We talk to three leading architects across three continents about their approach to cohesion between design and nature.

This feature first appeared inside est magazine issue 49: ‘Force of Nature’.

CO-FOUNDERS KONSTANTINOS AND DIMITRIS KARAMPATAKIS

Athens, Greece

How does your studio’s architecture and design reflect the country in which it is built and the context?

Our design approach seeks to root our proposal to its immediate environment, but also to connect it to the greatest context, beyond the physical, meaning its heritage.

In the beginning of every design process, we try to comprehend the site conditions and the physical qualities of any given plot, yet also zoom out to understand how our case relates to a greater area. We always get inspired by the natural resources of the place we are designing for, but also from the traditions, the global construction techniques and the ancient local knowledge that has been distilled over the ages, to achieve insightful solutions to local problems.

This does not just lead to a proposal that blends in nicely, but constitutes an educated comment on how to belong as an organic part of place, not just paying tribute to the locus, but evolving its inherent information with our own understanding and perspective of it.

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Liknon by K-Studio; photographed by Claus Brechenmacher & Reiner Baumann.

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Liknon by K-Studio; photographed by Claus Brechenmacher & Reiner Baumann.

How does the work of your studio implicitly and explicitly connect with the natural environment?

We tend to design by taking into consideration the resources already available to us; we try to maximise existing buildings and their parts by reimagining and repurposing, namely by using excavated materials for newly built structures and informing our design with them. Climate-wise, we also try to ‘listen’ to what the elements dictate, thus informing our design decisions in order to be more efficient: protect a space from winds, shelter from direct sunlight, etc. Traditional techniques usually hold an important wealth of knowledge in that direction, and for that we always turn to them for consultation.

Biophilic design aims to create spaces that foster a deeper relationship with nature – how has your studio diversified and evolved to embrace this?

Time is the greatest designer, and nature is the result of a timeless evolutionary design process – a process that constantly redefines mechanisms of efficient adaptation to certain conditions and parameters. This efficiency and resourcefulness is an ally we like to have when designing. To give an example, in one of our earlier projects, the restaurant Barbouni, which is located on a beach frequently dominated by the wind, instead of trying to tame it, we decided to embrace this natural element. In the same way the wind activates the sea surface and the sand dunes. We saw an opportunity in bringing this perpetual motion within our structure in order to construct a shading system that would withstand high winds. By flowing with it, instead of standing strong against it, we minimised the effort to design a canopy that consisted of soft, flexible fabrics that sway with the wind and tuned in with the natural context of the location, evoking strong emotions to the end-user.

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Liknon by K-Studio; photographed by Claus Brechenmacher & Reiner Baumann.

As a practice, you are averse to waste and make minimal interventions that use minimal resources, always preferring to work with the elements to create naturally luxurious comfort. How does this approach inform connectivity to nature in your projects?

Rather than pursuing an eventual connection to nature, our design process is inherently led by it.

We are generally lucky to be invited to work in places of immense natural beauty, a luck which of course is accompanied by immense responsibility to protect and celebrate it. This doesn’t mean we would shy away from making bigger statements, but rather confidently put together the resources that already exist in each place to create extraordinary architecture and think beyond conventional building forms.

In one of our latest works, Liknon, located on a one-hundred-year- old vineyard, we have embedded the building into the pre-existing landscape and made the project about walking through the array of stonewall-held plateaus so that the visitor gets to experience the place on a deep level.

K-Studio’s architectural experiences are informed by tradition, enriched by materiality and inspired by contemporary life. How do these elements play out through the conceptual blueprint for each project?

As mentioned before, it is respect and interest in unlocking ancient knowledge that pushes us to look back to tradition. Materiality, as we said, further connects the design to its place and heritage. Inevitably, it is contemporary needs and problems that we need to tackle when designing, and thus the building is informed not as a compositional process but as an experience; we are tempted to imagine the sensation of being there, with the mantra “form follows emotion”.

Your ethos is to build strong identities and architectural narratives that use the local context in balance with contemporary aspirations to elevate and enrich the user’s enjoyment. Do you believe the mix of both the tangible and intangible inherently drives the outcome of projects?

