Greg Tong

The following is an interview of Greg Tong conducted by Hawaii Architect in August of 1986, shortly after the opening of the Ramada Great Barrier Reef Resort. The resort was the first of it's kind anywhere in the world, where all major trees were retained, and the building was designed to be a part of the forest rather than apart from it. Even the pool was built well above the ground to avoid damage to tree roots.


It's achievable." "It doesn't take a megabuck insurance company." "You need not be a development giant to put together a well-designed environmentally responsible resort hotel that will attract a good operator, command favorable rates, make money"--that's what this project, Ramada Reef Resort, says loud and clear.

Well, in fact, not so loudly. For this 3- and 4-story 200-room resort nestles quietly among a splendid grove of palms and ancient melaleuca (paper bark) trees. It was designed to have a sense of permanence, a timeless quality that makes no loud statement that would be likely to date it. Only a quiet road separates the 5-acre site from picturesque Palm Cove Beach.

What's important--and exciting--about the project is that it reflects success within modest means and wise use of natural resources.

Our client, Peter A. Jans, was a first-time hotel developer, a Cairns attorney heading a group of dedicated backers with a strong commitment to doing things "right" even though working with a less than generous budget. Inherent in this commitment was a firm determination to preserve the integrity of the site. Consider what he says on the subject:

"We acquired the property in 1981, the primary motivation being the presence of massive melaleuca and palm trees, some of which were identified as being up to 1,000 years of age."

"It was always considered essential that whatever development took place, it would be in concert with the trees, and this has been my overriding development philosophy throughout."

"...the design concept was settled with the footprints of the building carefully designed to create a courtyard around a central heavily timbered area and 'notched' to retain and enhance existing major trees.

"Development commenced in January 1985 at which time the entire central courtyard was fenced off to prevent anyone from entering that area and causing any damage or interference with the natural ecology. We also bonded the builders at $10,000 per tree to discourage any carelessness."

Believe me, this is an atypical approach in Australia-as it is in many other places-where the norm is to come in, bulldoze everything and present the architect with a denuded site. In this instance, the client was enlightened. This enabled us to take advantage of what nature had provided and made it possible for us to achieve a non-oceanfront resort of exceptional value.

It did take some fancy footwork, but all major trees were retained, and the building was designed to be a part of the forest rather than apart from it. We allowed the trees to dominate and the architecture to remain subordinate in statement. Ninety light brown stained concrete columns that support the building were cast in a mold made from a rose gum log, giving the columns a remarkably tree-like appearance. Balcony planters tend to obscure indoor-outdoor boundaries and contribute to a sense of being in the trees. Open walkways and notches also give guests "tree experiences" as do rustling tree sounds. All rooms have lanais and each enjoys either an ocean or garden view. The building wraps around the central court, which features a large lagoon-like swimming pool, which, like the building itself, weaves and notches to leave the trees undisturbed.

In addition to our client's ability to see the forest and the trees, there were other factors at work which contributed to the smoothness of the project process.

It should be noted that the Queensland/Cairns government is actively supportive of tourism development. And while there was no direct government involvement in this project, it did have the full support and encouragement of government as evidenced particularly by rapid approvals.

Especially significant to the success of the project process, and its overall success, were some outstanding attributes of the client. As a true entrepreneur, he was willing to take risks. Once he had selected his team of professionals he put his trust and confidence in them and was willing to listen to them, to be guided by their recommendations.

This is not meant to suggest that he was inattentive. On the contrary. He was very much involved. And for a layman he was extremely perceptive. His afterhours inspections-when he could take time to reflect-were quite helpful.

Most important, however, he had clear goals that were compatible with ours. Perhaps of equal importance was his ability to communicate these goals.

It was this mutuality of goals and confidence, plus careful communication in both directions, that saw us successfully through some major and unusual problems. For example, a switch in contractors in midstream might well have turned the project sour. As it is, we feel very good about it. We think it's a terrific project. In addition to our design ability, we feel that we brought to the project a level of experience that gave us the ability to anticipate what would happen. As the client had confidence in us, we were able to save him time and, therefore, money.

