clock 02-05-2018
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An Introduction to JWA Design & Build

"We wake up each morning excited about making dreams happen for our clients; really getting down to the fun dirty details – a bit like a child's ecstatic delight in playing with sand. I mean not everyone gets the opportunity to impact the world through creating the spaces in which people live, work, and play right?! What a powerful and amazing opportunity we have – Building Dreams!” were the passionate words of this young inspiring Architect, James Wong, during our sharing session with him in his cool new Kolombong office.

JWA Design & Build is a fast-growing name in the construction industry not to be missed. This young energetic team of talented unassuming individuals seem to be doing something right, as they are constantly talked about around town. With a reputation for exciting designs, quality workmanship, and professional services, we had to sit with them under their custom-made kuali pendant lights and get to know them!

What influenced you to get into Architecture and Design?

JWA: Since a young mischievous boy of about 9 years old when all I could think about is playing football all day, my dad, who was an Architect and Educator, and I sat down to plan my life and chart the very specific journey of the things I would have to go through and achieve until I was about 30 years old – my current age today. With my end goal and ambition to become a Registered Architect, we began to plan exactly what subjects I would take, what skills I needed to develop, what university we should be planning towards, all with the intention to come back to serve in Sabah, get some work experience and eventually become a Registered Architect. And the rest is history. So, I would say, my dad was a big influence and role model in my life to encourage me on this journey, though very tough at times, it has been incredibly rewarding.

Can you briefly share with us on your design and build journey?
JWA: After finishing my Master's in Architecture in New Zealand about 8 years ago, I came back and worked for a few Architectural firms doing Project Management and leading their design teams. What I noticed during my time was that we would always get into arguments with contractors not following all the details we had provided. There would often be contractual games of back and forth issuing architects instructions, insisting them to change and rectify the mistakes but they would always resist and find all sorts of excuses to somehow not comply and get away with the bare minimum. We spent a long-time crafting, developing and putting a lot of thoughts into our designs so this was very discouraging. I felt that there must be a way to improve or create a system that could control the quality in workmanship and greater care in executing the originally intended design, because clearly it just wasn't working.

So, in frustration and desperation, we decided "forget it, we're going to try and do it ourselves!”

We decided to employ our own workers, purchase our own materials, and try do the construction ourselves, naïve as we were! Lo and behold, after months of hard work, often under the sun, with cash-flow challenges and in blood, sweat, and tears, surprisingly we were able to compete with other contractors who had been in the business for over 20 years. This gave us the spark of confidence that said, ‘hey, we can actually do this'! Thus, our journey in construction began about 5 years ago. Today, JWA Design & Build is a full fledge Design & Build Construction Company with our own in-house team of construction managers, quantity surveyors, site supervisors, logistics and transport team, and purchasing department. And it just so happens that I am a Registered Professional Architect at the same time, which has helped us become a much better contractor.

What does JWA stand for?
JWA: Well, JWA originally stands for James Wong Architect but JWA Design & Build Sdn Bhd is actually a construction company rather than an architectural consultancy. So, in a way you can call us contractors. But unofficially, the ‘A' also stands for Annie – my wife, other director, and partner in life for without her, we wouldn't be where we are today! And by the way, she pays my salary, so you know who's the boss lah!

How has your background as an architect helped you become a better design and build contractor?
JWA: So, with our background in architecture and design and my dream of a project delivery model of having both an in-house construction and design teams together, we noticed that there was a great advantage for several reasons:

Speed of resolving issues in real time – We could resolve design issues and detailing straight away on site without the long process of requesting and waiting for consultant site visits and detailed drawings to be re-issued.

Systems Development – With our background in project management, we could see inefficiencies in our delivery process and help develop systems to improve and streamline it immediately.

Professionalism in Contract Management – With our understanding in contracts, we would not be easily bullied by our specialists or subcontractors and vice versa. We understand what is and isn't fair in a building contract and we treat all parties fairly, earning their respect, to move fast as a team.

Professional Integrity – There is a level of uprightness and honesty when it comes to business dealings with our clients, given I also happen to be a professional architect. We are open to the client to scrutinize our claims and rates and any time, and if necessary engage a 3rd party certifier to keep us in check.

Control on Quality – Given that our design and construction teams are all in-house, if we had, for example, constructed a brick wall that was unacceptable, we would tear it down at our own costs and immediately move on without any argument or wasting the client and consultants' times, as delivering quality in our projects is our top priority.

Ease of Mind for the Client – Most of the time our clients are not trained in building contracts or are unable to filter the information from many different consultants, contractors, and specialist parties advising them on what to do. So, if any dispute occurs between parties it often gets very confusing and frustrating for the client. In our case, JWA Design & Build is solely responsible to deliver projects accordingly and it gives our clients the peace of mind to enjoy the building process.

How do you approach your designs?
JWA: Our designs always start with the client and the way they function and use and would like to fully utilise their space. There's no point designing wonderfully iconic buildings or interiors that just don't serve the clients' needs. Having said that, as an architect, we absolutely love celebrating the beautiful rawness and qualities of the original material itself, rather than covering it up with a lot of veneer, laminate, and cladding. That's why you see a lot of exposed brick, gabion stone walls, wrought iron, and timber in our designs. It just feels ‘honest' and ‘right'!

What are the most exciting projects you have recently completed?
JWA: One of our most exciting project is the recently completed 13 Storey IBIS Styles Hotel in Inanam. JWA Design & Build was involved with the design and build of the interior and most architectural works. We approached it with a heavily raw industrial concept with the client and consultants, which I believe has been very successful and portrays something different in KK. Another project we are proud of is the Dragon Palace Seafood and Dim Sum Restaurant in Suria Sabah Mall. This 8,000sqft high-end Australian restaurant was a momentous effort by us completing all the works within 3 months plus, from scratch with just the basic concrete structure! Works included coordinating a vast complex team of aquarium specialists, salt water system, filtration, kitchen equipment, air conditioning system, exhaust hood, fresh air supply, carpentry, architectural and ID works. We feel that after experiencing the complexity and delivery speed of this project under our belt, JWA Design & Build can literally do anything!

Where do you see JWA in 5 years' time?
JWA: JWA Design & Build wants to continue serving our clients with excellence and build up a reputation to become the go to Design & Build Construction firm in Sabah for boutique projects requiring exciting designs, professionally executed, with quality workmanship. We hope to build greater capacity in our delivery system by training up a capable workforce, project managers, and invest into new facilities, types of machinery, and tools, to improve the quality of our workmanship. A very challenging journey it will be, but we are committed to the business of ‘Building Dreams', and we plan to do just that!

What would like to say to your fans and potential Clients?
JWA: Even if we don't try to take on all projects so that we can focus on a selected few, we would absolutely love the opportunity to chat further about your dream project and the possibility of how we can be a part of making it a reality! So, don't be shy, we're just a phone call or a cup of coffee away! I promise we don't bite.

Catch the JWA Design & Build team to engage their services:
Tel: 088-335 618
Instagram: @jwadesignbuild
Facebook: JWA Design & Build Sdn Bhd
Address: Lot No 11, 1st Floor, Lorong Kompleks BSA, Kompleks BSA, 88450 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

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