Definitely, the weaving of one into the other is what forms the final product: the feeling of being there, the emotional experience of the place and how the individual perceives a sum of factors beyond just the building itself.

“Time is the greatest designer, and nature is the result of a timeless evolutionary design process.”

 

– Dimitris Karampatakis

FOUNDER PABLO PEREZ PALACIOS

Mexico City, Mexico

How does your studio’s architecture and design reflect the country in which it is built and the context?

We seek an adaptable architecture, with structural systems offered by the site or region; creating an autonomous architecture that adapts individually to each project, combined with sustainable usage of the resources to minimise the construction impact. Also, we strive for architecture that can adapt to the different structural systems offered by the site or region. This involves sustainable usage of the site’s resources to minimise the construction impact.

How does the work of your studio implicitly and explicitly connect with the natural environment?

For connecting architecture and nature, our working approach focuses on shaping the void. These voids are shaped into patios, terraces, multipurpose spaces, etc. They take geometrical forms where the exterior space is defined and bounded but not built. We see these voids as a new, open possibility for unexplored and unexpected architectural programs.

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Juan Cano I by PPAA; photographed by César Belio.

Biophilic design aims to create spaces that foster a deeper relationship with nature – how has your studio diversified and evolved to embrace this?

As we have been thinking about architecture for the future, we had to return to what we have lost as human beings. The architecture of tomorrow must respond to an urgent need for sustainability and values enhanced by available technology. At a time when the human presence in nature has never been so extreme, architecture should be the key to creating this connection.

Your practice likes to follow the inclination of nature, where sensorial atmospheres are created through the influence of weather, soil and textures. How did this evolve?

We believe that architecture is an issue that is put to the test by the multiple elements that are in its surroundings. Our commitment is to create architecture based on intentions, not forms. In Juan Cano, we started with the idea of preserving the trees. The clients wanted privacy without disconnecting from the street, and with this in mind, we decided to elevate the living area. As we had a huge program, we decided to grow up instead of delimitating the area with built space, so, the patio is an element that functions as a system of natural lighting and ventilation and is also the space where the family can gather and play.

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Juan Cano I by PPAA; photographed by César Belio.

There is a dialogue between contradictory ideas that are part of your creative process – creating architecture that adapts to each individual project. Can you talk further about the importance of contradictory ideas?

There are spaces that are given programs and where various activities can happen. This is where we think that contradictory ideas let us create flexible spaces: built and unbuilt, closed and open, private and interactive, light and dark. The struggle in architecture is, therefore, finding the balance between liveliness and emptiness, with emptiness leaving space for the viewer to use their imagination. The intention is to design architecture that supports certain programmed activities while allowing for a flexibility to change over time or to be multifunctional.

There are spaces that are given programs and spaces where various activities can happen. The latter are where people can come up with the function themselves. If the meaning of all parts of a building is already decided and people cannot decide anything, it makes for a very rigid situation. The intention is to design an architecture that supports certain programmed activities while allowing for a flexibility to change over time or to be multifunctional.

You describe an intentional openness in each of your projects between people and architecture and, again, between architecture and its surroundings. What is key to creating this openness, and how does it manifest during the process?

Each project starts from the idea that we cannot think of architecture without its natural environment, and with this intention, we create architecture that has a direct dialogue with the natural scenery in ways as mentioned, such as terraces, patios and open spaces. The unbuilt space is just as important as the built one, the voids take different sh apes that allow both ventilation and visual interactions in a multipurpose space that can be suitable to the inhabitants needs. Explore nature’s materials, letting them be exposed rather than hiding them, and minimise all construction impact where possible. Here, nature wins and commands. It is our duty to give it that place, so each project has a genuine relationship with its natural environment.

“At a time when the human presence in nature has never been so extreme, architecture should be the key to creating this connection. Each of our projects starts from the idea that we cannot think of architecture without its natural environment.”

 

 

– Pablo Perez Palacios

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Juan Cano I by PPAA; photographed by César Belio.