But we're old hands at hotel design. Our client was a "beginner." How does he feel coming out of this "virgin" experience. Do we still have his trust? Here's what he says:

"This is the first hotel/resort I have built and as such it was a massive learning curve. I have certainly learned to avoid many mistakes in future developments. "Probably the most essential lesson is the necessity of having a highly professional, cohesive and sympathetic team of consultants involved from the outset. The communication and interplay of ideas and experiences between the architects, landscape architects and interior designers (let alone builders, engineers and contractors) is essential to maximize site potential. This is something that we most certainly achieved in Ramada Reef Resort."

"Undeniably, the experience was at times somewhat harrowing, but one that I would not have exchanged for anything. The feeling of satisfaction and achievement in watching my dreams and those of the consultants turn into reality is rare and treasured."

Ramada International, the operator, also expressed pleasure with this latest property of theirs. It's part of their new wave of Pacific Rim expansion which will add 2600 new rooms in Australia, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul by 1988.

But the real measure of a hotel is in its ability to please people. Ramada Reef had its soft opening in April and will have its grand opening in late September. How is it being received by its most important public-hotel guests? Early on-site reports tell us guests are giving it very high marks, comparing it favorably with several giants in the field. And Peter Jans tells us, "The local residents have applauded and complimented the development, the local authorities have supported it with pride, and tourist operators throughout the world, as well as in the community, have assured us of its success." WWAT&G is pleased to have been a part of this project. We think we have created something of value.


As part of our 70th Anniversary celebration, we'll be revisiting past articles and interviews of our founders and past employees of WATG. 

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Brooke Azumi

After having just spent two and a half weeks in Nepal trekking through the Langtang Valley and visiting areas in and around Kathmandu the recent earthquake in the area has left the four of us really shaken. Less than two weeks ago we were there standing in some of the spots that were hardest hit. We have pictures of beautiful temples and buildings that two weeks later have been reduced to a pile of bricks.

Langtang Village, Nepal

(Langtang Village – According to reports on Nepal Television (NTV), via a tweet from reporter Michael Holmes at CNN, the valley is "completely destroyed." And according to, Chief District Officer Uddhav Prasad Bhattarai stated that the village of Langtang was engulfed by an avalanche triggered by the quake, with more than 100 people feared dead, the roadway partially blocked and 90 percent of the district's houses damaged.)

(April 12, 2015 Kathmandu Durbar Square, April 25, 2015 Kathmandu Durbar Square)

(April 14, 2015 Bhaktapur Durbar Square, April 25, 2015 Bhaktapur Durbar Square)

(April 18, 2015 Patan Durbar Square, April 25, 2015 Patan Durbar Square)

We met such friendly people and kids, some of whom we can only hope are still alive and well, and a handful we were able to confirm are okay.

Nepal People Collage
The idea that if our trip was planned for a week later, we would have been in the midst of it all, is so surreal.

If you considering donating to the relief effort, these are the organizations we plan to donate to: Save the Children and Global Giving. Please consider donating to either of these groups or any other you feel would use your donations best. (If you'd like to see how these and other charities rate, please see this page.)

Brooke Azumi (@bazcat), Harris Christiaansen (@HarrisDC), Jason Van Bruaene (@Jaisn), Krystal Solorzano (@ksolorzano)

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Jerry Allison

The following is an interview of Jerry Allison conducted by The Architects' Journal in December of 1992 shortly after the grand opening of the Palace of The Lost City in Sun City, South Africa. The Lost City pushed the boundaries of technology and construction for a highly detailed and complex fast-track project.


I'd never done anything like this before except in my mind. Usually my architecture relates to specific architecture that has developed in a region - we've worked in Malaysia, Japan, the south Pacific islands, relating the new architecture to the old, taking into account the religion, the culture, the weather of the region. In this case no society had ever been there before, so we made up our own. The closest we've come to anything like this would be the work we've done with Disney.

