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dwp’s Charlie Kelly and Derek MacKenzie of designphase dba announce new Singapore partnership

May 22, 2020

Bangkok-headquartered global architecture and design practice Design Worldwide Partnership (dwp) has launched operations in the Lion City in collaboration with Singapore-based firm designphase DBA. The joint venture will be led by Derek MacKenzie and overseen by dwp’s North Asia regional managing director Charlie Kelly. This comes close on the heels of dwp’s regional expansion having set up new offices in Yangon, Myanmar last year.

From left: Charlie Kelly and Derek MacKenzie

DE51GN speaks to MacKenzie and Kelly about the newly-formed partnership and its role in the rapidly evolving scheme of things in the region.

Mai House Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam by dwp

“Singapore is a truly international hub where many companies with a global reach are headquartered. In addition, all the major hospitality companies are represented there. For these reasons, dwp sees Singapore as a must-have location to continue expanding its business both in Singapore and also the various countries where these influential headquartered businesses also carry out their investment portfolios.” – Charlie Kelly, North Asia regional managing director, dwp

How did the partnership between dwp and designphase dba come about?

Derek MacKenzie: Coincidentally for a number of years, designphase dba has been keen to extend its service profile to clients whose businesses have grown ever more regional. Our search for a person who could assist us with that objective, came to the attention of Brenton Mauriello, the CEO of dwp. He suggested I rethink the issue and consider becoming one of the partnerships of dwp.

At the same time, dwp was very keen to revive its Singapore operation, which had been dormant since the Global Financial Crisis. As the profiles, experiences and philosophies of the two offices are remarkably similar, this sounded very interesting.

Singapore corporate offices of global commodity firm Trafigura by designphase dba

What kind of synergies have you been able to establish for this partnership? What can the industry and your clients expect?

Derek MacKenzie: dwp brings a wealth of hospitality and architectural experience to designphase dba’s 40 years in Singapore’s corporate, retail and asset enhancement sectors. We also combine well on the F&B side, with many projects undertaken by both firms.

In fact, both firms have multi-market portfolios. We want to leverage that. Importantly, there is a like-mindedness in our philosophical approach, that we are here to benefit our clients’ businesses through the timely, prudent and respectful application of creative skills. Some clients need ‘edgy’ and ‘wow’ to captivate a certain audience whilst some need a simple refresh. I believe the clients will feel confident that some level of creative passion, commitment and vigour through project life cycles will be experienced – no matter which dwp office is undertaking them.

Headquarters of Indian conglomerate Adani group by designphase dba

Charlie Kelly: designphase dba has operated in Singapore for over 35 years and, in this time, has gained an enviable reputation with a very large number of influential clients, predominantly in the workplace and F&B environments. The partnership with dwp allows these relationships to be extended in order to offer the industry and these clients a broader range of design services in the sectors which have been developed successfully by dwp over the last 25 years.

Straits Bar in Tower Club located in Singapore’s Republic Plaza by designphase dba

With regards to Singapore, you were ahead of the curve when you first set up DBA here. However, now, there are many local designers in the sector, some of them doing exceptionally well. How do you reckon the industry here has grown over the years?

Derek MacKenzie: Singapore’s design community really started its growth in the early 1980s with more projects being undertaken in the hospitality sector. In all other sectors such as offices, schools, shopping centres, restaurants, stores and public areas were, in the majority, either designed by the operators themselves, architects (for bigger projects), or simply left up to the contractor. Back then designers were engaged very much in the same way as architects – professional consultants serving their clients for a fee. Through the 1990s, some designers began to operate as design-builders, offering clients package deals with the design, supply and contractor costs all wrapped up in one lump sum.

This has disrupted and confused the market to this day and the pros and cons of these two business models continue to be debated. That being said, it has grown steadily in acceptance as a recognised profession in the sophistication of its service application. Today, almost all sectors of the built environment will involve either specialist professional interior designers or design builders.

The Park Lane – Pullman, Hong Kong, Accor Hotels by dwp

dwp is known for its edgy work and you already have several successful projects in the hospitality sector in Thailand as well as the Middle East. Which sectors are you going to explore through your Singapore presence?

Charlie Kelly: dwp would be looking to expand its work in both architecture and interior design in Singapore. This would predominantly be in the commercial, hospitality and residential sectors where dwp has extensive portfolios of award-winning, design-focused work, throughout the Middle East, Asia and Australia.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Singapore by designphase dba

Why did you choose Singapore for your Asia expansion?

