Meet the winners of our Prodigy Award: Caroline Choker and Vince Alafaci
July 26th, 2017
Out of all the categories at our inaugural Inde.Awards, The Prodigy is one we felt particularly passionate about because it honours the work of an emerging creative. And in an increasingly crowded market, where there are so many talented practitioners, it’s getting harder to make a name for yourself, especially amongst the older, longer-standing firms who are perpetually busy. However, it wasn’t only emerging talent we were seeking to celebrate – but a company that, with its extraordinary vision, is already pushing the boundaries of design and sparking trends. We had an impressive shortlist of nominees but in the end, the people voted for Acme & Co and we couldn’t think of a more deserving winner. The company was only set up in 2013 – by architect Vince Alafaci and his interior designer partner Caroline Choker, yet it already has an impressive portfolio of completed projects across a diverse range of sectors. And every single one is breathtakingly beautiful and bursting with character. We spoke to the pair to find out more about their company and its success so far…
What inspired you to set up a company together after running your own respective practices for some time?
We started dating in 2011, but it wasn’t until we collaborated on a project opportunity two years later that ACME&Co was born. Both sharing a passion for design, we realised the potential of merging our respective disciplines, architecture and interiors. We work, live and play together, which works perfectly.
What is it like working together?
In the short life of ACME, what we have achieved in 4.5 years is incredible. Initially it was difficult, although we were both from design our two disciplines are very diverse; Vince’s approach was minimalist and pure with Caroline’s eclectic and layered. Collaborating on projects nurtured each other’s forte where today we have morphed into one unit creating holistic design solutions. It’s been a beautiful process of evolution.
And we also need to acknowledge team ACME who has supported our vision.
What is one of the most challenging projects you have worked on together?
Archie Rose Distillery in Rosebery is probably the most challenging project to date. This project was the first distillery in Sydney since 1853. There was no precedent or planning codes that we could use as a benchmark.
Also coordination of the distillation apparatus was technical.
What was your favourite project to work on and why?
Difficult question, we find it impossible to label any particular project a favourite. Each of our projects have been a fundamental part of the ACME journey. However, the most celebrated projects are The Grounds of Alexandria, The Grounds of the City, Archie Rose Distilling Co, Merivale’s Freds + Charlie Parkers
Since setting up your business you seem to have won some very lucrative jobs, what is it do you think that sets you apart from other similar practices?
Our studio combines the realm of architecture and interiors, allowing us to explore ideas in multi-dimension. The results are spaces focusing on fundamentals of environment, spatial psychology and sensory patron experiences.
What would you say are the main challenges facing the A+D industry today?
Our profession essentially is about creating / managing projects including the interaction of relationships. The main challenge which the A+D industry / projects face is time – cost – quality. Each element is codependent and if one suffers then the project is compromised.
Any tips for young aspiring architects or designers wanting to set up their own firm?
The list is endless, but here are a few tips from our experience:
Passion: is everything
Perseverance: never give up!
Risk: jump in the deep end, challenge and explore out of your comfort zone
Experience: gain valuable practical and site experience with firms you aspire to be
Knowledge: flex your skills and continue to learn everyday
Finance: understand your value and charge accordingly
Collaboration: team up with specialised people who can improve the result
Conversation: share ideas with your colleagues, they have probably faced the same issues
Transparency: fundamental with all parties involved at all levels of projects
Educate: take your clients on the design journey, it boosts respect and adds value in projects
Opportunity: make any obstacles opportunities
Flexibility: adapt to any situation / program
Evolve: in order to survive you need to remain relevant, continue to grow and seek innovative ways to solve problems
Where do you draw inspiration from for your projects?
Travel and life experiences. Each of our projects has a fragment of us at various phases of our lives.
Inspiration is also collaborating with craftspeople and looking to them to facilitate our designs. We get lost in the nostalgia of how objects are sculpted by hand with skill and precision.
How would you characterise the A+D industry in the wider Asia Pacific region?
We are in an exciting phase. As creatives we constantly seek inspiration from abroad and the Asia Pacific region is pushing boundaries. In fact, from our recent travels, the globe is turning their attention toward us for design direction!
How important do you think it is for global brands to get behind emerging talent?
Unfortunately, emerging talent isn’t supported very much, which results in them seeking opportunities abroad.
We need to nurture and invest in rising creatives through programs and sponsorships; Global brands could definitely facilitate by injecting capital behind this cause.
Indeed, there is a lot to be gained from global brands nurturing emerging talent and Cosentino, who sponsored The Prodigy award, offers a great exemplar. The world’s leading producer of technologically- advanced surfaces has several initiatives for fostering young talent, with its Future Leaders programme and Eduarda Justo Foundation, which have been running successfully for years.
The Eduarda Justo Foundation comprises two types of scholarships with a special focus on those with more limited economic resources: The first offers international post-graduate scholarships to enable young people to pursue their studies at leading universities such as Harvard, Stanford or Columbia. The second, together with the United World College Foundation, offers two scholarships each year to study the International Baccalaureate at one of the 13 schools the institution has around the world. The Future Leaders programme, meanwhile, is for professionals who have already studied and worked in a relevant field for five years; helping develop talented individuals into either industrial or sales leaders. Candidates are mentored by one of the company’s directors and, after training is complete, will join Cosentino as Industrial Manager or General Manager in one of its centres or factories when a vacancy arises.
Both schemes provide a great example of supporting rising talent to help people realise their full potential. There are a lot of emerging creative in our industry but, without the right support or opportunity, it’s often hard to break through or make a name for themselves. Acme & Co are living proof though that with enough passion, experience and perseverance, it is possible to set yourself apart from the rest and even win some of the most coveted contracts in the country!
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