Dome DetailI had some doubts at first whether we could build what my imagination first came up with, but in fact it has turned out to be very close. For years I had thought about what Africa really was, the mystery of it. This was my first trip there. I thought here was a chance to do something that was really a fantasy. It was a case of "let's find a piece of architecture, the remains of an old city that we find as explorers- and make it into an hotel."

Out of that grew a lot of legends. The main one involved a royal family who started out on a journey in Africa, from Morocco or somewhere like that, wandering south across the desert lands and the jungles until they got to what we termed the Valley of the Sun- there are lots of things relating to sun because of Sol Kerzner and Sun International. This legendary valley was supposed to be full of peace and happiness, like Shangri-La, a mystical destination. The family settled there and established a new society based on love of the land, of the environment.

One day there was a great earthquake, and although the people managed to escape, the city was destroyed. The only thing that survived was the palace. The royal family eventually died out and the jungle took over the palace, until it was recently discovered. The people who then rebuilt it remembered that their ancestors had built lots of towers and domes and arches, but had forgotten the Islamic meaning of these things. They picked up instead on elements of their surroundings, plant life and animal life, and developed their own unique architecture.

We were hoping that the African construction techniques were capable of building what we imagined - we found that they were capable of building a shell, but less capable, at first, of building the decorative elements in a manner that would keep up with the schedule. Their methods of precasting had been traditional, making wood moulds or steel moulds. To my knowledge there was no use of glass fibre reinforced concrete, nor of cold casting. But they picked it up very quickly. Construction took 22 months; the design work had taken less than a year. I know of nothing comparable that's ever been that fast.

Palace of the Lost City under construction

We used a lot of aging techniques to make the buildings and the environment look old. Basically you just put thinned-down paint on the walls and spray it with a misty hose; it runs down and you've got a stained wall! Another technique is hand-rubbing with rags.

The hotel is at 5000 feet, so the mornings and evenings are cool, which influenced the shape of our building - we used lots of courtyards. The construction materials all came from Africa- Africa is rich in marble - while the interior design materials were imported.

Palace of the Lost City LobbyIt's fantasy architecture but it's also serious. It's really based on what might possibly- or probably have happened if there had been a civilisation on that site. We could have done something contemporary, but there is nothing contemporary in the region. We could have done African huts but there have never been African huts there. I don't think it's kitsch. I could only accept that accusation from someone who hasn't been there to see it.

Every time I go under the very high space of the rotunda entry, or the crystal court - which is probably the biggest hotel space I've ever seen - I get a chill. There's very little I'd want to change. What I've learned from the project is that if you can imagine it, you can build it.




As part of our 70th Anniversary celebration, we'll be revisiting past articles and interviews of our founders and past employees of WATG.

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Pete Wimberly

As part of our 70th Anniversary celebration, we'll be revisiting past articles and interviews of our founders and past employees of WATG. The following is an article written by Pete about the origin of WATG. The article was originally published in the December 1986 issue of Hawaii Architect when the firm was known as Wimberly Whisenand Allison Tong & Goo.


At the end of World War II, there was a great backlog demand for buildings of all sorts. During the four years of war, only essential or defense-oriented projects were allowed.

There was some housing built as it was felt that these contributed to the war effort. The regulations, if I remember correctly, were 800 square feet for a two-bedroom house and 1,000 square feet for a three-bedroom house. Additionally, if you chose to build out of concrete block, which was made locally and did not require shipping space, you were allowed an extra 10 percent.

Wimberly and Cook SignMost of the architects at the time were not hurting because they were all doing defense work, either as private practitioners or as direct employees of the Armed Forces. As I recall, when V-J Day was announced, I left the Navy Yard and never went back, except to pick up my pay check. I had an agreement with Howard Cook, who was working on Tripler Hospital, that I would set up an office and we would split the take, his salary and my fees 50/50. How we managed, I am not quite sure, even to this day.

After about a year and a half, our practice had become successful enough so Howard could quit his other job and become a full-time employee of Wimberly & Cook.

