Alec Vassiliadis admits that 90 percent of his business involves what he considers “grunt work,” creating models for developers who need three-dimensional facsimiles of architectural designs.
After all, a guy has to make a living.
But it’s the other 10 percent that stirs Vassiliadis, whose business, Sound Models, operates out of a small workshop behind his home on Crystal Springs Road.
While Vassiliadis was schooled as an architect in London, his creative inspiration for the last 28 years has been to help others conceptualize their ideas by making miniature replicas of what they will eventually build.
“I have to make things,” said the native of Greece, waving his arms to make a point. “If I don’t make something on a given day, I go to bed miserable. I’m busy most of the time, but when there’s a lull I’ll make a bench or something else just to keep busy.”
Vassiliadis’ models have been used to create buildings and illustrate large developments all over the world, including Hong Kong, Berlin, New York City, San Francisco, Las Vegas and, of course, Seattle. He worked for the Seattle architecture firm NBBJ for eight years as a model-maker, leaving several years ago when he decided to start his own business.
Models he made for NBBJ led to several successes in Seattle, including the 505 Union Building, the federal courthouse and Seattle City Hall. He also created models that helped NBBJ get contracts for large corporate campsuses for Reebok in the Boston area and Telenor, a communications company based in Oslo, Norway.
Looking at the many models that Vassiliadis has in his workshop, it is apparent he is highly skilled and capable of creating models in a variety of mediums and with almost any material. His models vary greatly, from a 3-by-9-inch slab of cast iron that duplicated what eventually became Reebok World Headquarters to a 19-by-16-foot multi-material model that depicted a large development in Las Vegas.
He believes his success also stems from his people skills and ability to connect with the architect or developer.
“First, you have to realize that you are just part of a network of many things that will help the client visualize the project,” he said. “I am just an extra idea, but a very important one because a model is three-dimensional. I interpret and then I share my ideas as we work back and forth. A person needs to see and touch what a design will eventually become. And then the design happens. Magic happens. The model has to be carefully crafted. It has to stand on its own and be an interesting object. And everything I build has to have style.”
Vassiliadis believes he is accomplished at figuring out what a client wants, primarily because he does his homework before the creative process begins. He also credits the fact he has never worked as an architect, which, he believes, helps him take a more pure, student-like approach to each endeavor. In essence, he likes to sink his teeth as deep as possible into each project.
“Really, making a model of an idea is a very subconscious act,” he said. “The idea is abstract, but not my model. It is nicer. It may strike a tactile sense with the beholder. The materials are pleasing to the eye and the hand. It may be made of wood or paper or painted plastic or leather or metal or a combination. But whatever materials I use, the piece must be above all a statement that I, we, think like you.”
Just talking about the creative process gets Vassiliadis excited.
Some of his most treasured experiences have been working with artists, especially Sir Anthony Caro, the famous British abstract sculptor whose primary material is steel. He created models for Caro several years while living in London.
“He would makes things that weighed a ton, huge things, so he had to have models in order to create them, to sculpt them,” Vassiliadis said. “He would give me an idea and then I’d make a model out of plastic and paper. It was a starting point for him. He’d take that and turn and twist it to flex out his ideas. He might come back to me for a new model, then start the process again. It was exciting working with him.”
Vassiliadis also enjoys the process of enticing a client, in a way, performing as he unveils his creation.
“Sometimes I’ll show it and kind of tease the guy with it by not letting him have it,” he said. “A model has a very tactile element, especially if it’s small and the material is pleasing. It’s just a little psychology I enjoy, but it can be a very important part because essentially you are selling a product.”
One of his cleverest ideas was to place a small, wooden model of a skyscraper in a wooden box that had a sliding door and a handle. He said that when he made the presentation he openly displayed the box but delayed showing them what was inside. They were nearly salivating by the time he unveiled the box’s contents, he said.
While Vassiliadis often works primarily with large international corporations, he prefers living outside of the mainstream business world. He has lived on Bainbridge Island for 13 years with his wife, Joan, and their children.
“We have grown to love the island,” he said. “I like living where people care for each other. I like to help out when I can, whether its with the Rotary or just on an individual basis. No place is perfect, but this is where we have settled.”
The economy struck the model-maker hard a few months ago when the construction business slowed.
“People are putting things on hold or at least cutting back so my work has died away,” he said. He has turned to an old standby during hard times – creating models for litigation.
“I’ve done it for years, off and on,” he said. “Drawings are often used in legal cases as three-dimensional ideas of something. But most of the time they are incomprehensible. So I give them something they can understand and usually the case ends right there. Once I did a tooth depicting how a crown had exploded in a mouth. That was the end of that. I think I’ve had one case go to court, and we won that one, too.”
Such work might seem mundane, but for an artist like Vassiliadis no job is beneath him.
“I’ll try anything I can get my hands just to show an idea,” he said. “I think working with Caro years ago really invigorated me. It might start with a napkin sketch, whatever. Get me together with a client who has an idea, and off we go.”
A model career
Want to see some of Alec’s creations? Try his website, www.soundmodels.com, or make a trip to the Bainbridge Public Library, where there’s a model of a citizen group’s concept of what Strawberry Plant Park should look like after it is renovated.