Welcome to our new section “Tip from the expert”, where we will meet you with inspiring people in the field of architecture and interior design. Our first guest is Martina Radeva from studio IRchitect. The conversation with her went came out twice as long as it should’ve been and although editing the interview was utterly intensive, it was worth every minute. The result is at hand.
Introduce yourself in a few words.
My name is Martina Radeva, my friends call me Martha. I graduated architecture at UACEG and studied sustainable architecture in Belgium. I’ve also participated in SEP – a summer entrepreneurial program in the United States. As for my other interetsts, they all lie in the future, especially in programming and space technologies fields. But work is what meets us today. Branny (Branimir Brozig), me and several other friends are co-founders of studio IRchitect and we’ve been working together for three years. We deal with architecture and interior design, thus office and housing interiors account for 90% of our current projects.
Quick question – how do you satisfy your interests in programming and space science? Most people would have a hard time connecting them to architecture.
A friend of mine shared a movie quote once: “You don’t love science. You just walk past it and slap its ass.” My interest in science is rather amateur. Elena Nikilova and I are the organizers of Rails Girls Sofia, where we introduce girls to programming and show them that it doesn’t bite. At the beginning I was a participant myself and I became involved in programming for an year and a half. I even did an internship in this area before creating IRchitect.
I believe that every skill a person has and uses becomes a tool. A tool to do your job, to make the world a better place and to help people. And if at one time architects worked with a line and a pencil, they now work with other means. There are many things you can do to make it easier to work as an architect if you know programming. It’s technical, by improving your software, or – if you’re part of a startup – improving your site and everything around it, which it presents digitally.
Everything we do is doing it in our time. This is both good and bad. It is good because ideas that have failed to work during my father’s day may be successful 30-40 years later because society has reached a stage in development and technology and attitudes of people allow it. I will give an example: one of the things we are dealing with is consultation. Building consultancy is something that, say, my dad did not manage to do in the 90s when the time and the people were different. And if they then said, “Give me money, I do not understand,” they now have the attitude of approaching a specialist, and know that if they get in touch with one, the whole thing will be done better.
While people just didn’t have that culture at the time.
They did not have a culture, they did not have money. Now one is more inclined to take a cleaner home than 10-15 years ago. Then the obstacles were “how will I give money”, “what people will say” … Somehow you were supposed to do it yourself.
How would you describe the relationship between the tools you use and the time you spend to work and create?
The problems we are solving today are different from those two decades ago. If the illustrator had to illustrate an article in a newspaper one day, it was painted and printed on paper, and so it came to people, and today most of the things we do do not reach the paper. This conversation, for example, will become an interview that will not be published in a newspaper. Today the environment is different and it’s much better to create it instead of it …
Look, I think one must live in his time. Architecture is a heavy profession, people even call it serious. Let’s say you’re building a building today – it must last for the next hundred years. During these 100 years, society can change radically, and if today you think something is necessary, you never know what they will invent in the future. If teleports occur after fifty years, it may be that this building does not need a garage. It is terribly challenging to try to create at a time as dynamic as ours. It is strange to try to do something lasting in a dynamic time.
Hmm … I hadn’t looked at it from this point of view. Let’s leave practicality aside for now. I took a look at your description on the company’s website and learned that you are always looking for beauty and harmony. How do you recreate them in architecture?
I have two answers to this question. One is romantic and the other one accurate. I will start with it because it is shorter. Architecture is finding a solution. You see a problem, a question, an opportunity and your job is to find the most appropriate solution – as a budget, as a vision, as applicable to the needs of the client. At one point, the profession comes down to just solving a task, a system of equations. I would not say that things are easy, but that’s one way to look at this profession.
The other one is more romantic and … unrealistic. I like that you use the word “recreate”. Architecture is and isn’t about creation. It’s about recreation. You have bricks, concrete, windows, but until you put them into shape, they are not architecture, just building materials. That’s what’s special about this profession – you create, and you don’t create at the same time. You just sort things up in a new way. This arrangement is the essence of architecture.
I had a friend and colleague architect whom we watched Pina with once. Then she told me: “I love movies that are beautiful above all else.” Because when a person does something, he spends the beauty in himself. And from time to time it’s necessary to recharge yourself with new beauty so that you can get back to work. It’s pretty much the same. On one hand, you are turning building materials in a structure, on the other you transform a book or a film into emotions.
How do you recharge yourself with beauty?
