Stunning Spaces: When Architects and Design Stars Form Partnerships in the Cloud
When Bangkok-based architectural and interior-design firm Design Worldwide Partnership (DWP) moved to the cloud in 2019, it had no clue what 2020 had in store—it was just aiming for a more streamlined and automated design approach. DWP also wanted to collaborate more easily with its global team and explore partnerships with renowned design masters.
To that end, the firm created DWP|Signature—a boutique extension that’s pushing the boundaries of both digital transformation and creativity, using cloud-based technology to collaborate with handpicked international architects, artists, and interior-design virtuosos. These connections have included interior designer Anne Carson; culinary concept specialist Gary Szillich; and renowned architect, designer, and artist Jordy Fu, perhaps best known for her luminous, sculptural hand-cut “cloud” paper chandeliers.
“We were looking for a way to extend our brand by bringing in good people without them having to give up their own businesses,” says DWP Creative Director Scott Whittaker, who also founded DWP Asia.
One DWP|Signature project, 98 Wireless, features 77 luxury condominiums in downtown Bangkok, styled in Ralph Lauren Home by Anne Carson. The client brief for 98 Wireless—one of the first projects of its kind in Asia—specified a New York–style apartment building. “We did the architecture, the interiors, and then we collaborated with our signature partner in New York,” Whittaker says. “And we did all of this in BIM in a single model, so it was really our start of that journey doing such a major project.”
This level of collaboration leans heavily on cloud-based operations. When COVID-19 sent the world into lockdown, DWP was already well-positioned to shift employees to working remotely: Systems were in place within 24 hours and stay-at-home orders tested the new setup immediately. While the firm recognized that shifting entirely to a remote, cloud-based system could have a positive impact on business, it wasn’t sure what that transition would look like. Absent the pandemic, it’s doubtful that implementation would have been so immediate; more likely, it would have been a gradual shift.
“We didn’t transition all on the same day because we’re working with different countries in different time zones,” Whittaker says. “Basically, we announced it; then, people moved on the next day and were working. All of the technologies worked, so we didn’t really have any downtime. But we did set up a very good communications protocol.”
Google Chat rooms were deployed in every studio for each project, with collaborators checking in and out of their project and office every day as a team. Communication actually improved overall, and teams worked more collaboratively.
The team also moved everything over to Autodesk Revit, which was a pretty big adjustment but ultimately led to significant time savings, along with better coordination and the ability to realize the space in real time in 3D. The contractor also used BIM (Building Information Modeling) to create the complex stone facades off-site in a factory. “Before moving to Revit, our time to deliver a project probably went up because we would then do more work and have to send it to the other engineers,” Whittaker says. “But now that we have [Autodesk] BIM 360, where everything is combined and we’re all working in the same model, I think the time savings will be around 30%.”
Response times addressing project details were much faster with BIM and Google Chat, with teams connecting in real time. “I think our team concentrates on the project more effectively now that we’re able to collaborate so easily,” says Waralak Thongsrikate, an architect at DWP. “The live chat moves the group discussion more quickly because project collaborators can ask questions at any time. We don’t need to spend hours traveling to the office and back home—it’s more productive with BIM because we can work from anywhere.”
Transitioning to BIM 360 called for some upskilling. “Our reskilling focused on architects and interior designers who traditionally worked with technicians and draftspeople to document projects,” Whittaker says. “Our focus of training is for them to design and document directly in BIM. It also requires that the design process have more focus at the earlier concept and schematic stage; we also implemented a greater focus on collaborative working with our consultants.”
Moving to a cloud-based system has meant much better collaboration among key stakeholders while giving architects more authority over their projects. “With the added input from project managers, consultants, and client representatives, the control the architect has over the outcome of projects is significantly diminished,” Whittaker says. “When it goes back to BIM, however, it actually puts us back to the center of the project with the client. It goes almost back to how architecture was 100 years ago because, in the end, we’re the core creators of the ideas.”
DWP architect Carol Leong has already experienced the benefits of working in the same model. “Working in digital allows you to visualize everything much faster,” she says. “Immediately, you can see what a shape looks like or what finishes look like in a space.”
The old-school model kept a barrier between architects and end users, who could only grasp ideas conceptually from the architect’s perspective. “End users can’t read drawings; they visualize them from a certain elevation and don’t really understand the concepts well,” Leong says. Enabling end users to view concepts in a 3D space helps architects and designers communicate their vision.
“With my teams, we really love working collaboratively in BIM because it helps us know and express our design at the same time,” Thongsrikate says. “Many people can do things in one model, so it’s a lot more effective when you present it to the client.”
For another DWP project done entirely in BIM, Star Entertainment Group’s The Star Casino redevelopment in Sydney, the team began working on the project well before everything moved to the cloud. “It’s a huge-scale project,” Leong says. “It’s a few city blocks in size, and we started working on it before BIM 360 was even a thing.”
The casino operates 24/7, so everything had to be well-thought-out before the team went on-site. “It was a five-year project where there was a lot of upscaling from our end and the client end,” Leong says. “We walked in on that project as executive architects and also as designers.” DWP ultimately did all of the BIM, as well as the architecture and design.
The workflow brought teams together in a new way. “In the role of BIM manager, you can lose sight of why you need to do some things for architecture,” Leong says. “And when you’re an architect, you’re so focused on architecture that you lose sight of why people have to do certain things in a different way. Working together as a team, rather than as two separate teams, has definitely made our process work a lot better.”
Future plans for DWP and DWP|Signature include geographic expansion and adding more digital tools to bolster creativity and efficiency. Digital connectivity has led to accelerated technological breakthroughs across the company, giving rise to better collaboration and more opportunities for a broadened global reach. “We’re very keen to open an office in London, hopefully within this year,” Whittaker says. “I think collaboration is at the core—collaborating with great people and enjoying what we do.”