PARTNERS PAULO JACOBSEN, BERNARDO JACOBSEN AND EDGAR MURATA

Rio de Janeiro & Sao Paulo, Brazil

Lisbon, Portugal

How does your studio’s architecture and design reflect the country in which it is built and the context?

Working globally, our DNA is guided by the understanding of client’s profile, regional culture, and an in-depth geographical analysis. In this sense, the personal tastes, cultural habits, and our research of architectural elements linked to regional customs are fundamental to connection between construction and locality.

How does the work of your studio implicitly and explicitly connect with the natural environment?

For us, architecture should not impose itself on the environment, but establish a harmonious dialogue with it. This involves approaches that seek to dilute the limitations – physical and visual – of the surrounding environment.

At the start of every project, an in-depth analysis of the topography and natural conditions such as insolation, ventilation and existing vegetation, is conducted to give us an indication as to how to position the architecture on the site. From this perspective, the design seeks to dissolve into the landscape, while the materials and textures connect to the local context.

The following set of solutions tries to integrate built spaces with their natural environment: the insertion of glass-less interior gardens, which dissolve the limits between inside and outside, the use of natural materials, such as wood and stone, and the extensive use of windows to embrace views, among other solutions. This atmosphere plays a fundamental role in the overall comfort and wellbeing of residents.

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OS House by Jacobsen Arquitetura; photographed by Fernando Guerra (FG+SG).

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FL House by Jacobsen Arquitetura; photographed by Fernando Guerra (FG+SG).

Biophilic design aims to create spaces that foster a deeper relationship with nature – how has your studio diversified and evolved to embrace this?

When Jacobsen Arquitetura was first established, our founding partner Paulo Jacobsen worked on a series of projects in Paraty, a coastal region of the state of Rio de Janeiro, which used unsustainably-sourced round wood beams.

Today, with more experience and the expertise of Bernardo Jacobsen, we emphasise the use of laminated eucalyptus or pine from sustainable sources, with rare species only being used for specific finishing work.

From start to finish, we adopt an approach that prioritises a respect for nature, striving for the lowest environmental impact, and the comfort of our clients.

Among the many examples that characterise biophilic design in our work, we can cite our use of natural materials, spaces that blend interiors and landscaping, passive strategies for ventilation and natural lighting, construction techniques with low environmental impact, and implantation that causes the least change to the natural profile of the land.

Your studio’s concept of tropical architecture is based on the potential relationship between the exuberant nature of Rio’s landscapes and the architectural project. How does this tropical architecture develop through your creative process on each project?

Our studio is located in Rio de Janeiro, in the house where Bernardo Jacobsen grew up with his father Paulo Jacobsen. The house itself, as well as the surrounding rainforest and tropical climate directly influences our creative process by inspiring us to create welcoming spaces connected to nature.

We want residents to feel the breeze move through spaces, observe the light throughout the day as it passes through openings, and hear the sounds of the natural elements: water, birds, the rustling of the trees.

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Casa MLS by Jacobsen Arquitetura; photographed by Maira Acayaba.

How important is the integration between the built environment and its natural context to the outcome of your projects?

With each of our projects, we try to establish an interconnectedness between the built forms and the pre-existing natural landscape. By respecting the natural characteristics of the site – topography, insolation, wind direction, predominant views – the project emerges in direct response to it.

According to our founder partner, Paulo Jacobsen, “Architecture should be closely related to the client’s personality and way of life, in full harmony with the surroundings in a timeless way. The idea is that the architecture disappears into the landscape.”

The established dialogue between architecture and nature informs your solutions. How does this dialogue inform your exploration of materiality in each project?

Our architectural approach prioritises the use of natural materials – predominantly stone and wood both inside and outside. Although these materials are used globally, we prioritise those of Brazilian origin, or from the region where the project is located. This in turn, forms a genuine connection to the location. In addition to stone and wood, we also use bamboo, rammed earth, straw and natural fibres in our interiors.

The choice to use natural materials allows our buildings to ‘get old’ with dignity.

“Architecture should not impose itself on the environment, but establish a harmonious dialogue, as a natural result.”

 

– Bernardo Jacobsen

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AB House by Jacobsen Arquitectura; photographed by Rafael Kamogawa.

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