OBMI: Celebrating 80 Years in the Caribbean
- October 27th, 2016
- in PROPERTY
OBMI is a leading architecture firm, spearheading the local and global ‘structural design’ conversation. Celebrating 50 years in the BVI and 80 years as a company, Marvin E. Flax has recently stepped in to take the helm as Managing Director in the BVI office.
By balancing inspiration with functionality, Marvin and his team are able to create timeless, globally recognised designs that celebrate the islands’ history and landscape.
To gain more perspective into an architect’s fundamental values and how they are reflected throughout the life of a project, we sat down with Marvin to learn about his inspirations and aspirations, and OBMI as an architectural firm.
How did your passion for architecture begin?
As a youngster still in primary school, my grandfather loved having people around him building things; he loved the entire building process. He made it a point to involve me, showing me the drawings, allowing me to hear the conversations he had with architects. Now fond memories, I can look back and realise my love for architecture, the building process, the smell of concrete, and the idea of building something from the ground up came from these experiences with my grandfather.
I learned to visualise the two-dimensional lines on paper into three-dimensional built objects. At this early age of around eight years old, I learned to see buildings into shapes and forms. It wasn’t my grandfather’s intent to have me be an architect, but his desire to have his family near him and my time spent on construction sites with him, created it.
Tell me about the process of working with an architect?
When a client works with me and OBMI, we really dive into the owner’s vision. In order to make their vision a reality, an architect really needs to look at it from a macro scale first with an understanding of the delicate relationship between goal and function. I spend a lot of time with our clients and understand their needs on an intimate level; especially for a client designing a home.
You have to develop a certain level of trust with your client. Clients expose you to who they are so that you can design a home that meets their needs. In this process, I try to develop a relationship of trusted advisor, and often friend with my clients. These elements are essential to understanding and meeting their needs. That personal touch makes all the difference throughout the lifespan of the project. Sometimes my clients will call to ask me things completely unrelated to architecture. It makes the process and our relationship we develop so meaningful.
What do you do if clients don’t know what they need and want?
Often times they don’t at first, or at least they don’t know how to articulate it. That’s where architects are listeners and communicators. We ask the questions and listen as clients explain in their words what’s important to them. Often, couples do not agree on design and styling, so I listen and work diligently to come up with a concept that meets both of their wants. No one feels excluded during the process. It’s actually a little like therapy, but it really allows me to fully understand their desires, and get to know them on a personal level so that the design reflects their personality.
I want to give my clients a home that they will cherish and that will remain timeless throughout the lifespan of the building. A home or building that will retain and increase in value, that will serve them and their families for many years to come.
What elements are considered in all of your architectural projects?
An architect must absolutely consider the landscape, surrounding environment, and how a building can potentially sit within it. We begin every project with a great respect for its site, understanding that only with the utmost sensitivity to its natural environment, culture, and history will a home become a place with a story and a soul.
At OBMI, we pride ourselves on a remarkable ability to fit a building within its natural environment, seamlessly integrated into its surroundings, enhancing its natural beauty in a timeless and sensitive way. In the BVI, it’s easy, there’s so much beauty around us, whether verdant green hills or the Caribbean Sea.
Tell me about OBMI
Wil Onions and Valmer Bouchard founded OBMI in 1936. They shared a vision of transforming dreams into a living, breathing, enduring history. They also believed that successful architecture must have a “heart and soul.” This year marks our 80th for the company and our 50th in the BVI. We have seen a tremendous amount of change in the BVI over the years and have been so fortunate to help shape it.
“I am delighted to congratulate OBMI on this worthy milestone. We know that OBMI is a longstanding company that produces strong project managers and architectural services, not just in the Territory, but throughout the Caribbean. Their BVI office has facilitated many of our Government’s large projects, and it has made significant contributions to the improvement of the aesthetics and environment in the BVI over the years. Of noteworthy mention in recent times, was their work on the Queen Elizabeth II Park that was opened on Tuesday, May 31, 2016. I am pleased that a young BVI Islander, Mr Marvin E. Flax, is at the helm of the company, and I am confident that under his leadership it will continue to excel and make even greater strides in the future.” – Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr the Honourable D. Orlando Smith, OBE
How has OBMI been able to shape the BVI?
With such a long history here, OBMI has contributed greatly to the islands’ built environment, from commercial, to hotel and hospitality, to private homes, and interior spaces. In fact, when you look up the hill, it is easy to spot an OBMI designed home – the proportions of the home, the combination of symmetry/asymmetry, the materials, the pitch of the roof, and how the home sits within the confines of the property are all indicators that it is proudly OBMI.
I remember growing up, friends could pick out an OBMI home. The OBMI designed home became synonymous with architectural concepts and styles that created timeless, signature buildings, each with a unique identity specific to their owners. These unique and timeless design elements are unmistakable.
Alongside private homes, in the last two decades, OBMI has been at the forefront of design and has completed many hospitality and luxury villa projects in the islands including extensive work in Virgin Gorda, from Nail Bay Estates and Tonic Waters, to the unique Baraka Point, which has been honoured to be called ‘the ultimate in tropical villas.’ OBMI has also had a significant influence on the Oil Nut Bay development where many luxurious properties were built, and still are being built, with input from my team, and the global OBMI team.
