The Digital Design Era
dwp|design worldwide partnership is better placed than ever before to deliver sustainable, innovative and beautiful designs thanks to sustained investment in people and technology
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Ryan Gray
“We will need to fundamentally rethink the core of everything we do from our teams, studios and the types of work we do. Themes around travel, the workplace and healthcare will change as the year rolls out. It’s one of those inflection points where what seemed a time of stability and incremental change has suddenly become something that will produce a vastly different industry over the next 12 months.”
There is no denying that the coronavirus pandemic will create a new normal in the way many businesses are run around the world.
From further embracement of home working to uncompromising office hygiene standards, the COVID-19 outbreak has stretched societal resolve and tested the resilience of companies across every industry, from travel and hospitality to retail and sport.
The opening words were spoken by Scott Whittaker, Founder and Group Creative Director at Bangkok-head quartered architecture and interior design firm dwp|design worldwide partnership.
When last speaking with us at the end of 2018, Whittaker outlined plans to move towards a truly global practice renowned for design excellence, a goal that is being well and truly advanced towards as we catch up again. While the Founder admits that 2019 was challenging as well as rewarding, the company’s focus on quality projects in hospitality, health and workplaces has paid off and the dwp team is more capable now than ever before.
And the impact of coronavirus cannot be ignored either. In fact, the pandemic has highlighted the levels of resilience built up in the organisation, the company’s smart investment into technology already paying dividends.
“We made some critical changes to our core technologies in 2018 and 2019 to be a 100 percent cloud-based digital design business,” Whittaker explains.
“Our platform facilitates real-time co-working across multiple locations in shared BIM models using Autodesk’s cloud-based Revit and BIM360. We fully utilise Google Cloud and Amazon Cloud and that similarly allows for real-time co-working in documents, spreadsheets, specifications and related industry requirements.
“With the challenges that the pandemic will bring, we believe we are well-placed to be able to work anywhere with our team of 350 staff, be it remotely or at home. Moving our core design delivery and communication platforms to the cloud is truly transformational in our ability to have business continuity for our clients, suppliers and partners.”
Savvy investment in technology has also enabled dwp to enhance its offering through a bespoke new service called dwp|signature.
The platform offers collaboration with specially selected international ‘design masters’, including American interior designer Anne Carson, multi-hyphenate London-based Chinese architect Jordy Fu, Bangkok-based culinary concept specialist Gary Szillich and American artist and sculptor Matthew Campbell Laurenza.
“We think it’s very reflective of the times,” Whittaker adds. “Digital connectivity, free flow of information, sharing of ideas for the benefit of all – it’s time not to fight it but embrace it, as collaborations open design horizons.”
Sustainable, innovative and beautiful designs
Beyond signature, the worldwide reach of dwp has been expanded through studio openings in Manila, Singapore and soon to be London (Q4 2020), as well as several new leadership appointments such as Charlie Kelly as Regional Managing Director in North Asia and Philip Gillard as RMD for the Middle East.
Across the board, Whittaker reveals that 2020 will see dwp projects centre around three key pillars – sustainability, innovation and beauty – citing several developments across Asia and the Middle East which demonstrate adherence to these values.
Just north of Bangkok, the company is in the concept stage of what will become Thailand’s largest private hospital, this is after having completed the conversion of a multi-storey shopping mall into a state-of-the-art hospital in a new area of the city.
The Thonburi-Bamrungmuang Hospital is now in operation; the project scooped the Bronze Award in the Healthcare and Wellbeing category at the World Interiors News Awards 2019.
“Light and clean interiors welcome patients to these healthcare facilities with a luxurious double volume lobby,” describes Whittaker. “Sculptured lighting shines through perspex leaves above the reception, while the refreshed building exterior creates a timeless elegance in the company’s corporate blue.”
In the hospitality space, dwp has been busy designing two W brand hotels for Marriott in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“For W Dubai - The Palm, we looked to the iconic features of the Middle East for inspiration,” says Whittaker. “We took unique attributes of Arabic culture, as well as the location at The Palm, and melded them into a W experience. The exciting challenge and opportunity with this project was to create that quintessential W hotel feeling of rebellious, distinctive luxury while drawing from Middle Eastern culture.
“W hotels are labs of creation and the design is all about taking risks and breaking boundaries. Wherever you are in the hotel, it should be ‘wow’. Young, friendly, dynamic, 24 hours – it doesn’t feel like you are in a normal hotel. The interaction is different. The whole experience of being in a W should be enjoyable.”
The same blend of Arabian tradition and wow factor is also on display at W Abu Dhabi - Yas Island.
Here, dwp completed the refurbishment of the lobby and public areas, food and drink spaces and WET Deck to bring to life what is now the second W Hotel in the Middle East and the largest W Hotel in the world.
“This is a dynamic property built around Arabian tradition, from pearl diving to kufic calligraphy and a desert in full bloom,” adds Whittaker. “This distinctive luxury hotel is high on visual impact – a destination for those who dream big and live loud.”