Pete Wimberly and Howard Cook

Fortunately, there was a great deal of work out there. Furthermore, I had the fortune to know Gardner Dailey on the mainland. He selected me as the local architect for the remodeling of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. This was a matter of self-defense on his part, as he knew I had no local clout and would not be in a position to take revenge. With this prestigious commission, we suddenly had credentials and were able to pick up other worthy jobs.

The Royal Hawaiian

The biggest problem facing all of the architects at the time was production. In the case of Wimberly & Cook, we had an advantage on everyone as Howard was a near genius when it came to producing drawings. He had been top man in the design section at Pearl Harbor. Howard knew all of the good local draftsmen who worked there and their capabilities, as well as knew how much they wanted to quit the Navy to come and work for us. As a result, we became well-known and liked by the builders and developers throughout Honolulu and neighboring Islands. This contributed greatly to our building a good practice.

Another item that contributed to our success as architects during those times, was the fact that there was a lot of work available, and the local architects were very gracious in their acceptance of Howard and me as malihini haoles. The AIA in my experience, has been able to recognize good architects and encourage them to stay in Hawaii. In my estimation, it is this reason that Hawaii, as a state, has better quality architecture than any other area in the nation.

Craig Takahata

It was an honor for me to attend the Pacific Asia Travel Association's "Gallery of Legends" induction ceremony for Chuck Gee, University of Hawaii Regent, and Dean Emiritus of the University of Hawaii School of Travel Industry Management.

Chuck's accomplishments were celebrated at an exclusive invitation-only reception, and a plaque was presented in his honor to be displayed at the Gallery of Legends display at the Honolulu International Airport. Interestingly, Chuck's plaqe is next to Pete Wimberly's plaque. Pete was honored as one of the founding members of PATA.  You can read more about Chuck's numerous accomplishments here.

Chuck is a friend of WATG in a relationship that goes back decades. Chuck has involved WATG in many delegations with foreign governments' tourism bureaus, most recently in 2012 with the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

The photo below shows Chuck and a few WATG founders at dinner during a trip to Asia back in the 80s.

Congratulations Chuck!


PATA was founded in Hawaii in 1951, and has grown into the world's most successful tourism trade association. Membership includes 87 national, provincial and city governments, 66 airlines and cruise lines, plus over 2000 independent companies in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry. The PATA Gallery of Legends was established in 1993 to recognize pioneers and pacesetters who have led and made significant contributions to the development of tourism in the Asia Pacific region.

Many of the names on the Gallery wall are associated with Hawaii, for instance Juan Trippe who founded PanAm, Conrad Hilton with hotels throughout Asia and the Pacific, James Michener who wrote stories about Hawaii, the S. Pacific, Japan and other destinations, Joseph Sutter whose design of the 747 aircrafts made tourism feasible across the vast expanse of our region, and Pete Wimberly who founded WATG in Hawaii and pioneered hospitality architecture throughout the Pacific.

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Rey Villegas

It astonishes me that even when you are in an architectural firm with a lot of very creative people (Yes, WATG included), it’s always these three words that I hear most: "I can't Draw!" It is very rare indeed when somebody says "Why, yes, I draw quite well, actually."


And yet, being able to draw is on the top of the wish list of most creative people and designers. We were brought up thinking that we can't draw, that we must be born with talent, and when we attempt to draw something it just doesn't look "right." Most of us think that its better just to do it in the computer where there is always an "undo" or "delete" button when something goes wrong.

And I get that.

It totally boils down to confidence. Because most can draw or sketch, but not to the point where they're comfortable enough to show to other people. In addition, they may have spent so much time conceptualizing in a computer that sketching with pen on paper has become foreign (and uncomfortable) to them.

But sketching is a skill and not some god-given talent. And like any other skill, like learning Revit or Lumion, it requires a lot of effort and time, and the commitment to learn and improve.

