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“The dragons are a good way for me to practise.”

Roman Brosowski works in IT architecture at Helvetia, but he also runs the Atelier Oechsli workshop together with his wife, designing and building dragon models. He tells us about his fascination with dragons and what his “side job” has in common with his profession.

31 july 2018, author: Roman Brosowski, photos: Roman Brosowski

Professionally speaking, I work in IT architecture at Helvetia in Basel. One of the projects I’ve worked on was setting up the international data warehouse, which brings together data from all of Helvetia’s national markets so we have the necessary information for Solvency II, for example. I’m currently working on data integration to ensure that we can provide our customers with the information they need more quickly.

A fascination for dragons

When night falls in the spa town of Bad Zurzach and everyone goes to bed, my wife and I set to work on our side job – building dragon models – in our workshop, Atelier Oechsli. We draw up concept sketches, plans and pictures, make intricate models, write books and work on life-sized dragons.

My wife is in charge of the artistic side, while I take care of the technological and commercial aspects. It might seem like a big leap from the world of IT to life-sized dragons, but there are some parallels. When I’m building a two-metre-tall figure that has to have detachable parts and also incorporate a sound system, smoke machines and lighting, it’s only going to work if everything’s done precisely right from the start and I know where each piece should fit. The same applies in IT. If you just keep adding features, you end up with a chaotic, unmanageable system. Good project management is crucial. For instance, I can’t saw planks of wood down to size in the evening without waking up the neighbours or my young son. I need to think ahead.

Art meets technology

There are similarities from a technical point of view as well. The world of data warehousing is changing. We used to upload data once every night, but now we work with real-time applications. There are also different sources of data, including more and more sensor and telemetry readings that involve new kinds of content and formats. These are of interest to insurance companies because temperature and humidity sensors, for example, can help us to determine whether artworks are being stored properly. The dragons are a good way for me to practise. They also have sensors to tell us how much liquid is left in the smoke machine tank and fans to stop them overheating. They give me an opportunity to study on a small scale what the technology can do and how it works from a data perspective.

So where does my fascination for dragons stem from? My wife has become a firm fixture on the Swiss fantasy scene over the years. We used to attend lots of fairs, and her art always portrayed a mix of real and fantastical creatures. Being business-minded, I suggested building something that could be seen from afar, something that would be an experience for the viewer. It’s always special to see how people react to the dragons. Some love them and want to take a photo straight away. Others get a terrible fright when a dragon suddenly lets out a roar. 

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