5 minutes with… Greg Wimsett
Every month we’re profiling a different Atlas employee so you can learn about the person behind the role. April’s focus is on Greg Wimsett, architecture manager in Brisbane. Self-isolating in his home office, Greg chatted over the phone about his history with technology, his love for Vietnamese people and the moment he realised what kind of architect he didn’t want to be.
The industry has changed a fair bit since Greg started his Architectural studies in 1975. Back then the work was done using just a set square, tracing paper and Rotring pens – how far we’ve come!
Parallel motion drawing boards were introduced followed by drafting machines a little later, before AutoCAD took over from manual drawing in the 1990s and became the standard tool to use. Greg loved it. “I could really make it fly,” he says.
Greg joined Atlas Vietnam in 2006. At the time, the firm was mainly delivering work for UK-based clients. Fast forward a few years and you’ll find 136 staff delivering work for clients Down Under. In fact, it was two major Australian projects that pulled Atlas through the global financial crash.
Just as he saw AutoCAD replace the pencil and set square, Greg has witnessed BIM and Revit transform the entire industry once again.
“BIM has completely changed architecture,” he said. “Everyone works side by side to deliver something together – client, developer, architect, consultant, builder, all contributing collaboratively in the one environment. With BIM and Revit, you can’t fudge anything – there are no grey areas anymore. Contractors particularly love the clarity it brings and its power to identify risk and mistakes before a design goes on site.”
These days, Greg doesn’t get to do much architecture although he tries to stay hands on as much as possible. “It’s more about managing projects and teams, contract specifications, delivery and meeting client expectations,” he says. “The older you get, the less you have to do with architecture.”
Worst job ever
Greg left architecture for a brief period to invest in a small supermarket with a neighbour after returning back from Singapore, owning and operating the company together.
He was involved in every detail of the business. “We’d get up at 4am every day to meet the delivery lorries,” he recalls. “We were so busy we didn’t actually unload the deliveries onto the shelves until day’s end.” He remembers his children having to come to the shop after school and do their homework in the stock room. “We frequently didn’t get home until after midnight. It was hard work.”
After six months of this self-inflicted supermarket pain, he sold his share in the business and moved on, swearing never to leave architecture again.
The three types of architect
“Architecture can generally be split into three types of people,” Greg explains. “First, you have the technical types who focus on the details. They tend to work closely with engineers and have good knowledge of materials, finishes and their interface. Then you have the designers with flair and the uninhibited ability to follow their ideas and dreams without being held back by technical constraints. And finally, you have the project managers who understand the processes of how things get built.”
Which of the three types is Greg? “I see myself as the technical type. I like to be hands-on, in the site hut with the drawings.”
As a young architect, Greg was on site with his mentor, a partner in the architecture practice he was working for at the time. A builder climbed out of a hole, excited to meet the architect as he had some suggestions to make. “You get back in your hole,” the architect said. “I’ll do the thinking and you do the digging.”
This was a formative moment for Greg. It was when he realised what kind of architect he didn’t want to be.
In the early days Greg saw too much unnecessary animosity between architects and builders. “This is why professional project managers appeared, sometimes to the detriment of full architectural services. Today, young architects don’t get the same opportunities for site experience as were available to us in the early days of my career.”
The joy and privilege of working in Vietnam
Greg lived and worked in Asia from 1998 up until 2015 when he and his wife moved to Australia.
During his time in Asia, Greg lived in Singapore, Thailand and a one-year stint in North Korea, followed by a decade in Vietnam. There’s much to admire about each location (except North Korea) but he found it was the Vietnamese people that captured his heart.
“Vietnamese people stand head and shoulders over everyone else; they are very much family centric and have an amazing work ethic” he explained. “They have survived such tough, tumultuous times and bear no hatred or resentment. They have embraced democratic principles and moved on to a new age. They are driven to improve personally and collectively, with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Another standout and admirable trait of the Vietnamese people is they seek opportunities to go overseas to learn, and then return home to help improve their country. At Atlas, people are always keen to take part in technical or English lessons, with the staff able to absorb new information like a sponge.”