And contrary to popular belief, Sketching does not require artistic talent, it just takes practice...lots of it. Sure it helps if you‘re talented, but it is not a prerequisite. You are not creating a masterpiece, you are just jotting down an idea or putting out a design in physical form, albeit in its most infant form. A complex sketch is made up of mainly lines and curves. The curves tend to be circles and arcs (portions of a circle). But the most important thing to know before you start sketching is to actually understand whether you are really interested in the subject. You have to feel excitement and joy once a pen or pencil is in your hand. There may even be times when only your love for sketching will keep you going through rough days.

It pays for architects and designers like us to know how to sketch properly. Because we always communicate in a graphical language. We sketch constantly, whether it is to show others our ideas and concepts while brainstorming or trying to help non-architects (clients) visualize a design concept. But we also have to make sure that our sketches are good enough to be understood. In design discussions, it is very helpful to translate a problem and its solution into a sketch instead of trying to write a mathematical equation required to solve the problem.

For the last two days here in Singapore, together with senior associate Evelyn Ang, we did a sketching and coloring workshop in the office which saw a combined participation of about 35 people. There were two segments where the staff could attend either one (but are encouraged to attend both). The first covered "The Fundamentals of Sketching" and the second was "Reyndering with Markers." We made sure that the workshop touched basic and relevant information that they can readily apply to their day-to-day work, with direct and easy to understand tips and guidelines. The actual lectures were minimized and more time was focused on actual exercises. We kept everything simple and straightforward so that in the end, the attendees could walk away with a basic but important base of knowledge and applicable skill while having a lot of fun doing it (not to mention feeling a bit "high" because of the strong scent of Chartpak Markers used by everyone).

May thanks to all the attendees. I hope they all build on what they learn and will try to sketch more. And even the ones who have not attended the workshop can still be better. Carry a sketchbook wherever you go and sketch whenever you have time to do so. There's nothing too little or too insignificant when it comes to sketching, whether you’re just drawing a door knob detail or sketching the Capitol. That's the beauty of sketching, desire and willingness precedes talent. And every sketch will make you better...and make you feel better.

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Natalie Faber

Our WATG Singapore Toastmasters Club managed to get two teams together to compete in the first ever Division A Toastmasters Amazing Race. The Red team consisted of myself, Suhada, Ashique and Ronaldo. Harris, Umar, Reena and Cheryl were representing WATG's Black team.

 Toastmasters Amazing Race WATG Red Team
    WATG Red Team

Our adventure started on the riverfront and took us on some competitive running through the streets of the CBD, found us dancing in public on the waterfront and racing through the MRT to the quirky Haw Par Villa, where we searched for sculptures that matched the riddles on our clues. The WATG teams were neck and neck at this point, and we continued on with the competitive spirit during our race through a mall which was complete with embarrassing photos with mannequins and tracking down free samples, playing some charades on the roof and finally onto Sentosa for a run along the beach, some silhouette jump shots and lastly a sandcastle building challenge. Side by side we finished our sandcastles, with not another team yet in site, and in the spirit of teamwork (and because we were all so tired and dehydrated) we all walked into the finish hand in hand alternating red and black team members.

The next team finished about an hour after our amazing finish and WATG took home both the first place and the second place prizes! The race was such great fun and we are looking forward to continuing to make an impression on the Singapore Toastmasters community.

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Andrea Wagner

70 years ago the founder of WATG, Pete Wimberly started a small architectural firm in Honolulu, Hawaii and pioneered the world with his partners and name givers of the firm, Jerry Allison, Greg Tong, and Don Goo.  Nowadays, the firm is worldwide renowned for creating unique destinations not only for their design and sense of place but also for their bottom-line success.  Many of WATG's projects have become landmarks. Now it turns out that they are becoming shining movie stars.

Blended Movie

Just recently, I watched the movie "Blended" with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore distributed by Warner Bros Pictures in 2014.  The rather shallow romantic adventurous comedy tells the story of two single parents that end up in a "blended family moon" in South Africa with their kids.

