MAPA Architects is a Belgrade studio that deals – alongside architectural design – with the development of investment, design and project management, consulting services and specialised structures
In this special CorD Magazine interview, one of Serbia’s best, most awarded and most sought-after architects evaluates the current state of architecture and the construction industry, discussing, amongst other things, the relationship between investors and architects, the quality and aesthetics of newly constructed major residential complexes and the utilisation of space.
Do you like what you see when you look at what’s around you?
The kind of architecture we create, and the kind of architecture we live, is very important. When it comes to designing, it is necessary to observe the programme from multiple aspects and the kind of impacts it has on the environment, nature and users, but also consumers.
Those interrelations in the space that we all share, the built structures and environments into which we incorporate our works, and that which we inherit and leave behind as a legacy, are all extremely important.
As an observer, I’m not delighted with the kind of environment we are building, which on the whole relates to large swathes and complexes that are called by various empathetic names, but that’s not what they represent, nor do they leave such an impression. On the other hand, architects understand their responsibility for all spatial interventions, and I consider that on the micro front that relationship has been raised to a high level. It is expected that this will slowly transfer to the macro front, with the maturing of the notion of the need of the architect and leaving it to the profession to do its job of making the built environment better. A spent resource is like a bad tattoo, which is why it’s crucial to consider, organise design contests and seek out the best solutions for key spaces and large complexes.
Does it seem to you that micro-planning has been causing problems on the macro front in our country for quite some time?
This interdependence impacts greatly on the quality of the built environment, of the space. Space is a resource, and constructed space represents a message, an attitude and a response. It is easier to intervene and have a design influence on the micro front, but there are also some opposing factors.
It is often the case that a location doesn’t correspond in terms of infrastructure with what the dimensions and spatial limitations permit. A lot of time is required to properly plan and equip infrastructure to cope with all these micro interventions, but there isn’t enough consistency to create a framework and find time for planning documents to be adopted and respected.
The arrival of foreign investments has enabled the explosive growth of the construction industry. How has this been reflected in terms of creativity?
The construction industry market stabilises with the arrival of foreign investments, but the impact on creativity can be interpreted in different ways. More precisely, when the measurability of the ratio of gross, net and price sees architecture inserted into an xsl table, that table has little space for creativity, particularly when it relates to commercial and residential buildings.
The needs of the investor must be respected, but the architect is the first among equals, because we create and bear responsibility in multiple ways
The freedom for creativity varies depending on the typology of the structure. I think that freedom in the creative approach is felt the most in office spaces and industrial structures, and I would highlight the fact that it is also nurtured in total design.
Every investor has their own specificities, desires and expectations, while the same goes for the designer. How difficult is this to harmonise?
It isn’t easy on either side, and everything starts with choice. In principle, the first choice is made by the investor, and the final choice is made by the architect through their acceptance, so expectations should be envisaged from the outset. Of course, this is all different in projects done in cooperation with real estate companies, investors in commercial facilities for the market or when it comes to private investments.
The more participants engaged in the process, the more difficult it is. Knowledge, interest, understandings of participation differ and harmonise everything isn’t easy. My approach is that the needs of the investor must be respected, but with the view that the architect is the first among equals, because we are called on to create and bear responsibility in multiple ways. This balancing and follow-up and exchange between us and the client during the design process is very important, and high-quality channelling leads to the achieving of good results.
How do you view the ever-increasing opening up of our market to foreign architectural designers?
I had the opportunity, more than 15 years ago, to work on some of the first projects in our country with conceptual solutions that came from foreign colleagues, such as SOM, MYS Architects, WATG, Virgile and Stone. I learnt a lot on them at a time when such an approach and building typology didn’t even exist on our market. I consider that a wonderful opportunity to exchange approaches and knowledge, particularly on projects not previously done here or that involve specific approaches and specialisations. That’s a wonderful opportunity for exchange, because they must have local partners. Foreign designers bring one form of a freer approach and attitude towards design and investors, which should also become the practise in our country. With this I don’t consider that the domestic scene is lagging behind foreign ones in any way, but we need opportunities and I hope there will be ever more of them.
Aesthetics or functionality or always both aesthetics and functionality?
Always both aesthetics and functionality. A clear function provides a space with a basic aesthetic. That spatial balance of architectural massing, sense of proportion, gives architecture its aesthetics. Form used to follow function, while now that has flipped.
“Architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light,” Le Corbusier