For more than 10 years, DiMase Architects has taken pride in their ability to maintain dedicated professional architectural services at a boutique size. Operating out of North Fitzroy and primarily catering to the inner residential suburbs of Melbourne, the practice provides their own customised take on core architectural services, along with some added guidance unique to each client case. “I was really interested in trying to deliver a service to clients that is relevant to their needs,” says Director Antony DiMase. “I felt that we could provide an architectural service that was very much about listening, and more of a co-operative, collaborative process.
The creation was really through working with friends and colleagues of mine; they gave me my first opportunity and we’ve established ourselves as a local architect. The growth hasn’t been exponential or anything like that. It’s really been based around incremental increases in staff and revenue based on providing a better and better service each time we take on a project. We really model ourselves on being a practice of four highly-trained individuals catering to the needs of the inner suburbs of Melbourne.”
Following the more traditional client-architect model, DiMase Architects provides assistance from concept through to completion for each project, providing standard services such as “schematic design, design development, town planning applications, contractor selection, contract documentation, and contract administration.” While they do pride themselves on their consistency for these services, DiMase and his team also recognise the importance of individual needs for each client, which often requires the breakdown of each essential component. Having recently completed his Masters in Lighting, he is also pleased to provide any services that a project may require in that regard. “We’ve really modelled ourselves on being able to excel at every stage of that process,” he says. “We also break that service up into its component parts so that each stage has a clearly identified outcome for the client; there’s no blurring of the edges.
We particularly like to provide services at the beginning that really test the feasibility of the project so that we get the right solution in terms of the outcome, the scope, and the cost; we typically do that as a stand-alone service so that, before proceeding with a full range of services, clients can get a good idea of what the cost of the project is and what the parameters of the project are. We’ve also collaborated with a couple of other architects on the day lighting aspects of their projects. But, primarily, we’re really an architectural practice that looks at the whole project from start to finish, and we include interior and lighting design on that. We’ve built up a really good network of consultants – be it landscape architects and designers, structural engineers, building surveyors and town planners – and we have a good grasp of the consultants that we need to assist our clients along the way; that network of people that we have really aids in the core architectural services that we provide.”
Sustainable design is also a critical aspect throughout each project for DiMase Architects. Not only does each design need to be perfected with human comfort in mind, but the incorporation of existing site elements to reduce resource waste is also highly considered. “Right from the word ‘go,’ good architecture has a strong environmental aspect to it,” says DiMase. “Trying to think about how we can reduce the impost of resources on the planet while still being able to deliver places that provide comfort for people, and that comes down to all sorts of things. It comes down to the integration of solar panels in our work, and the selection of materials. But, more importantly, it’s really about how we reuse and reintegrate existing parts of the structure into the new project. We’ve done a lot of work with the reuse of existing buildings and we think that’s a really good way to minimise our impact on the planet; taking existing structures, refurbishing them, renewing them, rejuvenating wherever possible so that we’re not pulling down buildings and starting again. We are really passionate about trying to minimise the use of non-renewable resources and energy consumption for buildings.
The second thing that we’ve had some experience in is passivhaus. So, with a warehouse refurbishment we did recently, we learned about how to insulate the building and create an airtight structure, used triple-glazed windows around the perimeter, and had a heat recovery unit. Essentially, that particular project was using the principles of passivhaus – a German system – so that the consumption of energy was greatly reduced while still retaining a high level of comfort within the interior of the building. With other buildings, we use passive solar design where we orient our buildings to the north and get good ventilation so that we’re really maximising the resources of the building; but, we’re also integrating solar systems, rainwater tanks and energy efficient lighting, really being mindful of the materials that we’re using so that the impact is reduced on our resources. Each project is a little bit different, but each project we try and understand how we can lessen the impact on the planet.”
Ultimately, DiMase Architects is satisfied with their status as a small practice, but would certainly welcome the freedom granted to larger companies within the industry. They have shaped their goal towards maintaining a highly professional operation recognised for quality sustainable projects for valued clients, and are also in the process of pursuing ISO 9001 accreditation. “We’re really aiming to be a practice that does high-quality work and provides a high level of professionalism in the community,” says DiMase. “I’m the sole Director, but supporting me are individuals who have a high level of competence and dedication to the craft, and the vision is to really be able to provide a highly professional, creative, and sustainable solution to the community.
