Name : Andrei DOLNIKOV
Birth year : 1980
Country : Australia
Studio : Binyan
Position : CEO & Founder
Website : https://www.binyanstudios.com/
[ Sélène Vilaseca ] – Andrei Dolnikov is a multifaceted leader with a passion for creativity and inclusivity. With degrees in Interior Architecture, Design, Applied Psychology, and even an ordination as a Rabbi, Andrei has been a leading voice in ArchViz, advocating for the transformative power of architectural digital content.
Since founding BINYAN in 2007, he has overseen the creation of some of the world’s most renowned, award-winning projects. Despite his many accomplishments, Andrei remains committed to warmth and inclusiveness. BINYAN’s renowned culture centers around being a Mensch, leading the conversation, being limitless, inspiring and being inspired, and helping the client succeed. In 2020, BINYAN was recognized with the PCA Award for Diversity, a testament to Andrei’s commitment to these principles.
However, above all else, Andrei values family. He lives in Melbourne with his wife, four beautiful children, and beloved tenor saxophone. As we’ll discover in the interview, Andrei’s commitment to integrating all aspects of his life, including work, family, spirituality, art, friends, and music, plays a crucial role in shaping his approach to life.
So without further ado, let’s meet Andrei!
Welcome Andrei, thanks for taking the time to share your expertise on archviz with us!
Could you introduce yourself? What drew you towards pursuing a career in architecture?
You have a background in both architecture and rabbinical studies. Do you feel that this unique combination of skills has given you a different perspective on the work that you do at BINYAN?
My passion in life is to have an impact on the world and the people around me. Starting with myself! I fell in love with architecture due to the ability to impact people’s lives through designing the spaces that we occupy and spend our lives in. Our environment impacts our emotions, well being, relationships, communities – architecture is the greatest contribution that human beings (for better or worse) have made to this planet.
While I did not set out to be a Rabbi, I simply wanted to delve into the spiritual side of existence – to understand the world that exists beyond the material plane – this drove me and drives me still. Through my studies of Jewish religion and mysticism I found myself in the position to share, teach and counsel others. This dovetailed with the reason I got into architecture as well. So in a certain sense it’s all one!
“My passion in life is to have an impact on the world and the people around me. Starting with myself !”
What inspired you to start BINYAN, and what have been some of the biggest challenges and rewards in running your own company?
I started BINYAN out of a passion for storytelling and because I needed to feed my family! I was very fortunate to meet some amazing people who are now key leaders within the business – and they activated within me the crazy idea that we can be the best in the world at what we do, redefine the industry, work globally, be famous etc – and I am still trying to achieve those things in different ways.
A CEO’s job is to deal with challenges, on a daily basis. We have the same challenges as any business would. Sometimes it’s market related, sometimes people, sometimes technology. We have been through it all and facing those challenges has made us a very resilient business. We are not easily phased, when I look around the ‘room’ of our leadership team and the company as a whole I know the solution to any challenge is in that room. And we have a great network of advisors and mentors who we call upon when we need to solve an issue we don’t know how to on our own.
If there was one challenge, I would say it is the one I am most proud of facing every day, and that would be the challenge of maintaining & improving the quality of work we do as we grow, expand, diversify into different types of content (CGI, Animation, Digital Experience). And while we diversify geographically by opening new studios and working with clients in new markets.
Doing this is super hard, but it’s our key focus and obsession. You cannot always get it right, but you have to strive, aspire and inspire each other.
“When I look around the ‘room’ of our leadership team and the company as a whole I know the solution to any challenge is in that room.”
BINYAN has completed over 3000 projects. Is there any project that you are particularly proud of, and if so, why?
That is a very hard question! It’s like asking which child is your favorite!
There are a few key milestone projects that for various reasons were important for the team or the business. One would be Hudson Yards in New York, this was our first major US project, super high profile, expectations sky high. We put an immense amount of effort, creative strategy and love into the project and it exceeded all expectations – happy client (who is now one of our most important and counted amongst our closest friends).
“I fell in love with architecture due to the ability to impact people’s lives through designing the spaces that we occupy and spend our lives in.”
Another would be 1515 Vancouver as this stands as a hallmark of creating an integrated set of content, with a high impact strategy bringing it all together. We created several animated films, a suite of CGI and an Immersive Experience. The whole team was engaged across all departments and the client is a joy to work with.
A recent project which we won the “World Luxury Award” for – was Nekajui, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve Residence – a beautiful project for an amazing client, great design, great site, the team loved it and it was a pleasure to work on.
Finally, a project close to my heart was a pro bono project called “75000 cups” – it was a project supporting a campaign for all the coffee shops of Bondi (Sydney) to stop using disposable cups for 1 week – saving 75000 cups. We used the tools of arch viz to show the wider public what this would look like – a beautiful bondi sunrise with a pile of 75000 cups uglifying the scene. It was a rare chance to use our skills in direct benefit of the public good.
“[This pro bono project
to stop using disposable cups
for 1 week – saving 75000 cups]
was a rare chance to use our skills in direct benefit
of the public good.”