I usually go to some nice open space, somewhere in the nature. This is very important for me. I have a rest from the things I have overdone – noise, computers, headphones … I see one day of the week to be completely offline and away from town. The other way is watching. If you see good things regularly, they also charge you, though not the same way. Like when you see a nice building or interior. Something inspirational. And overwhelming. (laughs)
What are the ideals that can make a group of friends start a business together?
When we were on the Entrepreneurial Program in the States, one of the most useful exercises there was The Everest Challenge. A group of 5-6 people participate in a role-playing game where they are preparing to climb Mount Everest. Each of them has a personal goal, and as a team the goal of everyone is to reach the top. One, for example, is a naturalist who wants to shoot edelweiss on the road. Another is an extreme athlete who wants to climb the route without oxygen.
This game has terrified me very much that if you go about doing something with other people, it is very important for each of you to have your own goal. Because, yes, you are working together for something in common, but each of you must have something to move it forward. There is nothing that motivates you more than what you want to achieve yourself. In a team, you are all together along a certain part of the road, but that must match your own ambition.
The other important thing is to put on words what you are fighting for. We at IRchitect believe that design helps us live better and work more actively. Let’s be happy. But as we formulated our principle this way, it took a long time.
During this “long time” how did you position yourself in the whole architecture and design ecosystem? And do you think that you are prominent among competitors?
We are a relatively new studio, we have been around for 3 years. And I have to admit we’re still working for our name. There is more time for it to work for us.
What distinguishes us from others is the ambition to democratize the design. We believe that good design is the means to live better, and everyone deserves to enjoy it in their everyday lives. We are trying to eradicate the stereotype that design is an elitist service for people with redundant money. On the contrary – smart design can do miracles and a limited budget and is often the only way to get what we want against what we have.
How long does it take to make a name as an architect?
It depends. The youngest ones we know and admire have taken them perhaps 6-7 years. Normally, the 10th is now known where you went. The other is that we have been a free country of … how old have they been, 27 years? So there are no older companies out of this. (Laughs) In Germany I can list you companies for 150 years.
What we stand out for is that we bring our work to a good end. Very often in our area we have heard statements such as: “I did a very nice project, but …” And something happened. The investor has changed it, the builder did not do the right thing, the money is done in the middle … We fight this “but”. Besides designing, we also deal with project management. Our job is to put a project into the client’s timeline and budget so we can put the visualization and realization next to each other and say, “Here’s what we promised, that’s what we did.” Unfortunately, most places with We do not have an endless budget and have our limitations. True, we want to make bigger projects, but I dare say that for now we always come to a good and successful finish. No “but” and “yes”. Said, done.
What other problems do you encounter when working with clients?
Problems occur in everything. (laughs) Our job is to work with people. And this is terribly challenging. This is the best, and the worst job. In addition to our customers, we meet with all the rest of the chain – builders, neighbors … There is a process called “management of expectations”. The client should be aware of what is happening at any moment, as well as what happens two or three steps ahead – even if he never built and did not see the trowel in his life, your job is to keep him in Step. If your client is surprised at a time, then you have not done your job well. Unless he was surprised and did not say, “Well, that’s much better than I imagined.” This is the only surprise we can afford here.
Many things are unpredictable. If it comes to repairing an old home, let’s say, you often can not see the state of the wall installation until you open it. But with a lot of planning and astonishing communication skills you can do it.
Walk us through the planning and implementation of a project.
One project consists of three parts – conceptual, technical phase and project management. The idea phase is the most interesting. In it we clarify everything visible – where it will be, how it will look, how it will be located and how it will work. There is an enormous amount of communication with the client. Previews are being viewed, options are being discussed. We receive feedback in any form. We even had people drawing in PowerPoint. It is extremely important to be able to communicate with the guarantor.
Once you have shaken your hands on the final version, the second part of the project begins – the technical phase. There the work is almost self-contained. For example, if we were told that there would be a black chair in the corner, we chose the black chair suggestions to fit into the client’s budget and be able to come in time. Or we work on clarifying the details around the lighting and the heating installation with the companies that will implement them. There, the client has a smaller role. This brings us to the third phase – the management of the project. We collect all the offers, make a schedule and reach the happy ending. Here, the client also plays a rather large but remote role, at least because all offers must be approved by him.
Together, we see how magic happens, but there is an element of discord. Like in cinema. If you learn to make special effects, you’ll probably be very cool, but when you see a good frame, you’ll start spreading it thoughtfully – here they used one filter, here they shot it on a green screen … Our attitude To architecture is the same. Everything you see at once, we perceive it for a month or two, and little of the magic is lost.
