The illustrious model-maker

3dr ModelsDani Antoun Bterrani l Image Credit: Courtesy of 3dr Models

Growing up as the child of an architect, Dani Antoun Bterrani, CEO of 3dr Models, dreamt blueprints and plans. “I grew up loving the smell of the old blueprint machines and used to be amazed at how a pencil and paper in my father’s hand used to turn into a 3D shape,” he says. “I believe my father was my main influence.”

While the impact of his father’s work is clear, few could have foreseen the path Bterrani’s own career would take, from making his first architectural model as an experiment to running one of the world’s top architectural model-making firms.

Born in Kuwait, the Lebanese national studied economics in the UAE, but knew from an early age that he wanted to work in the field of design and construction. “I used to spend a lot of time in my father’s office and decided to make a model of a villa he was working on,” says Bterrani. “His client liked it and encouraged me to pursue this line.”

In 1990, the businessman opened his first model-making workshop in Dubai, 3d Model Making, hiring five employees. As his reputation grew, so did the business, expanding into laser signage, water jet technology and flooring sales and installations under the banner of 3d Innovations.

But it were his models that saw the fastest growth in demand, and Bterrani soon found himself unable to keep up. “The concept of making a model to show clients in a physical three-dimensional form was highly welcomed in this country, especially in the governmental and municipality sectors,” he says. “Demand began to outstrip our capacity locally and finding local manpower with model-making techniques was impossible, so I decided to outsource to Hong Kong.”

In 2005, Bterrani met a like-minded model-maker named Ray Cheung, and the pair quickly joined forces to create one of the largest architectural model-making facilities in the world.

Exponential growth

The firm they created, 3dr Models, has an 18 per cent share of the world market, with a Dubai factory employing more than 560 staff and producing two or three highly detailed and technical models every day. The duo has worked on several iconic projects, constructing scale models of the Palm Islands, Burj Al Arab, London’s Pinnacle Tower and New York’s World Trade Centre Tower One.

The 43-year-old insists the growth was organic. “The company grew faster than we planned and our name in the field was recognised worldwide quickly, but we were too busy to notice how large and international we became,” says Bterrani.

With 95 per cent models shipped out of the UAE, the team has its own logistics department, with 120 staff dedicated to delivering and installing 3dr’s projects anywhere they are needed.

Bterrani’s enthusiasm for the trade remains his driving force. “A model is the most effective means of communication between architects and their clients. It identifies any design fault and serves as a great marketing tool. But, for me, the beauty of the job is that we always have something new to focus on.”

Big names

With 193 clients ranging from renowned architect Zaha Hadid to Damac and Halcrow, and projects spanning bridge engineering and theme park development to residential, leisure and commercial property modelling, there are plenty of challenges, but Bterrani’s business faces two in particular: geography and technological advancement.

While the company is insulated to a degree from real estate slowdowns, Bterrani admits it can make the traditional way of working cooperatively much more difficult. “[International] clients cannot visit and monitor progress as often as they would like to, so we’ve created a very successful system of monitoring their work via personal web cam that can access specifically the room or area where their model is being made,” he says. “We also send detailed high-resolution images to the client for their comments every three days during a project.”

But while technological advances are aiding that relationship — a model takes the team at 3dr an average of four weeks to complete — the addition of complicated new systems and the demand for high-tech miniatures mean some project build times can extend by up to five months.

“Without a doubt, technology is moving quickly,” says Bterrani. “We are aware of it and always trying to connect our models to new frontiers, adding touchscreens, iPad control, projection mapping and mechanical lifts among other things.

“For example, by including a mechanical lift, we can allow the client to lift the building to allow a full interior view simply by pressing a button. With iPad light controls they can control the lights for certain apartments or zones, which is helpful if the model and project relate to a large master plan.”

Nonetheless, Bterrani says that while new technology allows his team to better tailor their designs according to clients’ desires, no new method can replicate or replace a scale 3D model.

“I still believe nothing portrays a project better than a traditional model,” he says. “Physical models are the only product that allow an individual to look over their project from any angle they see fit — you can’t do that with renders or animation.

“As such, models are and will always remain the best means of communication for a project.”

Source: Jennifer Gibson, Special to Property Weekly


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