Charlie Kelly: Singapore is a truly international hub where many companies with a global reach are headquartered. In addition, all the major hospitality companies are represented there. For these reasons, dwp sees Singapore as a must-have location to continue expanding its business both in Singapore and also the various countries where these influential headquartered businesses also carry out their investment portfolios.

XXXIX by Sansiri, Bangkok by dwp

In terms of business, was there a specific reason to launch this joint operation at this point in time when pretty much everywhere businesses have been affected, especially in the hospitality and F&B sectors?

Derek MacKenzie: The move to partner with dwp had been about 18 months in the making. While Covid-19 definitely throws a spanner in the works, the virus will eventually be controlled, allowing the F&B industry to rejuvenate. We want to be ready for that.

Also, both firms have considerable experience working in many market sectors. Every project has brought us knowledge and insight into those businesses. Over decades, this has grown to be a key aspect of our ability to cross-fertilise through operating awareness, materials and technology applications, fashion adaptations and even concept fusion for various types of clients and circumstances.

Charlie Kelly: Discussions between designphase dba and dwp had been taking place for some time discussing collaborations for project work in and around Asia. Due to the technologies implemented by dwp some years ago, the current crisis has had little or no impact. dwp actually seized this opportunity to collaborate across all its offices seamlessly and has continued to provide ‘business as usual’ to its many clients. Specifically in the hospitality and F&B sectors, we are finding that new projects continue to be commissioned, while other owners are taking this opportunity of low occupancy to refresh various areas of their hotels and F&B.

“Singapore’s design community really started its growth in the early 1980s with more projects being undertaken in the hospitality sector. Today, almost all sectors of the built environment will involve either specialist professional interior designers or design builders.” – Derek MacKenzie, founder, designphase dba

What do you reckon is going to be the future of design for hotels, in light of the new “normal” – social distancing – that we’re all going to have to get used to?

Derek MacKenzie: Physically, hotel guestrooms may not need to change too much, although twin-sharing may be initially disallowed. Hotel F&B, banqueting, conferencing, meetings and social outlets such as clubs, will, until a long-term medical solution is found, need to be adjusted to accommodate social distancing regulations. Hotel kitchens will surely segregate staff from guests and some hotel areas may even need to be re-purposed.

Operationally, there will surely be changes in screening, monitoring guests, check-in protocols and cleaning regimen (including kitchens, and laundry). Chefs will need new safe uniforms. Public restrooms will probably need redesigning and new equipment and disposables factored into their reconsideration.

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Singapore is an extremely price-sensitive market. Do you foresee any challenges because of this to dwp’s projects here?

Charlie Kelly: The major benefit that dwp brings, in addition to its rich experience, is the ability to design and manage significant projects in the high-end luxury sectors. While, there is price sensitivity in all areas of this modern world in which we operate, the upper-end luxury sector is one where dwp can add significant value taking it out of other commoditised price-sensitive markets.

Hotel Des Arts Saigon McGallery in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam by dwp

Which hotels, in your opinion, have successfully managed to strike a balance that takes cognizance of the design firm’s work, owner’s ROI expectations, operator’s quality and service standards and guest expectations?

Derek MacKenzie: dwp has many happy clients both past and present. These have included some of the world’s best-known hospitality brands like Accor, Hilton, IHG, Marriot and Wyndham. Boutique brands add to this list. If clients keep coming back to dwp as they are, we must be ticking the boxes you mentioned.

Charlie Kelly: As a brand, the one that sticks out is the MGallery Hotels by Accor. We have now designed four hotels within this collection. All are designed as truly boutique hotels aimed at both the experienced tourists and discerning business travellers and all are designed to reflect their particular location with a focus on both luxury and ultra-premium guest experience. These areas of focus and service provide a differentiator in the market, especially during these difficult times.

Star City, Hanoi by dwp

Are there any projects in Singapore or elsewhere in the region that you are ready to announce on the back of this new joint venture?

Charlie Kelly: We are currently working on a number of projects in both Singapore and also throughout Asia focussing on the commercial and hospitality sectors with our existing clients. In addition, we are in discussions with further luxury hospitality investors and operators and will be able to announce these significant projects soon.

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