By Michael McCord

October 11, 2010 2:00 AM

KITTERY, Maine — In the mid-1970s, when architect Duncan Pendlebury was in the Middle East handling one of his first major overseas projects, getting architectural drawings back and forth to the home office in the United States was no easy feat. Before e-mails or even reliable faxes, they used a version of the old carrier pigeon."We used to move drawings through friendly (airline) stewardesses who would take a roll of drawings to Rome and then another would pick them up to take them to Saudi Arabia," Pendlebury said.

Solus4 LLC, Pendlebury's newly formed architectural studio, reflects the 21st century mode of leveraging technology into an international business model that couldn't have existed in 1990 much less 1975. Solus4 specializes in architecture, planning and interior design and is based in Kittery — it's where one of the four partners is located — but the other partners are located in the Boston area and Rhode Island.

More importantly, Pendlebury said, due to the more than a century's experience between the partners in commercial, residential, institutional and hospitality design and planning, Solus4 has an impressive global Rolodex of "key collaborators" who are ready to contribute to diverse projects from Beijing to Barcelona and everywhere in between.

"Once a month we get together to make the decisions," he said. "We keep everything else pretty much virtual. The firm is organized as a collaborative, a network of key collaborators all over the world."

Technological innovations and rapid communication capabilities have allowed the Solus4 partners to do what they have wanted to do for a long time, Pendlebury said, and break free from the constraints of the large office-based organization model.

"All of us have worked in large firms and we've seen things we like and don't like in large firms and having that time clock basis," he said.

The firm works on a collaborative model, Pendlebury said, because it allows it to bring its core experience to add value to client solutions while incorporating an international cross section of key collaborators who specialize in sustainability strategies, macro planning, community building, project logistics and team management. In this way, he explained, the firm can deliver the scale and scope required by each client with passion, experience and sensitivity.

In addition to Pendlebury, who is president of the company, the other partners are: Marian Vaida, who heads up the firm's project management and has more than three decades of experience in commercial, residential and hospitality projects from Greenland to Dubai; Alfonso Lopez leads the design efforts with his background in both domestic and international venues; and managing director Stefan Vittori, the founder of the Kittery-based digital design company Tangram 3DS.

Pendlebury said the firm's current projects include large-scale retail development, several single family homes, high-rise residential and studies of housing programs for underserved populations such as Africa.

It also submitted designs for two hotels in Mecca, Saudi Arabia and a built-on-water tsunami study center in Bali, Indonesia.

Neither design was chosen but Pendlebury said they represent the cutting-edge, sustainable designs that more private and public policy decision makers are looking for. "It validated our model," he said about being short-listed for the Mecca hotel project with some major international architectural firms.