Now you’re leading the local OBMI office – how did that come about?
My history began with OBMI when I was 14. I would come into the office after school and learn technical drawing from the architects. It helped to fuel my passion for the industry and allowed me to see architects in action. I was hooked. Years later, I left the BVI to further my education and one of my first work experiences as an architect was working on amazing post 9-11 projects that were extremely sensitive, but also career-shaping. I had an amazing opportunity on these projects but also a great responsibility. I learned so much which really gave me the confidence to feel I could move back to the BVI with strong experience so that I could become the next leader for this office. And the timing was right.
“Marvin used to come in after school and practice his drafting and became part of the OBMI family. When he went away to study architecture and continued to work in the U.S., I was continually chasing him to come back and join our BVI team. My ambition was to one day have him running the local office and now that dream has come true.” – OBMI Chairman, Tim Peck
When I came to OBMI in the BVI, I was immediately able to make an impact with the completion of several important projects; I was the project architect for the Customs House at Christophe Harbour in St Kitts, a much lauded, historically appropriate development, and the first phase of a marina village that would accommodate the customs and immigration departments.
When the opportunity came for me to take the helm, I felt I had the experience, knowledge, and local understanding to be confident that I could lead this office for many successful years to come.
One of the things I appreciate about OBMI, is that although I have the responsibility of the BVI office and my team here, I can also tap into the resources of a global company when needed. We have an amazing company of professionals around the world. Outside of the BVI office, OBMI is in Antigua, Bermuda, The Cayman Islands, Miami (Florida), and Trinidad and Tobago. I’m very proud to be associated with a firm of OBMI’s stature and reputation. In total, we are 87 people strong, and growing.
What is your vision for the BVI office?
I am proud of the company and my role within it. I have been a part of OBMI for over 27 years. This is not a job; this is a major part of my life. I want the quality of my work to be synonymous with the stellar reputation OBMI has built. To make this happen, I want to contribute to continued, steady growth that further cements our long-standing 50 years in the BVI. I envision another 50 years of iconic, sustainable projects, that positively contribute to the BVI community. I also want to share my experience with young BVI talent like the opportunities I was fortunate to have when coming into the office after school.
OBMI will continue to utilise cutting edge technology to further enhance how we deliver our designs to our clients. Some of the latest computer software allows us to virtually walk a client through a home, fit with accurate lighting, shadows, angles, and proportions. Having global resources really allows me, and my team, to provide high-tech solutions in the BVI.
Architecturally, I want my team to continue to create amazing designs for our clients that leave a timeless, positive impression on the landscape of the BVI.
“Marvin Flax and the team at OBMI BVI have been a pleasure to work with. They work collaboratively with the entire project team to ensure that all of the client’s vision, programme, and objectives are met. Over the last six years, I have had the opportunity to work with Marvin on numerous small to large complex projects and have been impressed with his ability to manage teams, his careful attention to details, and his passion for great design and architecture that lead to successful projects.” – Ben Butler BSc(Hons) MRICS Director BCQS International
What makes OBMI different?
The proportions. We design buildings, specifically homes that are not unnecessarily big nor small. We maximise what the environment provides us to design in a way that works to take advantage of the site’s natural beauty. Working in the BVI/Caribbean we have amazing beauty in front of us everywhere we go – the hills, the terrain, the ocean, so when we design a home, we want to use that to our advantage. Our aim is to enhance the resident’s experience by designing an amazing home that takes that view to another level.
We also provide great value, attention to detail, and customisation that separate us from everyone else. Each home or building is custom to the needs of the individual client. We do not repurpose design elements, but rather embrace creativity which gives our designs individuality. The design process is an exciting and fun one which I am confident OBMI does extremely well.
“OBMI came up with some very beautiful designs, but highly functional too taking into consideration everything from the wind-flow and sun exposure to individual owner preferences. Furthermore, OBMI provided the necessary architectural support during the construction phase. Marvin became our point guy with OBMI at an early stage of the 5-year project, and he saw the entire job through. He was a valued member of the team, and we consider ourselves lucky to have had his services.” Tom Cripps, Private Residence
What are you most proud of?
I have been so fortunate and am so humbled by all the opportunities I have been granted. I have a sense of achievement when I think about what my Rotary Club Sunrise continues to accomplish, but overall my pride comes from a combination of my family, and of course, my career with OBMI.
The many projects I have been a part of, including most recently, the Nora Hazel project is one of those homes that has an amazingly prominent view; literally on a cliff, I admire this home every time I head to Virgin Gorda.
As I stare at it, I reflect on the incredible amount of work it took to achieve it and am pleased to have been a part of its creation. I think my grandfather would be very proud.
Where do you get design inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere. I can see symmetry and asymmetry in yachts or even in the design of a phone. Design is in everything we use. I find a great deal of inspiration from other designers, often those who are in academia.
When I was a senior at the Savannah College of Art & Design, I used to walk by the industrial arts studio and be awed by their work and what appeared to be boundless creativity, I still visit the school’s website weekly to see what amazing things up and coming designers are creating. It’s amazing.
Honestly, just walking out my front door every day inspires me.
Photography by Norman Allen Photography (Marvin photos), OBMI for project photos