Does that make it harder to see the beauty of the whole project as uninvolved person would see it?
I see the ugliness of things rather. If there is any difference with the original project, if even one contact is 10 centimeters off, I see it and that’s what I’m talking about. But I’m beginning to see another beauty. Architecture is very satisfying to make a minimal detail where everything is very clean and you do not see the bolts and nuts. Knowing how much sweat you have thrown into creating something from raw materials is a beauty that the side man does not see. So, when we go abroad and see a well-made visible concrete, normal people ask us: “Okay, so, what are you doing on this concrete wall?” (Laughs)
Since we’re talking about interior design, tell me – where lies the happy medium between architecture, interior and office productivity?
We began the conversation with the fact that architecture is a bit elusive. That it is re-ordering one another. When an office is made, it is not the set of desks, tables, and walls. No, the office is more.
There is a story that home and the walls help. The office is what helps you work better without feeling it. For example, you may not feel that the light in the office is bad, but when it hurt your head in the last two hours of the day and you do not end up doing it, it actually unconsciously pulls you back. If you blow the air conditioner in your neck and you constantly think you will not catch up or argue with your colleague at 26 or 15 degrees should be, you will not do any work either. The office can make you more productive by simply not hindering you. He does this actively – he anticipates everything that can interfere with you and prevents it.
From this point of view, many of the things that help productivity are not just interior but architecture. What I mean: it does not matter the design of the lamp or the air conditioner if they work well. If it is well lit, if the space is well conditioned, if it is quiet enough and does not ring. It does not matter whether you will be putting pink curtains or blue – if you are solving your problem, half the job is done. If you are already deep in the interior, there are many things that affect productivity. Including how much light there is in an office. If you have flowers and greenery, it reduces stress and makes you happier and more relaxed.
One of the things I think is very underestimated is acoustics. The reason people do not like the open spaces is the sound level in them, which in most people gets unpleasant. There is noise that is hindering your concentration. There are many ways to avoid it, but the person who does it should know what it is doing.
Can we call relaxation rooms a solution?
That helps too. But for a team to work effectively, often the best way is for everyone to be nearby, on a table.
If you want an office to sound good, you must know that it is neither a classroom nor an opera house. The sound is very dry in the classroom. It is very important to understand what the teacher is saying to you and that is why almost everything is absorbed so that there is no echo and you can understand everything. If an office is so accomplished, it may be that at the other end of the hall two colleagues whisper and you hear them crystal clear and you understand them, which prevents you from concentrating.
On the other hand, if it sounds a lot, the sound is longer in the room and more noise is actually produced than a single speaker. The bad thing in this case is that the intelligibility is bad and you do not feel when it starts crying. To hit the middle between your two is a whole science. Most people ignore such factors at the expense of what is visible.
How can Escreo help with office optimization?
I’m very glad you led a campaign to return the walls to the office. Open workspaces are a great solution, but each company must first assess whether it suits its culture and functioning. Many programmers, for example, do not like the open spaces because their work requires concentration. So if you want your expensive man to be productive, you need to provide him with the right environment. And to be productive, each person needs specific conditions – from a comfortable armchair, from where to write their ideas. Assistive aids such as Escreo help generate ideas. There is a philosophical term called “Socratic dialectic,” which means “Acquisition of the Truth.” It’s the art of conducting a conversation in such a way as to help the truth be born. If you have a product like yours, you help the ideas in people to see the world easier.
Last question – what would you like to learn from architecture and what would you like for other people to learn?
The cool of architecture is that it is a unity between art and science. It is not just important to find a solution, but to be beautiful. This is perhaps the most important skill for me. In high school we had mathematicians saying, “Well, you have solved the problem, but can you solve it more beautifully?” Then I did not understand the meaning, but with time I realized that when you see such a solution, it shows the beauty of the human Mind, a man’s aspiration to overtake himself. For me, architecture can teach people to be more critical of themselves and to get better.
I will only add one more thing. Architecture is very prominent anthropological for the time you live in. If I tell you Ancient Rome, you remember the Colosseum. This is because the architecture is capital-intensive and to build a building, many heads have to say yes. In this way, only the most essential of a culture remains in its buildings. Through architecture, the need and the values of a given time acquire an image. That is why we have to ask ourselves whether we want to live in a time, the greatest value of which is the architecture we see around us.