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Make Models is an Architectural fabrication and design prototyping studio, which collaborates with architects, designers and engineers. Celeste Raanoja and Nikola Kovac started the business in the summer of 2013 after realising that their passions with the architectural profession lay in experimenting with the various ways to understand materials and work through ideas as Architects and designers.
“The company was formed as a response to the dwindling use of physical means of representation in contemporary design processes. Make Models is spurred by the belief that, in a digital age, a physical model still has the natural ability to capture a special character, idea and quality in a universal language.”
We spoke to them about how they have quite literally built their business and what’s next for the designer duo.
Setting up shop
Starting out three years ago in their family’s small industry garage, the pair juggled their 9-5 jobs during the week and spent the weekends and evenings making architectural models for some of their well known friends within the Architectural industry. Over time they gained new clients and began to invest in a few machines to grow their portfolio of work to expand into a broader range of jobs.
“We were very invested in being across all roles of the business from the get go. Everything from production, to machine fabrication, to media, marketing, finance, it web design was all done by us. It was a lot to take on at the start, but it built a solid framework for operation, and independence as the business grew. This way we could focus on keeping a lot of our overheads internal.”
Since, the pair moved to a small building space which housed an eclectic bunch of small businesses including a man that works in animatronics and steel fabrication, two retired men who do up old motorcycles and a director who collects vintage cameras. This past week, they’ve made the move to a bigger space in Marrickville which will give them the moving room they need as they continue to grow.
Forging a new direction in an established market
There were a few well established studios that were already set up that focused on a similar line of work that had been in operation for a long time. But they really wanted to get involved in the market in a new way to stand out from the pack.
“We felt there was room for a more experimental, abstract type of model making and prototyping market. So we focussed a lot on forging a new direction with a more abstract material palette so that our work could say something more about the creative process of designing.”
At first there wasn’t a major demand, but the more that they promoted themselves, the more people really started to respond positively to the way their services varied from their competitors.
The competitor’s edge
The pair have invested heavily in architectural design and the creative process to give them a competitive edge.
“We prefer to work through designs with Architects. Starting at conceptual models, and then prototyping various models along the phase of construction and design development. I think our desire and investment to secure relationships with teams is a unique quality of how we work.”
Both studied architecture, worked as architects and teach architecture, so it’s safe to say that they really appreciate the process of creating buildings.
“We find we get actively involved in the designer’s workflow so that means attending meetings with large groups of consultants in person, to discuss projects.”
The road to success is paved with deadlines
The pair’s success has been a journey reflected in their customer’s experiences.
“In our first year of business some of our friends were shortlisted to participate in an international design competition. The team was passionate about creating a model that explained the narrative of the buildings, however there was no set brief in this project. It was a journey where we committed to creating something wild and unconventional, with the input of a team that had members all around the world.”
“We would be in our workshop, prototyping effects of the model, lighting, colour etc, texting photos via WhatsApp. We would exchange photos of sketches, detailed sections of model components much like it was a real miniature building. The journey was intense, we worked day and night for 23 weeks to produce what ended up being, one of our favourite models and experiences to date. It was an experience that placed us within a team and not just at the end of a service to an industry.”
“The interesting part of this, was the deadline. One of the team members had to fly out of Sydney Airport with the model at 5am. So by 1am we were still frantically working and we had to enlist the help of friends and family to help glue on the final components in the middle of the night. We literally jumped in the car with the model and drove to Sydney International Airport where the guy was waiting at the airport check in lounge to jump a flight to Europe! Our most intense deadline to date!”
The biggest challenge
Like many small businesses owners and creatives, establishing pricing for their work has been the hardest part of each job especially as each project they work on is custom made.
“The information we receive from clients always differs in its resolution or standard. So it’s our job to take a 3D model or a set of drawings and to estimate how long the file prep, correspondence, manual labor, projected machine costs and materials costs of a project will be upfront. It’s a tough job trying to get it right all the time!”