Quite bored by the first part of the story, I suddenly realize that the African journey takes place in one of the Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo (WATG) designed hotel destinations. The déjà vu moment grabs my attention; I go to our WATG website to verify the authenticity and google the filming location ending up with the saga behind the lost city and obtain the answer what inspired the creation of the place:

The Legend of the Lost City  - The Lost City is shrouded in mystery and legend. In an age long ago, a nomadic tribe ventured from their northern African home in search of the blessed land, which had appeared the King in a vision. They settled in a valley where the sun shone warm and bright; where fresh water quenched their thirst and the land yielded plant and animal for sustenance. Through many generations, the people prospered. They toiled and built a magnificent city of grand proportions as a tribute to the King who had led them to their Utopia. They fashioned monuments of the animals, which graced this blessed kingdom; and created things of great beauty that pleased their leader. One day the sky grew dark.  Distant rumblings caused the animals to flee into the sanctuary of the forest. There was an eerie stillness… and then the earth opened and consumed the beautiful city, its ponds and gardens. When at last the quake abated, all had been reduced to ruins.  Many centuries passed. Then, using the modern methods, skills and resources of experts from all over the world, the city was restored to honor this ancient legend.  The lost City had been found.

The Palace of the Lost City

The Palace of the Lost City

The WATG designed picturesque South African hotel was completed in December 1992 at a cost of R830 million (then US $280 million), and took just 28 months to build. During the busiest time of construction, almost 5000 people worked on the project. Since then, the Palace of the lost City has received various awards thanks to its uniqueness and timeless beauty of the world's most elite and sought-after holiday destinations.

The Palace of the lost City is not the only WATG design that was used as a filming location.

The stunning and opulent seven star luxury hotel Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi with its 302 luxury rooms and 92 suites  has become a famous filming location for many European TV shows  such as the German luxurious cruise ship TV series  called "Das Traumschiff." Last year, Fast & Furious 7 cast and crew  with stars like Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel were seen in the luxurious hotel location. The American action thriller is going to be released on April 3, 2015.

Emirates Palace

The Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi

Scene from James Bond's Casino Royale, "After the Sunset," into The Blue were filmed in the Atlantis Paradise Island. The resort and casino on Paradise Island was designed by WATG architects and developed by tycoon Sol Kerzner in 1994.

Atlantis, Paradise Island

Atlantis, Paradise Island

Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai hosted the global blockbuster movie premiere for the "Happy New Year" Bollywood film including stars like Deepika Padukone and Shah Rukh Khan.  The hotel destination was designed by WATG and became the number one destination in the region.

Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai

Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai

For an architect and designer it is quite an awarding feeling when a hospitality project emerges to a popular tourist attraction or obtains recognition as one of the top hotels in the world, but when your design appears in the movie theatres because the destination was chosen as a filming location - that tells its own story about the place.

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Celilia How
Yesterday, a few of us from the Singapore office attended the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) Career Fair to check out some of the talent that will be entering the work force. We are always so inspired by the young designers and energized by their passion and blue sky thinking. Staying connected to the local universities helps us keep a hand on the pulse of new technologies and design techniques and allows us to pursue the brightest minds of the future. The event was very fruitful and rewarding and we have already received our first few applications for internships and entry-level design positions. Congratulations to all the students at SUTD on their accomplishments.

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Mike Seyle

2015 Happy New Year Banner

WATG is 70 years young this year and we couldn't feel more energized and youthful! Over the next year we will be celebrating  our "70 years of Design Excellence," sharing  our stories of the past, our recent success and our outlook on the future.

Each year WATG and Wimberly Interiors develops a business plan and strategy to help us grow, be profitable, and preserve our very special culture. We have designated 2015 as "The Year of Talent." While we are always focused on our talent, helping them grow and looking for more incredible designers to join our team, this year will be different. With the growth of the millennial generation, an ever changing tourism market, new trends and a younger group of clients entering the market, we recognize that we need to not just prepare our designers but we need to put them in the spotlight to ensure our collective success for another 70 years.

We'll be sharing highlights of some of the leadership programs, celebrating promotions at all levels, and inviting the world to share in the success of our talented designers around the globe.

Our inspired designs are an outcome of our amazing people and we look forward to sharing both throughout 2015.

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