conscious culture within the organisation. We don't expect people to be gifted but just to give their best and try new things. That is giving them the confidence to take on broader responsibility. You don't work only within your job description because that won't get you anywhere. The fact that we have been around since 1978, and [are] still growing, means that we must be doing something right.

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