It is not our aim to surprise you

One good idea is what is needed to make a start in designing an office project. Marcin Sadowski, architect of the Jems Architekci architectural studio, tells us about what great office architecture actually means and what brings him the most satisfaction in desiging it.

Rafał Ostrowski,, Eurobuild CEE: Does quality matter for office architecture?

Marcin Sadowski, partner at the Jems Architekci architectural studio: Yes, it does matter. There are a lot of projects from about twenty years ago, that is from 1990s, which are just about to end their lives under our very eyes now because the market has become very competitive. It seems to me that there are no easy projects, now everyone has to make effort to make their buildings outstanding. What nearly every single developer shows off today is some ecological certificate but the quality of architecture itself is also increasingly debated.

And how doyou define this quality?

The term ‘quality of architecture’ is not very sharp. For example in our architectural studio we always try to bring some added value to a project. And it depends on the project. There are very attractively-located buildings and this asset, the favourable urban planning context, needs to be appropriately capitalized on. There are also facilities with no such attractive locations, whose neighbourhoods are rather unfriendly. In such cases you focus on organizing the building internally. Its external architectural surface is designed in such a way that allows for minimizing the building’s interaction with the surroundings. So it is about the various means and tools which the architect uses – if selected appropriately, they can create office space of good or poorer quality.

You mention buildings completed 20 years ago. What is the basic difference between what was going on then and what is going on now inthe office architecture?

At that time the market was able to absorb any amount of completed space. Buildings were being fully leased at the building permit application stage. To put it simply, the space was in short supply. The calculation made by developers boiled down to an excel sheet with two columns only: one representing the costs of the plot and construction work and the other one with the rent rates. And you would build at the cheapest cost possible. Nowadays delivering square metres is relatively the easiest thing in the process. The more difficult thing is to lease out the building out after you have completed it. For this reason, there is now simple equation anymore. The development projects must include many more variables now.

This year Jems will celebrate its 28th anniversary. Have you managed to establish your own, distinguished style over this period oftime?

We have certainly worked out some kind of direction in which our architectural studio is heading for – something which is aesthetically close to our minds, which can be clearly seen in the architecture of our buildings. I hear from a lot of people that they can tell straight away a building was designed by us. I think that it is a good thing.

How dothey know?

I think that a part of our style is the modesty in using means of expression. We try not to dazzle people with a too theatrical form, particularly in a situation when the matter we are touching does not deserve such luxuriant and expressive form. Office or residential buildings are a normal subject creating the urban fibre. It is public utility buildings which are developed against that background more often, and which usually aim to emphasise their presence with the help of the form. On the other hand, I do not think that an office building should be some kind of a box which will be sufficiently good provided that it is covered with a decent ‘skin’. As I say, we always look for an add value. We try to humanize the architecture of buildings so as to make them friendlier for future users.

How doyou dothat?

There are a number of tools which can be used for that. We often use internal and external terraces, common areas, including greenery, patios, atriums and passageways to make the building more accessible not only for users but also for the people who pass them by or take advantage of services units located in the building.

There are architects who create alot ofconcepts at the initial stage oftheir work. Dozens ofshapes and models are made and later rejected inorder to ultimately work out the final project. How doyou work?

There is an anecdote about the famous late Swiss architect Livio Vacchini who was asked by an American developer to create two or three variants of a building’s façade. To which he replied that it meant that the developer wanted to be treated flippantly two times. You probably should have one good idea to make a start. Of course the idea evolves, there are a lot of drafts, but we do not work on variants.

Doyou follow the latest trends and try to implement them inyour work?

Of course, we observe what is happening in the world and see that what is most interesting is placed in the second row. Good architecture is very often created in small cities which are often unjustly called ‘province’. You could say that all the office buildings in large cities are quite anonymous and similar to a certain extent. Whether in Warsaw, Berlin or other large city, when you come out of an airport you usually see an office park. They will usually look very much alike.

Is there anything wrong with it? Or should it always be something surprising, something wehave not seen before?

We are not aiming at surprising people with our architecture. We try to focus on the continuation of what exists rather than forcibly look for something that hasn’t been built before. However, in each project the architect introduces some individual elements, subject to the needs, which make the building stand out from the other buildings which have been built so far.

