dwp | design worldwide partnership

13 May 2021

Longstanding ACA member dwp has grown through a combination of acquisitions and organic growth over recent years and now has 12 studios across eight countries.

When was the practice established and what were its early ambitions? How has your practice evolved over time?

dwp | design worldwide partnership was formed over 28 years ago by an architect and an interior designer, both originally from Adelaide. They were working in Bangkok for Woods Bagot and Woodhead, Adelaide-based architecture firms that had expanded into other countries. They shared a passion for design coupled with youthful energy and a self-confident belief that they could offer clients a better service themselves. They prioritised design as central to everything the firm would do, and decided that the company name should represent the process and outcome rather than being all about any individuals. In doing so, the culture of the business is based on delivering fantastic project outcomes for clients. The practice continues to undertake internal design reviews on every project at each stage of progression, and these now involve all employees around the world using VCs and cloud-based platforms.

dwp is a global architecture and design company that creates value for clients with great design. The practice name is synonymous with what we do, where we do it and how we do it. Our people own and live our brand.

Design – the very core of everything that we do
Worldwide – we deliver projects around the world and we have twelve studios in eight countries
Partnership – how we collaborate and interact with each other is in a spirit of true partnership.

Hardy Milazzo recently merged with dwp. What were the motivations for the merger and what are the benefits?

Over the years, the dwp business has grown through a combination of acquisitions and organic growth and now has 250 people over 12 studios across eight countries. The biggest single merger was when Australian architecture firm Suters (founded 1959) became part of dwp in 2017, with studios in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Newcastle. More recently, longstanding Adelaide practice and ACA member Hardy Milazzo has joined dwp, forming dwp | hardymilazzo in South Australia (below).

“The benefits of growing our capabilities and global reach within a design firm that operates a network of studios internationally will be of enormous value to our clients, our people and our business,” Hardy Milazzo founder Graham Hardy said.

dwp’s founder Scott Whittaker said of the partnership with Hardy Milazzo: “Coming together with South Australia’s Hardy Milazzo Architects brings it all back home and will see the full extent of each practice’s experience put to market in a spirit of collaboration.”

dwp also has a new presence in Auckland, New Zealand from May 2021 and we anticipate a new team joining us shortly in the UK with studios in London, Manchester and Birmingham, England. This worldwide reach provides us with global design skills in specialist sectors that we deliver locally. The benefits of the integration of the Hardy Milazzo team are in providing dwp with an established presence in South Australia and in parallel providing support to Adelaide clients with our sector specialists in dwp, including healthcare, hospitality, education and sports facilities architects.

Can you tell us about a key project that provided a turning point in the life of the practice?

Every project we do as architects tends to be the most important thing going on for that client at that moment in time. Our dwp Melbourne studio project, Northern Aquatic and Community Hub for the City of Greater Geelong (below), has recently been awarded 5 Star Green Star – Design & As Built v1.2, Design Review Certified Rating, which represents Australian Excellence in sustainable design. The project is the very first project of indoor aquatic typology awarded this level of Green Star accreditation. The overall vision is to create a vibrant community hub as a significant destination for leisure, recreation, cultural and community wellbeing activities.

The Northern Aquatic and Community Hub project team is undertaking extensive community consultation and incorporating best practice urban design principles to realise a unique precinct that will contribute to people’s health, happiness and wellbeing. Melbourne studio director Melissa Malik said, “it’s fantastic for our design team to contribute such a significant new community facility that plays an important role in the ongoing cultural and civic renaissance of Geelong”.

  • Northern Aquatic and Community Hub by dwp for the City of Greater Geelong, Victoria
  • Graham Hardy
  • Melissa Malik
  • Michael Hegarty

What are the future plans for the practice?

We have a world-class portfolio of completed award-winning projects and a pipeline of new work to deliver for many repeat clients. Our priority is to continue to deliver design excellence to our clients, and create fantastic places that help shape a better future for people across the world. We are looking at further consolidation with like-minded design firms to bolster our service offer to clients in Australia, Singapore, the Middle East, Vietnam, New Zealand, North America, Europe and the UK, as part of our continued growth and ongoing diversification. Some of this will be growth through merger and acquisition and some will be through strategic recruitment of key people with strong personal design skills and industry profile.

Dion Gosling is now our global sector leader for sport and recreation. Dion is an architect and masterplanner who was an Athens Olympian, and Commonwealth Games silver medalist. Dion has an innate knowledge for sports and community environments, shaped by years of personally living and breathing real-life facilities across the globe. He is involved at multiple levels of sports including coaching and he has served on the NZOC Athletes Commission and the FIH Oceania Competitions Committee. Dion’s architecture experience in sport facilities for over thirty-years has covered multiple codes from soccer, AFL, rugby, rugby league; to tennis, hockey, bowls, athletics, basketball, netball, indoor sports; as well as informal outdoor play spaces, and stadia. Dion’s approach is grounded on the principle that high performance sports, informal recreation, and grass-roots community sports can co-exist, whereby the fields and courts of play and the buildings that service them are designed to encourage a sense of community and social connection.

dwp also recently welcomed Leonard Lee to the company in a major expansion of high quality hospitality design services across the group. Leonard has significant experience in the hospitality sector globally and joins us from Wilsons Associates where he was MD of Singapore and Japan. A very well known figure in the hospitality industry, Leonard is joined by a very strong team of designers from his previous practice which will further add to the strong presence dwp has in this sector. By joining dwp Leonard is delighted to be able to offer continuity of service with his team to multiple clients across Asia Pacific and Middle East regions. Leonard has designed numerous award-winning projects around the world for a variety of international brands, including Ritz-Carlton, Conrad, Capella, JW Marriott, Shangri-La, and Langham to mention a few.

dwp founder and Creative Director Scott Whittaker said, “We work as part of a very close-knit global design community, and when our industry colleagues get into difficulty we reach out to help. This was the case for example when global design firm Wilson Associates recently filed for liquidation, and we were able to offer jobs to many of their staff and to offer project continuity for their clients. We are delighted to welcome Leonard and this new team to dwp. This presents our clients with many benefits, combining our existing dwp design strengths with the additional depth of high-end skills that our new combined team of people can offer on hospitality and workplace design projects.”

