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Australasian giant snaps up WML amid global jockeying

Whinney Mackay-Lewis has warned that more big foreign firms are poised to try to get 'toeholds' in the 'stable and bullish' design market in the UK, after it was bought by the largest architectural outfit in Australasia last week.

The 480-staff international practice Woods Bagot has established a firm footing in the UK by sealing a deal for a majority shareholding in Whinney Mackay-Lewis, which itself also had a local management buy-out by its five top directors from premises outfit Rotch. The move means the new-look UK end, now called WML

Director of architecture Stephan Reinke told the AJ that it may not be the last deal to be seen from pan-continental firms seeking a 'toehold' on these shores. 'People are waking up to the European market, ' he said. 'It's very stable and very bullish. London is the engine room for this region.

We wanted to be an international firm rather than a West End firm and the stars lined up. We're delighted.'

He said companies in the frame for possible similar moves are Ellerbe Becket and Californiabased NBBJ Architecture. Meanwhile, the UK's Abbey Holford Rowe is on the brink of a similar deal in the other direction, the AJ understands.

The expanding firm, the UK's joint ninth largest with 104 qualified architects according to last week's AJ100, is on the lookout for further expansion after it merged Abbey Hanson Rowe and Holford Associates in April 1999.

Two of its directors recently visited Australia in a move thought to be connected to AHR's ongoing talks to a foreign firm about a link-up. It will be announcing details when it puts pen to paper in the next month, although the company in question is not Woods Bagot.

WML, meanwhile, is best known for its work in the offices sector. Its new-look office in London, 'at the moment the only office in the UK', according to Reinke, will join 12 others around the world under the Woods Bagot banner. They are in Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Abu Dhabi and, in Australia, Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth, Canberra, Darwin and the Gold Coast.Woods Bagot was founded in 1869 and has also signed a joint venture with the Cox Group to pursue 'international sporting opportunities'.

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