Architect firm has always been an early adopter of tech
Corporate website in 1995 caused a stir with industry body
BECAUSE all the knowledge workers in the firm abhor any downtime, they depend on IT manager Ricky Foo to ensure redundancy of the network and that the necessary backup infrastructure is in place.
For this, Foo relies on three Internet service providers to ensure he does not get any grief from his irate colleagues.
With such demands on him and the data networks, you would think Foo works for a tech firm. Instead, he works for one of the leading architecture firms in Malaysia, Veritas Architects Sdn Bhd.
With 11 offices around the world and around 350 staff, it is among the top five architecture firms in Malaysia, says Foo.
As a group, Veritas Design Group is a multi-disciplinary consulting firm which provides integrated architecture, planning, interior design, landscape design, quantity surveying and environmental consulting services to clients in Asia and beyond.
“I joined them in 1995 and even in those early days, we were already in the forefront of adopting technology in the practice,” he recalls.
The firm was already using the Macintosh-based CalisCAD computer-aided design (CAD) in 1991, but switched to Autodesk’s AutoCAD in 1994.
The primary reason for this, explains Foo, was because Veritas Architects was involved with the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) project in 1994, and working with an international consortium of designers and builders, it needed to be on a common platform to ensure the workflow was seamless and smooth between them.
“We worked with the BMW or Bovis-McCliar-WTW consortium for that project,” shares Foo.
This is where Azif Nasaruddin came into the picture, as the bright-eyed professional architect fresh from the United States. He was Verita’s CAD manager then. Today, he is a partner.
Already familiar with CAD software from his days in the States, he found in Veritas Architects, a practice ever ready to adopt technology.
In fact, for the KLIA project, Veritas Architects invested in 20 AutoCAD desktops at a time it had around 35 staff, recalls Foo – quite a substantial investment at an age where software cost more than desktop PCs.
The drive to adopt technology in its business then took a new turn when sustainability became a key force within the architecture world in the late 1990s.
This saw Veritas Architects quickly adopting analysis tools to determine how water, lighting and energy can be best incorporated into buildings to maximise their impact while minimising their footprint.
“In the later 1990s, some of our architects would experiment with free software tools that helped them see the impact of various environment features in different scenarios in their designs,” says Foo.
Today, its architects use Autodesk’s Ecotect software, a comprehensive concept-to-detail sustainable building design tool.
“We actually were among the very first in Malaysia to design a building based on sustainability,” claims Foo, highlighting the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment building in Putrajaya which Veritas Architects designed in 2000.
Being a tech-enabled architect firm also meant that by 1994-95, Veritas Architects already had its own website, with Foo equally proud of the fact that it was already using Mac-based email by 1995-1996.
In fact, Veritas Architects’ establishment of a website caused some consternation with the industry architect body, Persatuan Architect Malaysia (PAM), as it triggered a debate whether the use of a website breached the no-advertising rule of the association.
Fortunately, good sense prevailed in the end and Veritas Architects was able to keep its corporate website.
Delivering better service, experience
To Veritas Architects, the use of technology has everything to do with delivering better service and a better experience, including drawing.
Despite the fact that most of its architects, especially the older ones, prefer to hand-draw, the firm has succeeded in getting the younger ones to use the relevant software for their work.
“The older architects are encouraged to know the basics and we have in-house training for those who are keen to know more than the basics,” says Foo.
Today, besides using the now standard AutoCAD or Revit tools of the profession, current pride of place among the tech at Veritas is its swanky 3D printer bought in 2013 to produce scaled models.
Due to lack of space in the office, with reams of architectural drawings and maps stacked up high from desks and the floor, the printer sits in a tiny room with some scale models attesting to it being well used.
And now, two more 3D printers have been ordered and will help with larger-sized model making, being able to print in a 12x12x8in size.
But beyond the industry specific tools that can be used, often times it is about communicating and here, Azif (pic) shares his surprise at how clients of Veritas Architects who are on the same messaging platform (for example WhatsApp) have begun to form groups around projects being worked on.
“If you consider email a communication channel, then you would have realised that people prefer email to the fax, and conference calls to general calls.
“There is nothing high-tech about it, but it has transcended the platform and become mainstream now, with even messaging platforms turned into tools used for our projects,” he says.
Veritas Architects meanwhile will continue to use technology in the business, always guided by its belief about what role technology has in the workplace, while Foo will stay alert to keeping the networks up all the time.
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