ATLANTIC CITY - Good design is paramount to architects Tom Sykes and William Salerno, partners at SOSH Architects in Atlantic City.
This stands to reason since the 50-person firm has carved a niche in creating one-of-a kind casino hotels, lively resort restaurants and eye-pleasing retail stores.
"There's no excuse for bad design. Budget is never an excuse. Design governs," Salerno said.
He is one of four partners at SOSH Architects, which has offices on Atlantic Avenue in Atlantic City and on West 57th Street in New York.
SOSH was an architect of record for Revel Casino-Hotel and the new Margaritaville complex at Resorts Casino Hotel.
The company also led the renovation of the Chelsea Hotel in Atlantic City and the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway Township.
The firm was formed by former Margate residents Sykes, of Atlantic City, and Salerno, of Linwood, who left another firm to start their own company in 1979.
Going it alone is always risky, but the partners were ready for a change after working low-paying salaried positions that did not live up to expectations. Given the 80-hour workweeks they were putting in, they estimated they were earning just over minimum wage at the time.
By comparison, architects today make an average salary of $76,700, according to the American Institute of Architects.
"When I left, (the owner) said to me, 'You guys will never make it.'" Salerno recalled.
But the two draftsmen focused on residential construction and found ample work in Atlantic County. What they lacked in experience, they made up for in determination, they said.
Gradually, they grew their clientele to include more commercial and casino clients, taking advantage of Atlantic City's nascent gaming industry.
The firm named Nory Hazaveh, of Linwood, and Tom O'Connor, of West Chester, Pa., as partners in 1980 and 1981, respectively.
They moved their first office from Margate to Atlantic City to improve their visibility and court casino developers.
"They weren't going to come down to Margate. Once, Donald Trump couldn't get his limo in our driveway," Sykes said.
Today, SOSH Architects maintains a variety of public and private clients. In Atlantic City, they designed the city's boathouse, public safety building and public schools on Pennsylvania, Richmond and Sovereign avenues.
"Locally, you want to be as diverse as possible," Sykes said. "But when you go far from home, you're going to need a niche and our niche has been hospitality. That's taken us around the world."
The company has performed work for clients in the Middle East and Asia. But everywhere they go, they find familiar faces from South Jersey.
"You'd be amazed at how many people Atlantic City exports into the gaming industry globally," Salerno said. "You run into people everywhere who are from Atlantic City."
Technology has revolutionized the way architects work, Salerno said.
Big projects require teams of people contributing simultaneously. They maintain their work in cloud-based files that each team member can access. In this way, everyone contributes to the virtual development of the project, he said.
"When we started the practice, we could put somebody to work for $300 in T-squares, parallel rules and pencils," Salerno said. "I think now it's about $25,000 per station when you look at buying all the software, hardware, scanning and plotting systems that go on top of it."
SOSH has played a major role in the redevelopment of Atlantic City over the past 30 years. Sykes said he would like to see more public improvements in coming years.
"The city dramatically needs a greening. It needs to demolish older buildings and take pride in the others so that they're renovated and functioning," he said. "We need to rebuild the Boardwalk and the retail centers. And we need to re-establish ourselves as a resort destination with 21st century amenities."
Meanwhile, the company is expanding its reach across the East Coast from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts. Each new project is governed by the same overriding principle - good design.
"Good design is rewarding on different levels," Salerno said. "It's rewarding to us as architects. It's rewarding to the owner, who has put a lot of money into it. And it's rewarding to the community. It surprises me that people don't put more value on it. To us it's extremely important."
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