Youhave won the competition for the concept for the Polish embassy inBerlin. Doyou participate ininternational competitions? Doyou plan to work beyond the Polish market?

We want to do that very much. And sometimes we participate in international contests. But foreign markets are quite hermetic and there is a lot of competition there.

You are currently working on only one skyscraper Skanskas Generation Park near the Daszyńskiego roundabout inWarsaw. Doyou aim to design more towers?

This is simply the way it is. But I am not particularly worried about that because high-rise buildings located in the city centre are very difficult to design due to legal restrictions. The skyscraper projects are risky because of the influence they have on adjacent buildings, the shading and so on. Buildings of up to 25 metres are less intrusive and also slightly safer from the investor’s point of view because they usually provide less floor for rent in one bulk. However, we do not mind designing skyscrapers. It so happened that we had no opportunity to carry out a skyscraper for a long time. The last one we have done was Rondo Babka.

The office space supply continues to increase on the Warsaw market. Can you see adecline inthe number ofoffice architectural projects?

This market is indeed more challenging, developers are more cautious but we keep having quite a lot of work all the time.

And what are your key projects at the moment?

It is not a secret that we are working with Echo Investment on a few projects. These include the Warsaw Brewery and their new Warsaw project, which is planned to be built on ul. Beethovena. We are working on four office buildings planned within the Pixel complex in Poznań, an office project in Gdańsk. We are also carrying out the P4 office project on ul. Postępu in Warsaw.

Do any of these projects stand achance ofbecoming your flagship project such as the Agora headquarters, designed byJems Architekci fifteen years ago, and often referred to as aniconic building.

There is a big difference between the Agora project and our other buildings that followed. Agora is not a traditional office building but head office of the company. And this company aspired to become an open and friendly organisation which aimed to play an important role in the public life. The building was largely an attempt to answer what Agora really stands for. Since that time we have had little opportunity to design such highly individualized building. But the Pixel building in Poznań is somewhat similar. It is the headquarters of Allegro. But it has its own story. In 2013 it won a competition for the best building in Poznań.

The developer for which you designed Pixel was Garvest. Assuming fromthe companys other project, Bałtyk Tower inSzczecin, which was designed bythe Dutch architectural studio MVRDV, theyhave high expectations towards their architects. Was it easy to cooperate with them?

This cooperation is still on. The architecture is indeed of paramount importance for this developer. I am looking forward to the completion of our latest concept prepared for Garvest, which is the P4 project in Warsaw. It is going to be significantly different from what we have seen in Warsaw’s Służewiec district.

In what way will it be different?

Because of its external looks which allude to industrial halls. The interiors will be made of bare concrete and this is how it will remain. It is basically a glazed reinforced concrete structure with a quite bold design. It does not have any typical corporate features – grilled ceilings, lamp modules, raised floors nor any other solutions installed in a standard office building. All the typical solutions are different in P4. It is one of the most interesting buildings we designed over the last few years. The others include two Soul buildings in Lublin.

Since weare now compiling alist ofproject which you are the most proud of, is there anything else you would like to mention?

Royal Wilanów. This project, which was completed last year, gave me quite a lot of satisfaction. The location is very good. The building can be seen from the Wilanów park, while forming a part of a larger urban project – Miasteczko Wilanów. It seems to me that the local residents positively welcomed the office project – it provides some public space around and two internal yards. There are sport pitches for children and a lot of people hang around there. In spite of the fact that the office space get emptied over the weekends, the property in not a cemetery where only the wind blows over the weekends. The building was designed not only for tenants but also, in some sense even primarily, for the residents of adjacent areas. It is one of the best office buildings we have managed to build so far.

Does it pay off to invest inpublic areas when it is not obviously profitable inthe economic terms?

If we reduced everything we do to economic outcome only, we probably should stop doing everything but the things which are absolutely necessary, and grieve at every penny spent in the process. This is a gloomy way of looking at things. There is a synergy of profitability and usefulness in what we do. I believe that activities which take into the consideration the public interest give some advantages to investors. This kind of actions is also used for marketing. It might result in leasing the building faster than expected or lease contracts being signed for longer periods of time, or the building being sold at a higher price to some fund in the future. Yet, it is something difficult to measure. Many decisions taken by the investor and the architect are intuitive. And these decisions are equally important as those derived from their knowledge, experience, observations and thorough analysis.