The company has also masterminded the interior design of the Four Points by Sheraton Kuala Lumpur Chinatown, another Marriott hotel based in the Chinatown area of the Malaysian capital.
Away from dwp’s Asian heartland, the firm has made tremendous strides in developing its presence in the Australian market.
Part of the aforementioned leadership transition process also saw the appointment of Michael Hegarty as Regional Managing Director for Australia. The well-known industry leader brings with him a wealth of experience that includes advisory roles within the UK, Irish and Australian governments.
His division has been behind the interior design of another iconic hotel development, this time for Accor, in what is the only five-star hotel located outside of Melbourne’s central business district.
Hotel Chadstone Melbourne, operating under the MGallery by Sofitel brand, is a $130 million construction containing 250 rooms, suites and penthouses, two restaurants, a conservatory bar and rooftop pool overlooking Port Phillip Bay and the city’s skyline.
“The design concept is built upon the luxurious residential styling of 20th century iconic fashion designers – an ode to the bold, and stylish craft of Italian fashion artisans,” Whittaker explains. “We have encompassed this in the lobby with an integrated concierge service, pre-function space, sophisticated rooftop event spaces, guest rooms inspired by backstage beauty, and food and drink areas that are laced with luxury.”
Once certified by the Green Building Council of Australia, Hotel Chadstone will also be the first five-star Australian hotel to receive a 5 Star Green Star Design & As Built rating.
In Melbourne’s CBD, dwp has transformed part of the gateway building for the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University.
“The $7 million project is a showcase for RMIT to engage with the public and industry partners and located within the first two floors of the 1912 Singer sewing factory building,” Whittaker adds. “The existing fabric of the building was largely disguised and dwp architects and interior designers sought to peel back the layers of subsequent renovations to expose the beauty of the original building.
“Our team worked with RMIT to develop the right strategy to unlock the embedded value of the project to the degree to which the planning and design solution is able to create a highly engaging, iconic, accessible and digital experience for students and visitors.”
In another education-based project, dwp led the design of the Australian National University (ANU) Hanna Neumann building in conjunction with Clarke Keller. The hybrid workplace, teaching and student hub for the College of Engineering & Computer Science and the Mathematical Sciences Institute faculty was awarded multiple AIA architecture awards in 2019.
The company’s Australia portfolio also includes major refurbishments of sporting venues.
For instance, at the Blundstone Arena in Hobart, dwp’s design for the grandstand will enable it to cater for 4,500 spectators with improved access, congregation areas and links to public transport.
“Much more than a world class facility for elite athletes, the redevelopment redefines the arena’s identity for sports fans, elevating its street presence and bringing fans closer to the action from the moment they step inside,” Whittaker says, also pointing to ongoing work in Parkville as another sports-related dwp project.
Here, the company has designed the redevelopment of the State Netball and Hockey Centre, a $64.6 million scheme to transform the building into an elite facility and cement Parkville as the home of netball and hockey in Australia.
Expected to be completed in 2021, the upgrade will include six new indoor netball courts, a new indoor hockey facility, a high-performance strength and conditioning gym, a women in sport leadership centre, and an improved entrance and access to public transport.
A 5G-enabled future
This is one of a steady pipeline of projects that Whittaker and dwp will be focussing on delivering over the course of the next year, a period which the Founder believes will be increasingly defined by 5G.
While the organisation has wholeheartedly embraced flexible and home working to help mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, of equal importance is making dwp workspaces as futureproofed as possible.
Whittaker explains: “The implications of these changes extend beyond simply higher speeds. A 5G network-enabled office is the next evolutionary step in a truly wireless workplace. Our digital transformation, above all, is enabling a more transparent office structure, allowing an uninterrupted flow of people and ideas facilitated by flexible spaces.
“The move towards full digitalisation is an opportunity to help clients see a vision of a workplace beyond its current constraints and focus on effective ways of working using digital and wireless tools enabled by 5G.
“Fluidity of movement and data sharing will allow for faster and more organic knowledge and resource sharing among employees. Libraries, printers and even Wi-Fi enabled laptops, all requiring space within an office, will be replaced by 5G-enabled smartphones and tablets.”
In Brisbane, dwp’s studio is already running on Telstra’s 5G network, with more offices set to come online in the months ahead. Meanwhile, all premises in the Middle East, Asia and Australia are already working in fully agile, wireless environments using digital design tools and cloud-based applications.
Such developments leave Whittaker more confident than ever about his company’s ability to serve clients.
Despite the enormous challenges surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, dwp is firmly open for business, the Founder signing off by revealing plans to grow into yet more markets.
He concludes: “dwp stands for design worldwide partnership. We chose that name for its inclusiveness, and we’re ambitious!
“We are a diverse firm with capabilities across disciplines and believe that tapping some of the more established markets for very specific design capabilities will enable us to leverage this knowledge into our growing markets.
“But it also works in reverse. We think our skills in creating lifestyle spaces, whether hospitality, residential or retail, is unrivalled and we want to take that to London and New York. We want to bring a little bit of the excitement of Asian design to these markets.”