International Architect’s Love for Fiji

John Ross is a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in tourism.   An internationally-renowned architect and designer has completed his first tourism-based project in Fiji from
04 Jul 2015 11:00
International Architect’s Love for Fiji
The new ‘Flame Tree’ Restaurant at Lomani Island Resort designed by Graham Applin (also pictured).

John Ross is a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in tourism.


An internationally-renowned architect and designer has completed his first tourism-based project in Fiji from his base at Denarau.

Graham Applin’s Ocean Design has finished the construction of a new restaurant at the Lomani Island Resort on Malolo Lailai.

This is Ocean Design’s first completed architectural project in Fiji but he believes that there will be many more.

He says the Fijian tourism industry needs to develop an understanding that architectural fees are an investment.

He believes that a skilled architect can save more than their fee in the construction process and add value to the project many times over.

Mr Applin has also been in discussion to design a specialised mall for the new South Denarau project.

The Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, Faiyaz Siddiq Koya, has been consistently advocating the need to provide a shopping experience for the tourists to Fiji that is world-class.

One where individual retailers sell international brand labels, particularly those that are made in the clothing and footware industry in Fiji.


His background

Mr Applin was born in Surrey in the UK and started his career as a banker.

It took him a while to decide that banking and him wasn’t a good fit, but he stayed in banking long enough to pick up how the finance business worked, knowledge that would prove invaluable later in life.

He took an interest in architecture, studied at the University of the South West, followed by post graduate studies at the University of London.

He joined Sheppard Robson, one of London’s leading architects, to finish his studies and dissertation.

Mr Applin worked on Thomas Moore Street in St Catherine’s Dock, next to Tower Bridge, designing a very large office complex, at the time one of Europe’s largest.


The rise to success

He then went to Singapore to get experience faster than he could get it back home.

He says: “In London I was regarded as a junior and would have been for a long time, just drawing things for the older architects.

“In hindsight, moving to Singapore was the catalyst for a major leap in my career”.

He was just 27.

He was given some interesting assignments, two 42-story residential towers in Kuala Lumpur followed by a hotel and shopping centre in Singapore, where he was the Chief Architect.

Mr Applin was invited to enter a competition for the design of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Aden.

He teamed up with another architect, an acquaintance from Kuala Lumpur, to develop their entry, but at the same time war broke out in the Middle East and the project was cancelled.

Having seen Mr Applin’s competition entry, he was approached by WAT&G, the biggest and most famous hotel architectural group in the world to design the Ritz Carlton in Dubai, where he worked as the Project Design Architect.

This was in 1994 and the beautiful design stretched four stories into the desert air.

The hotel is still there but almost every building in Dubai now towers over it. But when it was built it won many awards and enjoyed a great deal of attention.

Following his time in the desert, he went back to Hong Kong and joined the Swire Group as Project Director for Festival Walk, the largest retail centre in Asia.

As well as shops and offices it had its own underground station, Olympic ice rink and a bus terminal right in the building.

It was a very unusual design and presented many technical difficulties in the construction. He enjoyed the experience and was working with the best teams in the world.

He was 32.

From there he went back to Malaysia and joined the man he worked with on the competition entry as a partner of a practice called Veritas, which has grown to become the largest Architectural group in the country.

They managed to attract a great deal of work internationally and Mr Applin’s name spread.


Own start-up

His parents became seriously ill in the UK, so he returned home to be with them and started his own company in London, called Applin Design.

Applin Design’s work was exhibited in the Royal Institute of British Architects and was listed by them as one of the top 5 residential designers in the UK.

During this time he consulted with EDAW (now a part of Aecom who are the largest multi-disciplined architectural organisation in the world).

They are most famous for being the company who master planned and landscaped the last four and next Olympic Games.

He still works with them as part of the Worldwide resort team and is going to Mauritius shortly with them to design a Four Seasons property.

He also has ongoing work in the Maldives, Mauritius, Egypt, Antigua and Mallorca.


Arrival in Fiji

He decided that he was missing out on quality time with his family so took a break to sail his yacht around the world with his half Fijian wife and two children.

They left from Mallorca for Canada and the USA, spent a lot of time in the Caribbean and sailed through the Pacific to Fiji and on to Sydney after spending a good length of time with his wife’s family here.

From Sydney, he returned to Fiji three years ago and opened his practice, called Ocean Design Fiji, named basically after the three things he loves, outside of his wife and family.

They have a studio in the Denarau Commercial area and he works there with his wife, who is also a fully qualified architect and interior designer.


Business here

They currently have five full time employees, all of whom Mr Applin proudly says are Fijian.

He is working to introduce international architectural practices and technology to Fiji.

He has taken all his employees and spent significant time teaching them so that he can grow his team.

He would like to establish an architectural school in Fiji that teaches to International standards.

It takes seven years to graduate as an architect in Europe, including a two year apprenticeship with an established practice.


Commitment to Fiji

Mr Applin and his wife are committed to staying in Fiji and they will continue to take both Fijian and international work for their practice here.

The company has a very strong reputation in Europe, Middle East and South- East Asia.

He is confident they can continue to gain overseas commissions in the hotel and resort field while enjoying the lifestyle in Fiji.

Fiji, in the next five years, will enjoy a boom in tourist plant construction and there will be increased opportunity for experienced architects with knowledge of the tourism requirements.

It is this expectation that encourages Mr Applin to build his new practice in Fiji, and to enjoy his life here.

And maybe Fiji will be, like Singapore, another life changing event for Graham Applin.






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