You have said that your work is “contextually purposeful & driven by impactful ideas that create a sense of place and belonging.” Can you give an example of a project where you feel that you achieved this goal particularly well?
In order to achieve the goals you mention above, we always start with asking ourselves and the client 2 simple questions – what is the meaning of the place and the location where the project is situated – this helps us understand the context. And how will it enhance the lives of those people who will live, work or play in the spaces once they are built – this helps us create a sense of place and belonging.
If we can answer these questions and keep them top of mind as our strategic lighthouse throughout the duration of the project, we can achieve the goal. Both the projects mentioned above Nekajui, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve Residence and 1515 Vancouver achieve this in different ways. For Nekajui, we spent a considerable amount of time researching the unique site – a beautiful peninsula – in Costa Rica – to really understand the tone of light, feel of natural vegetation and the texture of the water. This focus on context is pivotal, as not every beach is a beach and not every sunset is a sunset. By formulating a visual strategy based on this research we came up with two lighting approaches, a compositional approach and a theme that was carried through all the images as well as the lifestyle film we created. This was fused with a deep understanding of the Ritz-Carlton brand ethos which underpinned the features and more importantly the atmosphere of the content we created.
“For Nekajui, we spent a considerable amount of time researching the unique site – a beautiful peninsula in Costa Rica – to really understand the tone of light, feel of natural vegetation and the texture of the water.”
Ultimately, the sense of place and belonging is the feeling the potential resident has as they imagine themselves in the space, feeling the luxury of amenity and being moved by just the right kind of sunset glow. These emotions make one feel that this is a place where I can be myself, my essence is in accord with my habitat – I belong. I am very pleased with the outcome and being recognised with the World Luxury Award for this project, as for us it was about creating the quintessence of luxury for our client and their clients.
1515 Vancouver – was a very different project. Much more urban, focused on iconic architecture by Büro Ole Scheeren, views, materiality, smart technology and a way of living and working for the leaders of tomorrow. Understanding context was about understanding Vancouver as a modern, progressive beautiful city and really delving into the design ethos of the architect.
The sense of place and belonging in this project went beyond the images per se, and involved the strategy around user experience as they come in contact with the project at different points in their buying journey. CGI, teaser films, full film, VR experience etc.
All of these content types helped make the project real, relatable and aspirational for the buyer. A place that they want to be.
“All of these content types [CGI, teaser films, full film, VR experience, etc] helped make the project real, relatable and aspirational for the buyer.
A place that they want to be.”
What are some of the biggest trends you’ve noticed in the architecture and visualization industry in recent years, and how do you stay on top of those trends?
I remain relatively agnostic when discussing architecture, of course I have my personal taste but what matters is making any project we are fortunate enough to visualize look amazing.
I do however love the growing focus in projects on biophilic design – the fusion of nature and the built form. Very cool and very cool to visualize.
“I love the growing focus in projects on biophilic design – the fusion of nature and the built form.”
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the architecture and visualization industry?
Define your true value and skill set. Don’t define yourself by the tech stack you have mastered – it will change. Be a true creative and story-teller, not just an architect’s assistant.
“The reality is that we bring huge value to our clients – we take dry drawings or Revit models and turn them into gold!”
In your opinion, how do advancements in technology impact the way architects and visualization professionals work today? What do you think about AI programs, such as DALL-E, Midjourney? Do you think that Artificial Intelligence can help Architecture Visualization in any way?
Are you using AI programs at BINYAN? Do you think that architecture visualization could also disappear with these programs?
New technology is something you have to embrace – you have to ride the dragon! Having the wisdom to know how to embrace it is the tricky thing. For me, the advancement of AI is super exciting, as it puts the emphasis on ideas, creative direction, story telling and curation – and makes the simple repetitive tasks simple and even unnecessary.
I do think that some parts of the archviz process will disappear – just like some parts of architecture, legal services, accounting and most other professional services offerings. But that’s ok – an artist or a firm has to imagine what the firm of the future will look like and become that firm.
We are currently using AI for rapid ideation, concept development, mood boarding and testing ideas out in real time. It’s already helping our design process. Frequently we work on projects where the photo-real CGI is not the emphasis – branding images are what sells. So how do you picture a Brooklyn Living room as a surrealist manifestation of sports or entertainment? There could be a hundred ways to approach it – AI helps ideate and imagine.
“New technology is something you have to embrace – you have to ride the dragon!”
As we are all very aware of, ecology is a global concern these days. Within our field, render farms and even some of the tools we use are not necessarily environmentally friendly. Are you personally sensitive to environmental issues? What is your studio’s approach to reducing environmental footprint? Can we make a difference towards sustainability in choosing our clients correctly? How can we reduce our overall ecological footprint in ArchViz?
As a business we have always sought opportunities to be more energy efficient – our Sydney office gets almost half of its electricity from the solar panels we installed on the roof, our new render farm uses ¼ of the electricity of the previous version. We made a conscious effort to travel less and allow for our team to have hybrid work arrangements. All this helps the environment in a small way. We also contribute to several environmental causes through philanthropic endeavors.
