By Alta LeCompte
Las Cruces Bulletin
When a WDG architect or designer wants to run an idea past a colleague, they don’t connect by email — they talk face-to-face in their open-concept studio.
Instant collaboration, increasingly rare in the age of communication technology, is not an accidental occurrence at WDG. It’s built into the company’s guiding principles and business culture and made possible by recent office renovations.
“I wanted everybody in the studio space,” said architect and business owner David Clarke. “People can just talk to each other, which encourages everyone to help each other out.
We had to move some walls, but we can now fit six in there.”
“It creates a synergy,” said Wendy Clarke, David’s wife and business partner who focuses on marketing and operations for the firm.
“We strategically put Richard there,” she said, referring to Richard Haas, the firm’s design principal and studio director.
“He brings leadership skills and tremendous connection in the community,” David Clarke said.
Haas, who holds a Master of Art in architecture from the University of Colorado and is licensed in four states, formerly was with Steve Newby Architects and Associates in Las Cruces. He will lead and mentor the design team.
Haas is one of four new hires at WDG. Also joining the firm is another former Newby associate, Gabe Lucero, who specializes in school design.
Kelly Kennedy, ASID, is WDG’s new interior designer. The daughter of a local pastor, she holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in interior design from Virginia College.
Project architect Joseph Fuemmeler holds a Master of Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin and has 12 year’s experience in the field.
Making the cut
David Clarke said when he was developing the firm, he was inspired by Art Gensler’s book, “Art’s Principles.” Gensler founded a firm with three employees, including himself and his wife, and built it to 5,000.
“The thing he emphasizes is building a family culture in the office,” Clarke said.
When WDG went on a hiring spree, it cast a wide but focused net, seeking people who had connections with Las Cruces.
“We interviewed a lot of people out of Albuquerque, Kansas City, Denver and Phoenix,” David Clarke said.
Wendy Clarke said the new hires share a genuineness and strong work ethic.
“They have no attitude,” she said. “They all go over and above.”
David Clarke agreed, saying a trait he values highly is humility.
“We’re focusing on creating an ethical culture,” he said. “The people we’ve hired are just good people.”
WDG’s first hire was Ashley Burkholder, an architect from Albuquerque who has been with WDG for a year and a half. David Clarke said she previously worked for AECOM, the largest engineering firm in the world, and wrote the master plan for “virtually every school district in the state.”
Touch and tech
In addition to hiring employees with qualities like humility, the Clarkes also require them to have a mastery of technology, which they say is fundamental to making the firm competitive.
On the design side, WDG runs on building information modeling [sic] software (BIM).
“What sets us apart is high technology,” Wendy Clarke said. “When we design for a client, the client can see the design upfront. They can actually put on goggles and ‘walk’ into the building.”
“We can uncover problems before construction starts,” David Clarke said. “When engineers and others are working on a project, it’s collaborative. Each builds their own model, so we can see all the conflicts and correct them before it’s too late.
We can compete more strongly now, do things faster and more efficiently.”
He said using BIM makes the payroll a bit higher because employees must have a higher skill set, but projects can be completed with fewer staff on board.
“In southern New Mexico, this technology is blowing people away,” he said.
David Clarke said the technology is about 10 years old and was first adopted by larger firms.
“I attended a four-day training and used it on some small projects for Mountain Sun Architecture in Ruidoso,” he said. “I saw a huge potential in Revit for small firms.”
Michael Bluth, who joined WDG about a year ago, developed and manages the BIM platform for the firm. “In the meantime, we found he’s actually a very good designer.” Clarke said.
The firm’s first BIM capable hire was Matthew Ortega, an intern architect about to start his architectural education at Texas Tech this fall. “Matthew started us using Revit on a restaurant redesign in Alexandria, Virginia. He modeled the interior with alternative finishes, colors, and furniture,” Clarke said. “It was amazing.” [sic]
Accounting software, like design software, makes it possible for WDG to work smarter and faster.
Neil Whatley, who holds a master’s in accounting from New Mexico State University, is shaping the firm’s accounting processes.
“We switched to a new system for design firms,” Clarke said. “It integrates project management software with accounting software. Budgeting and scheduling are part of the accounting software.”
“Neil is advancing the firm because he can pull up performance reports,” Wendy Clarke said. “There’s a big difference in efficiency, because we’re able to monitor efficiency more steadily.”
Williams tradition continues
Although the new owners have brought many changes to the firm, Williams Design Group Inc.’s history is the foundation for WDG’s current growth.
“I worked for Gary (Williams) for five years as senior architect,” Clarke said. “During our first conversation, he shared his plan to retire in five years, and he did it.”
David Clarke holds a Master of Arts in architecture and has taught architecture, but also brings a business perspective to the firm.
“I’m running it more like a business,” he said. “Wendy as managing principal deals with business development and operations. As a team, we focus on building the business.”
Clarke said as an architect he considers himself a generalist, doing mostly commercial work.
“My focus is more on the technical aspects of making the building work,” he said. “My skill set is more getting the building done and working with clients.”
David and Wendy Clarke show visitors the open concept work area where ideas are born and developed at WDG Architects in Las Cruces.
Alta LeCompte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 343-7478.