It’s about imagining a small practice being as professional and as relevant as any of the larger organisations out there, and using the resources that are available to us through the Institute of Architects, Architeam and other organisations, to really see research and continuing professional development as being very much part of what we offer to the community. We see the practice as a resource for the people who actually work here; they use the experience of past projects, computer resources, and the technical knowledge that exists within this organisation to better understand how we can deliver projects for clients. So, it’s about making a small practice as relevant and as meaningful as we possibly can so that people can have the trust in us as architects, but also trust in the profession broadly. There are many good small local-based architects that should be supported, and we want to be part of that.”
According to DiMase, collaboration and co-operation are key to the existence and prosperity of the practice. Relationships with suppliers, clients and staff each play their own integral role, and contribute greatly towards its trust and growth. “We certainly are architects that are very interested in what’s out there,” he says. “If a trade representative comes and sees us, we’re interested in knowing what they’ve got to offer. Subcontractors, suppliers, and people who are on the ground offer a really good understanding of what works and what doesn’t, so we take their information as being highly relevant. The theory is one thing, but it’s the people on the ground that can actually give you a greater insight, particularly around the issue of sustainability. A plumber will know how to make a rainwater system work far more effectively; they’ll give you that on the ground knowledge that I think is really important. With staff, it’s really about trying to develop high standards. We don’t want to shy away from setting a really high bar for our staff, but we also want to make it a place which is easy to work in and where the resources are available for them to be able to learn and grow as individuals within the organisation. We never set the bar low. We set it high so that we’re really asking our staff to step up to that plate, but we do it in a way that supports and encourages their endeavours.
Clients are absolutely critical, and we try and keep the lines of communication open. We are constantly communicating our understanding of where a project is back to the client, so it gives them the opportunity to raise any issues that are concerning them. We never leave things in that sort of grey zone. What I’ve found with clients is they don’t necessarily mind that we don’t hit the mark every time, but what they really care about is good communication; knowing where their project sits, and knowing what steps we’re taking. They don’t expect perfection in service delivery, but they do expect to be communicated to and for us to hold them in high esteem. If there’s a delay, we explain why and what measures are going to be put in place. We’re all human at the end of the day, and I’ve just found through experience that it’s really about good communication and making clear where we sit in relation to their project, so that they can then participate in the decisions that are being made. I can’t stress that more. Collaboration and co-operation is really pivotal; they’re buzz words that get used a lot, but how they get played out is just by taking that extra time to confirm things and make sure we’re all on the same page.”
Currently, there is a lot of pressure for practices to meet certain needs, regardless of the lack of knowledge and resources; as the demand for compliance and sustainability grows, DiMase feels that this may be hard to match with the existing level of skill within the industry. “The requirements are increasing, but not necessarily the skill levels of the people who are participating in the architectural community,” he says. “What I perceive is that there’s a bit of a gap between what’s required of us and what we can sometimes deliver on the ground. So, the challenges are really about meeting the requirements of the building code of Australia, sustainability requirements, and client expectations within a small architectural practice community; these are the sorts of challenges, and it’s really around trying to come to a point where the skill level of people coming out of university and the requirements of building projects are met in a meaningful way. It’s certainly a more complex stage that we work on. Lots of little things can go wrong, and it’s just really having a sense of what the total project has to deliver our clients and the community at large. There’s a lot to do, a limited amount of time, and a lot to take in. It’s getting more complex, and I suspect there’s a tipping point. So far we’re managing in terms of our practice; but, in terms of an industry-based thing, it’s a lot to take in and that’s what I suppose I’m most concerned about. Having a dialogue as to what can reasonably be expected of an architect, and what can reasonably be expected of a builder in order to meet demands would be really good at a professional and community level.”
Going forward, DiMase hopes to expand the skills and dedication to quality that already exists within DiMase Architects so that they continue to provide the best service possible to their clients as a small industry practice. “For me, it’s been about getting the team right, getting the organisational attributes right, and really delivering a high level of managerial collaboration with staff so that we can deliver on what’s a very good practice. It’s really just about making sure that we can continue to grow and develop as an architectural practice – that we don’t just sit on our morals, say we’ve done well, and just cruise into the sunset. It’s about lifting our game and trying to really improve over the next two, three, four or five years, and really trying to capture some of the good things that architecture can deliver people.
Architecture has a great deal of promise and potential to make significant impact. As a collective force, small architectural practices can make an enormous impact to community and sustainability measures in places like Melbourne, Sydney or wherever we work. I’ve been to many sustainability lectures and seen lots of Six Star-rated buildings; but, when you get in your car and look at all the houses that are leaky and poorly insulated, our role as a small practice is to try and change the attitude towards the way in which people live and work at that sort of micro-scale. I don’t think it should be discounted in any way. In fact, I think it should be supported by the community and by government so that we can have a role in making a significant change to the way we live and the sort of sustainability measures that we can put in place.”