Design Manifestos

Feature Interviews with Architects & Designers from Around the World

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    Design Manifestos: rukamathu.smith

    Eli Laipson
    Aug 13, '15 11:04 AM EST

    Last week, Modelo had the opportunity to interview Mark Rukamathu and Michael Smith. The duo founded their design firm, rukamathu.smith in 2013 and are located in the heart of Somerville, Massachusetts. They sum up their design philosophy as follows:

    We have been a practice for 452 days.
    We think, we explore, we iterate.
    Materials guide us; our clients inspire us.
    Schedules, budgets and getting paid keeps things real.
    We grow by making things

    – Mark Rukamathu and Michael Smith on their design philosophy

    Despite being a new firm, Mark and Michael already have an impressive collection of work. From kicking off their company by consulting on several non-disclosure projects for global design firm IDEO to fabricating an artifact model of the historic YMCA building on Huntington Ave for preservation, the duo’s interests seem to have no limit. One day they could be creating custom beer tap handles for up-and-coming brewery Aeronaut and the next day teaching future design professionals at Harvard, RISD or Northeastern University, no matter the situation, Rukamathu and Smith bring energy and serious skills to their work.

    And the work keeps coming. Both Mark and Michael say they feel fortunate that to date they have not had to utilize any marketing strategies or engage in self-promotion to acquire clients (aside from their in-progress hot pink website they released a couple weeks ago). “The clients find us,” Rukamathu said shrugging. The reality is, their work speaks for itself and is spreading rapidly via word of mouth and strong involvement within their Somerville community. They provided us with an in-depth tour of the hotspots in their local neighborhood and seemingly knew everyone, including Aeronaut Brewing CoBrooklyn BouldersTriangle Coffee, and Artisan’s Asylum, where they rent space for their workshop. By involving themselves locally, Rukamathu and Smith have integrated into a strong community of designers, artisans, cooks, brewers, and other creatives. Their infectious energy and charisma helps build the relationships, but it’s their raw talent and skill that deepen and expand their network. Their most local projects include functioning as designers for Aeronaut (hence, the beer tap handles) and designing and fabricating mobile coffee bars for Triangle Coffee at Brooklyn Boulders and The Innovation and Design Building in Boston. They were also contracted by MIT School of Architecture and Planning to fabricate a custom interior exhibition hall for a recent faculty design show. You can view the time lapse of this project on their Vimeo account.

    A design for Aeronaut Brewery viarukamathu.smith

    Although they enjoy their current breadth of work, they hope to also expand their focus on more medium and large-scale residential and commercial projects.

    “Ever since working on the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego, a dream of mine has been to design and build out a four-to-five story hotel.” said Smith.

    For right now, they’re starting within their own network, re-designing a residential home in New Jersey for Michael’s parents.

    Triangle Coffee portable stations via rukamathu.smith

    Mark and Michael seem to be working on the ideal number of projects given the size of their firm; there is enough work to keep them busy and expanding, but not too much to a point where they’re overwhelmed. “We usually have five to eight projects simultaneously, but it depends since they’re always in different phases.” When asked how they manage their projects, their response was unanimous: lots and lots of 3D modeling. “We 3D model everything, all the time. We’ll have 3D models open directly in the shop while we work. Digital 3D models are great, but sometimes a physical artifact is nice too and we’ll create those ourselves depending on the client. With more savvy clients and at meetings, we use digital 3D models — which is incredibly efficient. A lot of time because of the position we’re in, we don’t have time or money to make time-intensive drawings or fancy presentations. ” Apart from 3D software (they use Rhino) Mark and Michael shared the variety of softwares they use regularly on their Mac computers: Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, and CAD software.

    Auronaut Brewing Co. beer handles

    Although the firm is still in its beginning stages, Mark and Michael are already looking to the future. “We’re starting to make projections for the next years and figure out where we’re headed. Everything is happening all at once, live.” This growth, however, wouldn’t be possible without their cohesiveness and teamwork. “We were just talking about how we work together because we have good communication. We’re collaborating by doing different things — that’s how we’re able to manage everything. You have a good attitude and you keep cashflow coming in and that’s how things get done.” When asked about how they plan to expand, the first thing they touched on was the bond they have with their neighbors. “Our relationships have been good, we do some work for someone and they recommend us to someone they know.” This form of growth has been ideal for the time being, but, of course, they have greater aspirations: “Most of the work we’ve actually gotten has been referrals, so that’s been really nice. Totally word-of-mouth old-school style. Which is fine for now… until the New York Times calls us.” They’re going to need to move quickly, that call may be coming sooner than they think!

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About this Blog

At Modelo we want to know what drives the world’s design and architecture talent. This is why we invite select architects and designers to share their stories, philosophies, visions and favorite works with the public — their manifestos. For more information on how we're working to change the architecture and design world at Modelo please visit us at:

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