Established in 2003, MJMDA's vision was to carry projects from concept to completion. The company has garnered a sound reputation for quality and usability within the architectural sphere. Since then, founder and CEO Matthew J Mercieca's mission is unwavering: bringing unique and superior value and quality through integrated design services to local and international markets.
“It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly, and something I aspire to fulfil ever better,” Matthew J. Mercieca says of his role at MJMDA. The founding architect and CEO is responsible for setting a vision for the company and challenging targets for the team, which he affectionately refers to as the Jammers.
Despite starting out as a play on his own nickname, he explains: “it’s grown to be an indicator of MJMDA’s company culture, emphasising teamwork and collaboration.” The musical connection is not lost on him either.
Looking back to the company’s roots in 2003, Matthew reveals that, as a graduate, it wasn’t his initial intention to start his own business. “My plan was always to make an impact on architecture and design,” he says, explaining that he worked within a number of companies before setting up MJMDA. “But, in 2003, the industry was having a tough ride, and I offered my employer to reduce my hours as I was finding myself light on work. That opened up many opportunities. MJMDA started out as a one-man show, and we’re now a team of 18.”
Reflecting on the challenges of the role, he refers to a quote by Nietzsche as is often referred to by celebrated architect Richard England: “and those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” Admitting that it can be a challenge to get people to hear the music, “because all sorts of music is playing in my mind”, he smiles and adds: “what I enjoy most is when people join me in the dance, and can hear that same music.”
In fact, during those first years, he likens himself to a salmon “continuously swimming upstream”, and admits that it wasn’t easy to face “ingrained mentalities of the way things were done”. Since then, it’s been an ongoing process to build and collaborate with a team of people who are able to offer varied expertise. This means that no two days are the same. “My life is not a paragraph: a typical day can often be challenging, exciting, difficult, focused, disciplined, heated and intense,” he says energetically, before adding: “did I say intense?”
This intensity comes through in his personal life too, during which he balances imparting life lessons to his two sons, who are “very dear to me”, with an array of hobbies and interests. “I am big on interdependencies and the potential of being multidisciplinary across all fields,” Matthew, a motorcycling enthusiast who owns four bikes, says. He juggles indoor rowing, skiing and cycling with writing poetry, which he hopes to publish one day. Listing cooking, music, astronomy, astrophysics and the universe as other passions and areas of interest, he admits to finding an aspect of most disciplines to appreciate and engage with. “There’s so much that can be done but it’s the work of several lifetimes,” he laughs.
The ethos at MJMDA, Matthew attests, reflects his obsession with interdisciplinarity. “My aptitude for integrating several design and engineering as well as organisational disciplines quickly came to the surface, despite the initial focus on architectural design,” he says, explaining the importance of setting up a team with the right capacity to handle the full spectrum of service requirements. “I wanted to remove the disjointed nature of professional services for the building industry by being user-focused.
“I felt that the service should be about enhancing the quality of life of the user by providing a full picture,” he continues, adding that, while integration is more commonplace in the industry today, the past was dominated by a constant fragmentation and separation of professionals who are working on the same thing. “Architecture is not at its best when designed a layer at a time – you need to approach it as a whole. Otherwise you are limiting its potential.”
He acknowledges that the architectural landscape has changed since then, and the scenario today includes some service providers that are capable of giving an attractive solution by way of integration. “In the past, convincing people that a brief and a design should come before a planning application was like speaking some incomprehensible dialect. Today, we have progressed immensely and people have started to understand the value of adequate planning and investment in their homes and businesses, as well as doing things right first time,” he maintains.
Still, the situation is far from perfect. “We are now experiencing what I consider to be excessive fragmentation in favour of quasi one-man bands, and not enough ways for clients to assess which providers are best suited for their purpose. Setting up the right organisational infrastructure and investment is lacking in too many firms,” Matthew attests.
On this note, the CEO maintains that one of the key focuses for MJMDA in 2019 was “to significantly upgrade the already quasiobsessive managerial processes and the administrative arm of the firm”. Describing 2019 as “a difficult and challenging year”, he points out that it wasn’t without its highlights – one of which was winning the Quality Architecture Award in the Premju Emanuele Galizia Awards. “Having peers critically review and acknowledge our work that strives to drive a longer-term vision and quality as a priority is highly satisfying,” he says.
Meanwhile, maintaining viability notwithstanding increased investment in organisational infrastructure and additional management requires careful orchestration, and one he considers a long-term investment. “We’ve also worked hard to increase our operating frequency and increasing response time to challenges – marginal improvement is something we focus on continuously. If we can improve on something small every day, we do.”
Shifting focus to the next five years, MJMDA’s CEO believes that what has happened in terms of fragmentation over the last five years within the industry will reverse itself. “I expect that there will be more collaboration as people begin to realise that the core operating costs to do things properly require a greater structure. I think the future will be about more established and defined collaborations that will look beyond borders,” he says.
And his vision for the company is to continue to lead the way in serving clients seamlessly, and delivering more integrated design value. This year, Matthew’s sights are set beyond Malta’s shores. “We are working to start transitioning a larger proportion of our returns to an international market. We already collaborate with resources across national borders and we are working toward improving that proportionality,” he maintains.
How does this correlate to the local construction boom, and the negative perception of the industry among members of the public? “We work very much for the well-being of the end user,” he explains, adding that the end user market is more sensitive. “The development-for-profit market segment puts a lot of pressures on the industry because it creates things for generic or stereotyped identities. We believe that by addressing more aspects involved in the creation of architecture, be it end user usability or developer financial requirements with all round sustainability, is achievable without leaving anything or anyone behind.” This continues to ring through to the company’s mission: that of achieving significant results without going back on their core values.