We have found more and more that at the high end of real estate and architecture the pendulum is swinging towards sustainability being a key business objective for our clients and their clients. Australia is very progressive when it comes to this and in many projects we try to make this as visible as possible in the content we create. We celebrate this for our clients and make this part of the value proposition to the end user.
“Melbourne, for me, it’s about nature, family, being in an awesome city and then being able to drive for 45 minutes and be in the wilderness or the wild ocean” – Andrei
“I don’t try to achieve balance – a balance implies that one side is negative and the other needs to balance it out.
For me it’s about integration.
It’s all part of life – work is life, family is life, spirituality is life, art is life, friends are life, music is life.”
How do you balance your work as a business leader with your personal life and hobbies, such as playing the tenor saxophone? What advice would you give to others looking to achieve a similar balance? With all the responsibilities you have, how do you find time to spend with your family and loved ones?
I don’t try to achieve balance – a balance implies that one side is negative and the other needs to balance it out. For me it’s about integration. It’s all part of life – work is life, family is life, spirituality is life, art is life, friends are life, music is life. I try to weave the various aspects of my life together – when I travel for work, I try to bring my wife and sometimes the kids so we can enjoy time together. I always stop to see my friends in cities around the world. My saxophone playing is also part of helping me relax and switch off from the grind of work. I love Jazz and Classical music, I learn a lot from it about how to approach work – a CEO is like a conductor of an orchestra of geniuses and a creative team is a jazz band, each member improvising their creative vision, but staying cohesive as a team. And at our end of year parties I always make sure to play with the band.
“A creative team is a jazz band each improvising their creative vision, but staying cohesive as a team.
And at our end of year parties I always make sure to play with the band.”
My kids know about the business and some have done internships, they know the team and love them – we host colleagues at our house and enjoy life’s special moments together. I do try to do everything 🙂 I play squash with work colleagues both to stay healthy and to have some one-on-one time with my team. It does at times feel like a whirlwind adventure – but I like it that way, it’s crazy but it’s good crazy. Keep in mind, my phone is almost a dumb phone – so I don’t get interrupted very much these days – and the device does not run my life.
My other way to switch off is to read and of course Shabbat (Saturday) is my special family, me and friends time. I am device free, no work, no driving – just being with family, reading, sleeping, thinking. It’s essential for me every single week.
1/ “Currently reading Biography of Beethoven, The Man without Talent (Japanese Underground Comic Book) Yoshiharu Tsuge,
and The Babylonian Tallmud – Tractate Bava Kamma” – Andrei
2/ Travel in Cannes (France) for the MIPIM Conference
3/ Israel travel with my 2 youngest sons
4/ Having fun with a Picasso sculpture in Antibes (France) at the Picasso Museum
5/ With my sons in Melbourne
6/ With a coffee from my favourite coffee place in Brooklyn, NY
“Keep in mind, my phone is almost a dumb phone – so I don’t get interrupted very much these days – and the device does not run my life.”
At the “Cause & Effect” event in London, you gathered a global community of visualizers, architects, developers, marketers, creatives, place makers, and artists to discuss how creativity, narrative, and technology can democratize the visioning of our cities’ future. Can you tell us more about this event? What new creative possibilities has it opened up for BINYAN and the industry as a whole?
The idea of the Cause & Effect Event in London was as you note to bring together all the protagonists who create and interact with architectural visualization. We wanted to broaden the definition of what ArchViz is and can be. It was the first event of its kind where you had visualisers, developers, creative agencies, architects, strategists all sharing the stage as peers – not merely as clients and suppliers – to discuss new trends, opportunities and future directions.
The day was a huge success, great vibes, heaps of fun and very very educational for all involved. We had quotes from clients such as “best event we went to all year”. So this was very gratifying as it was a massive effort to put together.
Some key outcomes and insights from the Cause & Effect Event were:
1. To create a more democratized process of visioning the future we need to collaborate earlier in the process. Less swimming in only your own lane, more playing water polo.
2. AI is here and it’s challenging all creatives to define themselves by their IDEAS and ORIGINALITY, not only by the ability to make pretty things.
Next steps will be to share more of the great press, create a magazine, share interviews, session content, recordings, event doco – see here and much more.
What’s especially great to see is that several of the speakers and attendees are in discussion about collaborating together based on the ideas discussed on the day.
To conclude, what has been the greatest moment of your career so far? And if you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self
Greatest moment: I don’t want to sound corny but seeing people realize their potential, grow and flourish within the business is my greatest achievement. It means so much, and no matter what happens this will be with me forever. Outwardly speaking – establishing the NY and London Studios I think is one of our greatest achievements and realizing the goal of working on the top projects in the world – a goal we set 6 years ago – is a thrill every single day.
Advice for my younger self – “don’t ask advice from your older self – follow your instinct and be brave”.
Advice for my younger self
– “don’t ask advice
from your older self –
follow your instinct
and be brave.”
Many thanks to Andrei for taking the time to share his invaluable insights as CEO of Binyan. It’s truly inspiring to see how he balances all aspects of life amidst the whirlwind of running a successful business. We’re delighted to feature his journey!
Interviz #4 – 17.04.2023 by Sélène Vilaseca