The Edge: Dean Yama

October 14, 2014 4 min read


Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do

Dean Yama: I am a Design Technology Manager at WATG for the Irvine office. I have used Autodesk products since the mid 80’s and my continued interest in technology has led me to my current position. My main objective always has been to make sure that the end user can interface with technology in the most efficient way. With 140+ users in WATG’s New York, Irvine and Los Angeles offices, I maintain design programs regionally, and work with other technology managers in Hawaii, London and Singapore. WATG is the world's leading design firm in the industry. With offices in Irvine, Los Angeles, New York, London, Istanbul, Dubai, Singapore, and Honolulu, we offer full-service solutions in 160 countries across six continents. Our design services comprise planning, urban design, architecture, landscape, interior design and strategy for urban tourism and resort destinations. Many of WATG's projects have become international landmarks, such as Atlantis in the Bahamas and Dubai, Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, the W Hotel in Singapore, Mandarin Oriental and Grand Hyatt in Kuala Lumpur, and the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu. WATG’s projects are renowned not only for their design and sense of place but also for their bottom-line success.


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Novedge: What matters most to you in design?

Dean Yama: We need our designs to address what matters most, the end users' experience. We look at the site, the culture, the climate, the views, and try to come up with a destination that will involve the end user in a unique experience that will hopefully bring them back again and again. Our architecture also affects its secondary users, the ones who pass by it, live near it, see it everyday, so its visual appearance needs to address this aspect and needs to be timeless.


Novedge: How do you collaborate with clients during the design process?

Dean Yama: Long gone are the days of sending multiple sets of drawings by FedEx. Everything now is digital. As a result, collaboration has been online, via email, via Skype and GoTo Meetings. We have also used Bluebeam Studio between teams across continents to markup and comment on drawings in real-time, collaboration is almost instantaneous these days. In addition, we have utilized Lumion as one of our key tools during the design phase. It has changed the way we present our models to the client and gives the client a better sense of the architecture and design intent.


Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on? 

Dean Yama: The Ritz Carlton Xi’An has been on the boards since 2012 and has started construction mid last year.

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The mixed-use project is conceived as a new city landmark, anchoring the corner of an important urban intersection.  The overall theme of the development is known as the “City”, a luxury lifestyle complex integrating three distinct building uses of luxury residential, sophisticated shopping and an elegant 5-star hotel. The “City” theme reflects and conveys historical transitions to future development, as well as the significance of the city lifestyle of Xi’an residents. 

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Novedge: What software do you use? 

Dean Yama: We use a full range of design and documentation tools available to the profession, from pencils on paper to 3D printing. Everyone has a different way of expressing himself or herself, and in the design world, it is not different. Most projects use everything we have under the sun, starting from hand sketches, moving to Rhino or Sketchup, rendering concepts through VRay then ultimately moving to Revit or AutoCAD for construction documentation. Lately, we have integrated 3D printing into the design process. There is something special about a physical model versus a virtual model; it invokes conversations and inspires new ideas. On a computer screen, these positive impulses do not happen.


Novedge: What challenges and rewards come with working in an international firm such as WATG?

Dean Yama: Challenges are always abundant when working outside your “bubble”. However, finding the solution to the challenge is always very satisfying. It’s not worth it if it’s not worth working for…communication has always been an issue and we’ve been lucky to have the technology in place to break through that barrier and facilitates communicating with people across the world. We have worked on projects in over 160 countries and territories – to design destinations on six different continents; you really need to adapt a deep understanding of the local environment and regional culture of the people. Having the opportunity to experience that has been one of the most relevant benefits of working in a global firm.


Novedge: What innovations do you find most exciting in architecture?

Dean Yama: I am passionate about technology and new trends. It is exciting to see how it can enhance the way we design, work, and live. Designing in the virtual world comes together when we can create a memorable sense of place in architecture. Transforming a virtual design into reality is a very fulfilling cycle, especially when it positively affects everyone who encounters it.

Novedge: What advice do you have for young people starting their careers in architecture?
Absorb as much knowledge as you can from your mentors, they are in that position because they did something right. Be passionate about what you do, whatever you do, that is the easiest way to become the best at something. In addition, don’t be afraid to try new things, architecture trends are constantly evolving, even more so in design technology, be open to a new process.


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