Joe Zhou is the Director of OZAC Architects. After six years working in Shanghai with world-leading firms RMJM UK Shanghai Branch and SHUISHI Group, he moved to New Zealand in 2013 and founded OZAC Architects in 2014. OZAC has grown quickly over the past 8 years, and with more than 50 employees and 400 projects delivered all over New Zealand, is recognised as a leading medium to high density residential design firm. Projects range from large scale medium density terrace house developments, green field masterplan design, functional multi-level mixed-use buildings, and beautiful luxury houses.

We recently caught up with Joe to talk about what designs are having success in the current market and how he and his clients are dealing with the current challenges facing the industry.

Dan: Firstly, how’s business and how has this year started off ?

Joe: The industry was booming over the past couple of years, but has certainly slowed down a bit from late 2021. We are still extremely busy, but the focus is slightly different - small sized projects appear to have been affected by the issues facing the material, supply chain, and labour markets, along with the lack of liquidity in the development funding space. We have found that well-established developers remain confident about delivery and the market outlook and are continuing to take on large sized projects (100+ units). These developer’s have existing finance partners, strong materials, supply chain, and labour relationships, and a strong sales strategy and team. Given the scale, they have also managed to develop a successful overall model with efficiencies generated from their learnings.

Dan: What designs are seeing success in the market and what are people looking for in a new home?

Joe: The current market demand is for medium-density terrace houses, which can be designed and built efficiently, and marketed at affordable prices for purchasers - we are seeing developers in this area enjoying reliable success.

In terms of what people are looking for - New Zealanders still prefer a house over an apartment. Affordability is a key element and is becoming more of a focus, especially for the first home buyer market. Beyond that, when people look for a new home, priorities are location of the project; size of the house; storage; useable outdoor living; and parking. From the architect’s perspective, it is always important to balance the affordability and amenity, knowing what’s most important to buyers.

Dan: What are the current challenges the design industry is facing?

Joe: The balance between top quality and amenity and affordability. As architects, we always want to design exceptional buildings, but there are always compromises to deliver the project successfully, on budget. The key problem in the current market in Auckland is still the supply chain shortage of materials. That, and ever-increasing construction costs, constrain the building materials we can use and the building ‘envelope’ we can choose. This is a challenge for all architects, as we carefully balance cost and material availability with the appearance and functionality of the dwellings we are designing.

Dan: What general advice would you be giving to a developer?

Joe: In my mind, the current Auckland residential development industry is challenging and I think the period of brutal growth has passed, especially from the end of 2021. Although the finance threshold of being a small-sized developer is still not too high, the professional threshold keeps increasing, and now I believe if a developer wants to successfully deliver a project at a reasonable profit, a comprehensive knowledge of the whole process has become essential. All steps are difficult and critical, from purchasing the land, to settling the final product with the buyer, and post-settlement service. My key advice would be: look at the downsides, consider if you can afford the worst case scenario, think twice, slow down your pace, make careful decisions from the outset.