Dawn Bridges – KTGY
If you ask Dawn Bridges to think outside of the box, understand she’s already there—in front of the box, on top of it, behind it. If KTGY’s director of technology could get her hands on a set of virtual reality goggles, she’d even wander back inside, she jokes.
Owing to her experience in IT, engineering and architecture, Bridges acknowledges she’s a unicorn. That is, someone who easily switches between critical and creative thinking to assess all angles of a project and solve technological problems.
“People may feel uncomfortable with change and new ways of looking at things,” Bridges told Toggle from KTGY’s offices in Irvine, California. “But I get jazzed when I see what’s coming down the pike and am eager to use technology to make what we do even better.”
Projects for a pandemic
Bridges says the challenges posed by COVID-19 gave her an opportunity to tackle myriad IT projects for the firm that handles architecture, branding, interiors and planning.
In early 2020, just as the pandemic was beginning to take hold in the U.S., Bridges was finding ways to enable 400 employees to work remotely. That’s no small feat for a large design firm with clients (and projects) all over the world. To better support KTGY’s initiatives, Bridges reorganized the company’s IT group and renamed it the “Technology Team.”
One of the first things the team identified was a need for a data warehouse. Encompassing everything from billing to design details and scheduling, the warehouse is making it easier for employees to find the information they need while leveraging what she calls evidence-based design.
As Bridges explains, the project also uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to create, gather and analyze project data for everything from repetitive housing designs to running the business.
“We’re creating data at every moment from billing design hours to door details and energy consumption on our creative projects,” she says.
By indexing all data in a clear-cut manner, managers and designers for residential developments anywhere can now analyze details on any project.
“The way we can drill down into information gives architects a deeper understanding of what’s been created,” says Bridges. “This can help answer questions on sustainability, how long a home will last and the ramifications of design decisions to make better spaces.”
Connection and collaboration
To help tackle these and other projects (most of which had to be done remotely), Bridges first had to enable an easy way for employees to connect with clients. Using Lifesize and Microsoft Teams, the company is can connect for meetings, presentations and project updates.
But employees also needed a means to collaborate. Bridges says she accomplished this by providing a virtual whiteboard, which allows coworkers to exchange ideas on client presentations and designs.
“Our aim was to incorporate technology solutions over the internet between coworkers to deliver services to our clients,” she says. “Architecture is highly collaborative, while technology is not. My aim was to bridge operations by bringing forth technology to connect the disciplines, one day at a time.”
Adding to the team
Putting the right tools in place wasn’t just about keeping pace with business; it also created new opportunities for the company.
In March 2021, KTGY acquired the hospitality-focused interior design and branding firm Simeone Deary Design Group. The acquisition added 40 employees to KTGY’s staff to bolster the firm’s work in residential, hospitality, mixed-use and retail developments. The move allows KTGY, ranked 35th in Architectural Record’s 2020 list of the Top 300 Architectural Firms, to design “at the intersection of” architecture, planning, interiors and branding, Bridges says.
“It not only sparks new opportunities for collaboration but will result in richer experiences and greater success for our clients,” she adds.
In addition to onboarding new employees into KTGY’s system, Bridges is integrating the tools and technologies to foster collaboration, given the different workflows, design processes and service offerings. That’s touched everything from adjusting how employees sign off on projects to how design activity and project progress is monitored.
“There’s a human element here and we have to apply technology to new workflow processes,” she says. “It’s important to be patient and flexible.”
A tale of two disciplines
Most architects come into the profession with a desire to design new spaces first. Only later do they learn the technological ropes. Bridges’ experience was the opposite.
Graduating from New Hampshire Technical Institute in 1992, she got a job in production software delivery technology at Softdesk, primarily using Autodesk’s software products and services for architecture. Learning about technology first whetted her appetite to learn more about the creative side of architecture, so she returned to school and earned a degree from Boston Architectural College
Landing a job at the national architectural firm of Boston’s Shepley Bulfinch in 1995, Bridges first worked as a project manager and architect for 10 years, reveling in the creative process at the prestigious mid-sized firm.
Drawn to technology, however, she pursued her Microsoft MCSE certification and picked up additional skills while on the job. In 2005, she was promoted to chief technology officer at SBRA, a role she held for nearly four years.
When Bridges learned of a job opportunity at Jacobs—a worldwide engineering company of 80,000 people—she moved to California. A major accomplishment for her, after three promotions, was serving as a global program manager of its enterprise applications services.
“I went from a medium-sized private to a large public firm with policies and procedures that weren’t necessarily flexible. I learned a lot, but missed the creativity of my prior work,” she says.
Itching for a new start, Bridges started looking for a firm like the ones she worked at back East. In 2016, she was hired by KTGY—a powerful, yet creative firm where women hold most C-Suite positions. There she was brought in as a technology director.
“It was an interesting draw in a creative, residential and mixed-use space. It was a new niche market for me to explore,” she says.
Given her training, no matter what type of technological terrain this unicorn might travel, she’ll either find her way, or slip on some virtual reality goggles to take in a different view.
“The future’s about bridging the gap between creativity and technology and living in the gray area in between the two. It’s about always pushing the edges to refine and recreate,” Bridges says. “I love what I do and I will continue to look forward, progressing our business for the benefit of our customers and teams, to execute our vision.”
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