  • Leonard Lee
  • Dion Gosling

2020 was an extremely challenging year, with many restrictions and additional stresses. What did you miss most about ‘normal’ practice life? Were there any positive changes that you plan to take forward post-COVID?

There is no doubt that the current economic and societal context in which our business operates remains completely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, because this has affected the entire world, it has created the same business environment for everyone, including our clients, our partner firms and our competitors. Our ambition is to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever. We will achieve this by growing our existing business sectors and identifying new ways to expand our products and services. We can deliver this by focussing on three things:

  1. Winning Work
  2. Delivering our Work to the Highest Quality
  3. Getting Paid and managing our projects in a commercially responsible manner.

Moving on after COVID we will continue to adopt flexible work practices for our people so that they can have work life balance while delivering for our clients. I think the novelty of Zoom, Teams and other Video Conference meetings has worn very thin, so we will adopt other means of more fruitful project-specific conversations, and less meetings for meeting-sake.

What are the biggest issues involved in running your practice?

Our dwp business has a focus on design quality. We genuinely believe dwp can be the best design company in the world. We have dwp people who can do magical things with our creations and ultimately make the world a better place. The best work happens when you know that it’s not just work, but something that will improve other people’s lives. Many companies aspire to change the world. But very few have all the elements required: talent, resources and perseverance. dwp has proven that it has all three in abundance.

The challenges of competition haven’t changed, but the nature of competitors has – as practices stratify into larger multi-studio and smaller boutique specialists, the middle ground has fallen away. While with changing regulations, risks and technology, architects are being required to do more, some practices have responded by underpricing to win work and then aggressively pursuing variations. We know that our clients want a proper service and will pay the real cost for a good service. The issues of running an architecture business are always the same – we need to win work, deliver the work well, get paid and reinvest.

  • Blundstone Arena, Hobart by dwp

How has technology impacted on how you conduct business?

While we have seen great success as a design business, we are hungry to do more. Our industry does not respect tradition, it only respects high quality delivery, innovation and fresh thinking. This is a critical time for the industry and for dwp – as the economy recovers, as technology evolves and we evolve with and ahead of it. Our job is to ensure that dwp thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world. It will enable businesses to engage customers in more meaningful ways. We have unparalleled capability to make an impact.

There is very rapid technological change in architectural practice. Digital design is becoming essential to how we work and this involves significant changes to workflows so that we can share data effectively between architects and other disciplines, as well as between designers, contractors and clients. While there are significant business transformation efforts that we are pursuing, this change also requires all employees to evolve the way they work and to upskill themselves. Some clients are very advanced in digital design and others are still in the early stages, so there is also an element of supporting the latter in the transition and educating them about the benefits. Through our global investment in cloud-based platforms and a whole of business approach to digital technology, we have considerable depth of resources for projects and our clients.

How do you approach the market and position your practice?

We focus on repeat clients and most of our marketing is interpersonal connections by our design leaders who are legible in the marketplace, whether locally or because of their specialist sector knowledge. Our high quality design outcomes on completed project work sells our services and build our brand reputation. We have invested considerable time and resources in research over the last two years. This is not only focused on our specialist design services for sectors like healthcare and education, but broader concerns such as sustainability and wellness. As a result of our research capabilities we are included in events like the recent major Earth Day global conference featuring a senior US White House representative and dwp’s Shanica Saenrak Hall. The conference session started with a beautiful poem, then six short clips around the world including dwp’s Environment and Wellness leader Shanica and ended with the talk by Mark Chambers, Senior Director for Building Emissions at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

  • Hanna Neuman Building, ANU by dwp with Clarke Keller

If you had one piece of advice for someone starting out, what would it be?

Surround yourself with good people both within your practice and within your network of advisors

How long has the practice been a member of the ACA?

dwp has been a member of the ACA since 1996, and Hardy Milazzo was one of the founding practices in South Australia.

What do you see are the main benefits of membership?

Key Benefits:

  • keeping up to date with HR/ WHS/ legislative changes that impact the business of architecture
  • events with interesting guest speakers and CPD points, and networking with fellow architecture practice leaders.

What future initiatives would you like to see the ACA pursue?

The ACA is the collective voice for our architecture practices. It’s important that the ACA pushes for reasonable procurement processes by government and corporate clients. At present each practice can spend in the order of $25,000 per proposal, which generally means that the architectural industry is spending up to $150,000 per proposal and many of the projects can have architectural fees as low as $300,000. So, our industry is spending half the available fees on abortive work before any firm is appointed. It is simply not sustainable and architects collectively need to act. The ACA should be our voice on this. We need a procurement system that clearly separates fee-based decisions from qualitative decisions – and the process should not really be a hybrid of both – because as an industry we are cynical about the true outcome. If clients want the cheapest firm, then solely ask for fees; if they want the most relevant skills and experience, then solely assess on that basis.

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