THE KING OF SCALE

DANI BTERRANI IS KNOWN TO AR­CHI­TECTS AND DE­VEL­OP­ERS FAR AND WIDE. BUT THE CEO OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST MODEL MAKER RE­MAINS IN LOVE WITH THE ART OF THE MINIA­TURE

CEO Middle East - - CONTENTS - BY SHAYAN SHAKEEL

THE WORLD’S BIG­GEST AR­CHI­TEC­TURAL MODEL MAKER SHARES HIS THOUGHTS ON AR­CHI­TECTS, TECH­NOL­OGY, AND WHAT MAKES FOR BUSI­NESS SUC­CESS?

“I JUST DON’T FEEL VERY COM­FORT­ABLE WITH HOW TECH­NOL­OGY IS TAK­ING OVER OUR LIVES. THE SMART­PHONE TO ME IS THE WORST THING THAT EVER HAP­PENED”

YOU WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO TELL while stand­ing out­side, but in­side an unas­sum­ing of­fice on a busy street in Al Quoz in­dus­trial area in Dubai, Dani Bterrani is, some­what lit­er­ally, help­ing shape the world.

Founded 22 years ago, his com­pany 3dr Mod­els builds scale mod­els for ar­chi­tects and de­vel­op­ers, struc­tures that serve as early rep­re­sen­ta­tions of some of Dubai’s most iconic projects in­clud­ing the Dubai Wa­ter­front, the Bvl­gari Ho­tels and Re­sorts, and many oth­ers.

How­ever, projects out of Dubai, where the com­pany houses its sales and mar­ket­ing di­vi­sion, com­prise just five per­cent of pro­duc­tion sales at 3dr Mod­els.

In fact, from the Lon­don Eye to Tokyo’s Na­tional Sta­dium for the 2020 Olympics, and all ge­ogra­phies in be­tween, Bterrani’s com­pany works with the world’s big­gest ar­chi­tects and de­vel­op­ers to shape the built en­vi­ron­ment of the world as we see it.

What is most telling, how­ever, is that his com­pany be­ing the largest model maker in the world, ac­count­ing for a fifth of all ar­chi­tec­tural mod­els made an­nu­ally, is a fact that came as a sur­prise to Bterrani.

“I didn’t even know it to be hon­est,” the soft-spo­ken busi­ness­man tells CEO Mid­dle East, still a tad sur­prised, and yet proud, at his com­pany achiev­ing the feat. “It was the BBC that told me a few years ago when asked for an in­ter­view.”

Across 22,000 sq ft of of­fice space, nearly 600 staff work be­tween Hong Kong and Dubai, churn­ing out up to three mod­els per day that are then pieced to­gether in mo­du­lar fash­ion ac­cord­ing to an ar­chi­tect or developer’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

The scaled mod­els are what we see un­veiled to much fan­fare at the launch of every big pro­ject that cap­tures the imag­i­na­tion of the pub­lic eye, as well as even­tual in­vestors in the world’s big­gest de­vel­op­ments.

Bterrani’s ca­reer be­gan, prac­ti­cally speak­ing, when he was just 12 years old. “My fa­ther was an ar­chi­tect, and nat­u­ral- ly I wanted to be one too. One day I took a tis­sue box and built a sort of a model out of one his draw­ings.”

That chance con­struc­tion caught the eye of his fa­ther’s client at the time, who later asked if he could cre­ate some­thing sim­i­lar for his own blue­prints. “That’s when my fa­ther pointed to me,” he says. “That’s how it all be­gan.”

Ow­ing to dif­fi­cul­ties in his na­tive Le­banon, Bterrani wasn’t able to pur­sue in his fa­ther’s foot­steps by train­ing to be an ar­chi­tect. How­ever, his pas­sion for de­tail led him to con­tinue mak­ing scaled mod­els of build­ings.

“It was the best way I found for me to re­main as close to the ar­chi­tects,” he says.

A lit­tle over three decades later, Bterrani is at the pin­na­cle of achieve­ment in his field.

He’s worked with ar­chi­tec­tural pow­er­houses such as Foster and Part­ners and SOM, can dis­cuss at length the sen­si­bil­i­ties of Pritzker prize win­ners such as Renzo Pi­ano, and even has anec­dotes to share about those who have as­cended into Val­halla, such as Zaha Ha­did.

“She was some­thing else,” he re­veals. “Ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, metic­u­lous in de­tail, and a ge­nius. We fought all the time, and she al­ways won,” he says.

Traces of Bterrani’s per­son­al­ity abound all around his of­fice. He has a par­tic­u­lar fond­ness for cats and they stroll around the stu­dio space while his em­ploy­ees ren­der blue­prints on high­end Macbooks.

“They’re res­cue cats. We found them aban­doned in a bag a few me­tres away from the build­ing. This is their home now.”

All around the stu­dio are struc­tures in every stage of progress, enough to make a Hol­ly­wood set de­signer en­vi­ous.

Modernist lines in­ter­twine with de­con­struc­tivist façades in a drafts­man’s dream as Bterrani in­spects the tiles of a build­ing floor scaled to within a frac­tion its orig­i­nal size.

“New clients some­times ask ‘Dani why do you charge 30-40 per­cent more than the oth­ers,’” he says while still hunched over a model, fore­head furled in con­cen­tra­tion be­fore he looks up.

“I tell them ‘Give me just one sam­ple

and see for your­self.’”

The tiles he’s in­spect­ing, for in­stance, have been en­graved by hand, when usu­ally any other model maker would sim­ply paint them on. Bterrani also in­sists on de­tails in his dis­plays that you wouldn’t nor­mally put as much thought into.

“A cer­tain shade of green at eye level will not look the same 200 me­tres away when dust and other par­ti­cles ob­scure your vi­sion. So when you scale a build­ing down, you also need to scale the colour,” he ex­plains.

And then there are other com­pli­ca­tions to pay at­ten­tion to. “Com­mer­cial light­ing is in strips be­cause of­fices rent out whole floors. This is dis­tinct from res­i­den­tial light­ing which is warmer and stag­gered be­cause not all res­i­dents might be in­doors at any given time,” he says. “And then there is the land­scap­ing, the fix­tures, the TV screens em­bed­ded into the mod­els, all done by hand “and which we can’t put a fi­nan­cial quote to,” he adds.

Model mak­ing, he ex­plains, is a very hu­man craft. “You have to know your craft, as well as the cus­tomer. When a client wants to see the fur­ni­ture in­side a house, the developer wants to see every de­tail and colour, but the ar­chi­tect wants to leave space for the imag­i­na­tion that will even­tu­ally re­sult.”

Bterrani pos­sesses the ut­most con­fi­dence in his craft, honed and tuned af­ter 33 years of at­ten­tion to de­tail, and what he calls “a life­time of peer­ing out­side win­dow air­planes to get a bird’s eye view of what build­ings look like.”

And this in­spi­ra­tion has served him well over the years, with the suc­cess of his firm. “I don’t care about the money any­more,” he says.

“Now I’m at the point that I can pick and choose. And I choose to pick the jobs I en­joy do­ing.”

“I PROB­A­BLY SHOULD HAVE STARTED EM­BRAC­ING TECH­NOL­OGY EAR­LIER. AS SOME­ONE WHO THINKS THEY ARE SMART, I SHOULD HAVE ADAPTED EAR­LIER”

Pre­sen­ta­tion The com­pany’s aim is to bring con­struc­tion projects to life through finely de­tailed minia­ture 3D mod­els

Vis­ual mas­ter­piece Bterrani says only a model can give the real 3D ef­fect and feel of a pro­ject

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