Founded in 2005 by five longtime friends and colleagues in Los Angeles, 5+design is a creative architecture and planning practice with studios in Hollywood, Shanghai and Dubai. Here, RLI sits down with Michael Ellis, Principal at 5+design to discuss the past, present and future.

Design company 5+design creates places for people, from the scale of a room to a city. Encompassing retail, mixed-use, residential, and large-scale urban planning, their work addresses two contemporary needs: a strong desire for community and a connection to the greater world.

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“2018 was a year of transitions. We lost one of our founding partners this past December, but the resiliency of our office quickly proved itself in the months that followed,” explains Michael Ellis, Principal at 5+design. “We have new projects underway in places like Russia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, while at the same time we are finding new opportunities closer to our home base of California.”

The company is laser focused on developing design solutions that are authentically tied to place. Context is critical to them, and the diversity of its work reflects this focus. “In terms of investment, our people are always first. Second would be our focus on integrating BIM and software like Revit early into the design process… to allow for a more seamless transition into detailed drawings as our projects progress towards completion,” Ellis explains.

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Last year saw three of 5+design’s recently-opened projects mon three separate continents win the 2018 ICSC Gold Award mfor renovations/expansions in their regions: Del Amo Fashion Center in the US, China World Mall in China and Optimum Izmir in Turkey. On top of this, a recently-opened residential project in Chengdu, China – Crystal Laputa – won numerous awards including best residential project in China by the Shanghai AIA chapter, and an award of design excellence from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CBTUH). Finally, the first phase of its renovation of The Shops of Riverside opened on the East Coast, which will be followed by the second phase later this year. 2019 will prove to be another important year for the company, as they have a total of eight new projects opening across China, the US, Russia and the UAE.

Ellis feels that the portfolio of clients 5+design has now has increased because they have diversified their work beyond retail. “While we have been fortunate enough to retain many of our long-term clients, we also continue to develop new client relationships around the world. We feel fortunate to be working with so many visionary people who make us better every day.”

The company has evolved to the point now where there are many members of the team who work to maintain and nurture relationships; it doesn’t just fall on one or two people. They have been able to spread the goodwill about the firm much more evenly this way which fits in with the firm’s ethos as a collaborative partnership of creative people.

Whilst continuing to operate on a global scale, the company has found recently additional opportunities are presenting themselves in markets close to home, and Ellis would like to see more local work in the coming months to balance out the firm’s work overseas.

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What design trends does Ellis feel will become more prominent in the coming years? “I feel that this idea of authenticity and of being real will become major trends, and the incorporation of increased amenity into the retail environment will be a huge theme in the years to come. Whether its retail, office, hotel, residential, these sectors are not as distinct as they used to be, and they’re going to get a lot less distinct in the future as people demand more from their environments and mix together the demands of working, living and playing.”

The group’s major strengths lie in their ability to listen carefully to its clients, and in finding solutions that go beyond the brief. The firm does not try to impose its style on anyone; they instead look to the site and to each opportunity to find what fits best.

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In the year ahead, 5+design will be focusing on communicating and sharing what they create with the world. As designers, they often get so enveloped within the creative process they forget to sometimes come up for air and share the ideas and projects they’ve spent months and years developing.

So what does Ellis feel are the main challenges facing the company right now? ‘I always worry about a global slowdown, but I try to ensure that our office doesn’t become complacent about anything – our design, our clients, technology, the travel it takes to do our work, all of it. It’s a new world out there in so many ways, and we’re very excited to be participating in it.’