Incidents and controversies have plagued Malta’s planning and construction industries in recent years.
As empty plots get taken over by bland apartment blocks with little to no care for aesthetic value, Malta’s architects often get unjustly bunched up together and criticised as one, singular organism.
But the truth is that Malta’s rife with up-and-coming talent ready to revolutionise the country’s landscape – you just need to know where to look.
Steve DeMicoli’s start-up Matter Make is a prime example of this.
“Matter Make, at its core, is an architectural design studio; however, it is slightly unconventional as the studio’s a factory for furniture, interiors, building components, and much more,” Steve tells MaltaCEOs.mt.
“Our approach to design and making is not just hands-on, but it intertwines the two into one holistic process. Apart from more efficiency through automation, the integration from design concept to the finished product provides us a unique opportunity to factor in many criteria from the very start of a project,” he continues.
Steve’s desire to steer his studio in this direction was partially spurred by his overseas study experiences at the Bartlett School of Architecture and the Architectural Association School of Architecture.
There, students were encouraged to use the building of models to explore designs, not just represent them.
“When coming back to Malta in 2009, I joined my father’s practice, DeMicoli & Associates, where he immediately recognised the benefits of such new tools, and we decided to invest in a laser cutter,” Steve recalls.
“From then on it was a matter of scale and evolving a studio which not only has a strong research and development department, but is also commercially sustainable,” he says.
Equipped with a strong vision, Steve and his team are now in the process of launching a new build-tech start-up focused on the robotic 3D printing of ceramic building components. This marks the team’s first-ever encounter with this interesting medium.
“Clay is a primordial building material, it is what our Neolithic cousins used to make storage containers, embellishments and jewellery. It has been used by every culture around the world since. Nowadays, refined versions of it are used in the biotech, automotive, and electronics industries,” Steve describes.
“Our project will explore how this material, through the use of robotic 3D printing and parametric computer modelling, can inform a new language and material palette,” he continues.
It’s safe to say that very few start-ups are on a journey similar to Matter Make’s. Whilst this helps set Steve’s mission apart, it also creates its own set of challenges.
“We have some technically challenging aspects to the project, for example, while there are commercially available extruders, we are having to build our own interface with the robot, and do all the programming from scratch,” the Founder highlights.
“The other challenge has been more of a personal one; as a practicing architect, entrepreneurship is something I was never taught, and had to ‘learn’ through knocks and bruises. Notwithstanding, I try to keep true to the studio’s vision and purpose,” he says.
When faced with such challenges, Steve always turns back to Matter Make’s ethos, which is wholly built upon the concept of having a growth mindset.
Despite this being Steve’s first formal encounter with entrepreneurship, it’s safe to say that his efforts are paying off. Earlier this year, Matter Make placed second in local start-up competition Pitchora.
This favourable result helped concretise Steve’s ambitions and further strengthen his drive to push Matter Make forward.
“The start-up ecology in Malta is in its infancy, however there are numerous channels where seed funding can be made available. It’s amazing how a small amount can take you places and help you get started,” the Founder says.
“I personally think entrepreneurship should be taught in schools, as children have unbridled creativity and, with a bit of direction and skill, they will develop self-reliance and problem solving,” he continues.
Turning his attention back to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Steve recalls how keeping Matter Make afloat was all down to “react[ing] to [the pandemic] in the best way possible.”
“I do not know where we would be hadn’t COVID hit us as we haven’t yet made a multi-verse traveller. One thing is certain, it was the local makers and companies who were able to manufacture custom products on-the-fly and react the fastest in distributing PPE while the global supply chain came to its knees,” he recalls.
“There is definitely a lesson to be learned there, we need to encourage start-ups that can offer nimble manufacturing, and self-reliance. Companies that engage with material life-cycles and recycling, and ones that can enhance and add value to what little local resources we have left,” he notes.
Looking to the future, Steve wants his start-up to keep evolving its business model whilst scaling up the types of projects it undertakes.
“On a deeper level, our aspirations are to see Malta develop a praxis in innovation for the construction industry,” Steve says.
“We have much local talent who have both technical competency and creativity. A building industry situated on a small island like ours should be more nimble and geared towards importing semi-finished materials and adding value,” he concludes.
Steve DeMicoli / DeMicoli Associates
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