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.
Most 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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, 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 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.
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.
We are born innovators.
Careful examination of this photo reveals the truths of that statement. Somehow along the path, we have forgotten the scale in which we can change humanity. The happiness of these young boys, and the pride in their accomplishment juxtaposed with their surroundings is a statement in itself. Innovation does not only work on the scale of million dollar productions, but rather on a more personal level.
The kids in this photo are no different than the ones which surround us daily, in that they look up to us as role models. Our daily decisions truly affect their future more than our own. Great innovations have consideration of humanity at their core, using happiness as their fuel. Many great innovators such as Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who made changes for humanity as a whole share similarities. One characteristic they possess is the art of sacrifice. Their lives were dedicated to the improvement and equality of mankind, enduring pain in their journey.
This may be a morbid perspective, but none of us will be here forever. Do you want to be part of another generation that contributed to the problem? Or rather the first generation, who as a whole sacrificed for the betterment of the future. Don't let your current "comfort" be the reason for disregarding the quality of life of others. Books are not written for the passive members of a society, but rather for those who take a stand.
Imagine how beautiful the world would be if you look inside yourself to improve. By enlarging the scope in which we care, we allow true innovations to happen.
Recently I completed a 1.5 X 9.3 meter long wall mural for a Thai Mookata restaurant at Bottle Tree Village, a recreation place with an idyllic kampong-like setting in Yishun, northern Singapore. Mookata is a Thai specialty originated from Chiang Mai featuring a special pot that combines barbeque and steamboat together.
The mural depicts an otherworldly Mookata village in Chiang Mai, one set on (and sometimes in) the special Mookata pots. The villagers gather and prepare for a feast on a joyous day, stirring soup and grilling meat, sending delightful scents up towards the heavens, together with offerings of water lights and sky lanterns. With a background in architecture I love taking my knowledge of buildings and reinterpreting it in a fanciful and imaginary way that will make people smile.
The scale of the wall was a challenge as it was the first time I've drawn on such a large surface, but I absolutely loved it and can't wait to do it again. The mural was done completely free hand over five days. I loved working in the kampong (traditional Malay village) setting, sitting by the pond enjoying lunch, feeling the breeze on my face and thinking of the next scene to depict, and working alongside all the lovely contractors who were very kind to look out for me as I worked as well as the wall mural.
I'm looking forward to the restaurant opening soon and sharing my imagination with all those that partake in their delicious cuisine!
Early in 2014 WATG Singapore embarked on a program to help those in the office with hidden talent to showcase their craft. The "Art Wall" was born, and under the leadership of Roger Gaspar and Haryady, the office has seen the artistic works of many of WATG's hidden talent. At the end of each artists' show, all artwork were sold with 100% of the proceeds going to charity. To date, the Art Wall raised over $3,000 for charity.
Most recently Cheryl Heap took up the challenge of showcasing her Instagram travel doodles. What started as a presentation of art turned into a catalyst for much bigger ambitions. Cheryl discovered a charity called Pencils of Promise that built over 200 schools in underprivileged communities around the world. She decided to take up the challenge to fund an entire school.
The Art Wall project has given her campaign a kick start of over $1000 towards her end goal of $25,000 to fund the construction of a new school in Laos.
See Cheryl's latest mural project in Kuala Lumpur:
More of Cheryl's work below: