Élan is a specialist building company based in Sydney with over 30 years and more than 300,000sqm worth of building experience. Nepotism notwithstanding, we talk to Elan Construct Director (also co-founder of The Office Space) about his favourite projects over the last 30 years and how the construction industry has changed in this time.
Boris, how did you first get into the construction industry? When I first came to Australia (from Croatia) I couldn’t speak English so the only real job option was labouring. On a building site I made sure I worked harder than anyone else, and I would take the plans home at night to study them and learn English. The architects would eventually come to me as I seemed to know the most about each job, and I guess I always like to take charge so eventually I was running the projects.
When American Express first came to Australia (in the early 90s) there was an opportunity to tender to be their sole vendor. I took a gamble and told them I would work with my crew for the first month for free, and if they were happy I would get the contract. We were successful and that turned into Elan working for the next 10 years, rolling out their foreign exchange branches.
What sort of work do you do? Everything! Our fitout division focuses on both commercial and residential projects, including office refurbishments, hospitality, retail, medical, and private residences. Our custom furniture division focuses on prototyping, crafting commissioned pieces and large-scale furniture production for leading international design companies. Every project challenges and excites us, from a single design unit to a high-profile commercial development. Elan’s strength lies in our ability to deliver complex and integrated builds, and exceptional quality, often within very short timeframes.
What might we have seen that Elan has been involved in?
- The Old Clare hotel – we did the joinery in the hotel rooms, the reception and the front bar.
- Living Edge Woolstores – the vaulted timber panelling dramatically frames the various sections of the showroom and frames the incredible furniture on display.
- T2 Domestic Terminal – we just finished a huge job where our guys worked night shift for 6 months. The entire ceiling was replaced with timber panelling and bulkheads for the retail expansion.
- Handpicked Wines Cellar Door – this was a great project.Custom-built floor to ceiling American Oak joinery and curved counters. The mis-matched and rotated oak surfaces were very complicated but the results speak for themselves.
- The Paddington Dental Surgery – if you need a great dentist – was another very satisfying job.We used quarter cut European Oak and American White Ash joinery which was detailed with hand-aged refined brass. The curved timber handrail up the staircase is impossible not to touch.
- Kensington Street Social – those louvres were incredibly complex but the result is incredible.
What is one of your most memorable projects? Working with dual-Archibald winning artist Del Kathryn Barton was a highlight for me. She asked me to build a conch shell for her NGV survey show. It was a huge undertaking. We decided to make it in Huon pine, which is the oldest living organism in the world and can only be acquired when it falls in the forest. We used a combination of high-tech 3D scanning and cutting with a 5-axis machine, plus time-honoured hand-crafted techniques by two veterans of this method. It took 11 months and the whole factory was mobilised to contribute to this project. The results were incredible.
What do you love about the industry? I appreciate the duality of architect and builder, man and machine. I appreciate building something tangible and working hard to achieve exceptional results. For me everything we do must have integrity in terms of design and execution. I’m passionate about timber – there is a species and cut for achieving any effect. And time-honoured joinery and woodwork expertise for a finish that cannot be matched even with the most sophisticated machinery. I like being involved with all our projects and don’t mind getting ‘on the tools’ when needed. It always feels like an honest day’s work. The ability to create something timeless and so perfectly resolved gives me incredible satisfaction.
How have things changed over the lasts 3 decades? When Elan started out, we executed the complete office fitout. As a Head Contractor we would coordinate and manage all the services: plumbing, hydraulics, electrical. As the industry has got more competitive, we have become more niche – focusing on the architectural joinery component of jobs. It is where my passion lies but also where we can really distinguish ourselves with quality work. Designers are increasingly relying on beautiful joinery and furniture to set a job apart, and this is what you notice about a completed project – not the air conditioning or power points!
You have won some impressive awards over your career, including the 2015 “Darch Horse” for “outstanding contributions by a non-architect in the pursuit of a high quality built environment”.
What do you still hope to achieve professionally? I have 5 sons and I think a lot about succession and how they might all be involved in the business in some way. They all have different skills and interests and it would be great if they could all find a way so continue the legacy.