INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects
ANTONINA KAPLIA – CO-FOUNDER OF TSEH ARCHITECTURAL GROUP

In spite of the current unrest in their country, it seems it’s business as usual for one team of young architects in Kiev. This year, TSEH has submitted an imaginative and refreshingly different entry to the World Interiors News Awards. It’s also our first ever submission from Ukraine. The project - known simply as ‘Office of Technology Company’ (the client wished to remain anonymous), seeks to integrate life and nature with Man’s technological progress, and to breathe fresh air into strict soviet modernism.

To achieve this, natural planting has been brought indoors – vertical green columns near the reception desk, a green cube right in the middle of the office, and perhaps most engaging of all, green hillocks with trees growing from them rising up through the concrete office floor.

The team behind this unusual design is Antonina Kaplia, Denis Zadneprovsky-Kononenko and Shtefan Egor, all co-founders of TSEH. We spoke to Antonina about the project, the team’s desire to push the boundaries of convention, their overseas ambitions, and emerging trends in Ukrainian architecture and interiors…

Firstly, what made you decide to enter your Office of Technology Company project into the World Interiors News Awards 2014?

First of all it’s very important for any artist to present their works abroad. Such practices stimulate self-development and open your mind. The stronger players you compete with, the stronger you become. Of course, it’s also very prestigious to participate in international competitions, publish your own projects in foreign publications. This brings you new contacts, new customers. In Ukraine, we have participated in various architectural competitions many times, have won several awards. But we’ve never presented our works on the international level before. So this is our first time, and we hope to leap to a new level. We are honoured to be invited to enter, and are pleased that more people will be able to see our project.

Can you tell us the three things you like best about the finished project?

Firstly, I’d like to say that our ideas were agreed and accepted by the client almost at first sight. Afterwards, as usual, various technical nuances occurred and some concepts were changed, but, in any case, almost all of the ideas in this project were fulfilled, which I’d say is a true happiness for architects!

The second thing we like best is the difficulty of execution. Like the rest of the architects in our team, I like to solve complex problems, overcome obstacles. And you know, a wooden bench and canopy over the entrance was one of them.

And of course, I am delighted that we managed to bring greenery into this project, real and alive. One day I came to the office – it had been several weeks since the green hill was planted - and people were working in there. One of the secretaries called me over and showed little mushrooms, which grew up in the grass. On their own! It was funny.

Ukraine has a rich architectural heritage with clearly defined eras and styles reflecting the political changes. How would you like design to evolve from here, a clean break or an architecture that relates to the past?

We definitely design in a contemporary style. It is the principle of our company. There are so many newly erected constructions in our country, which mimic the old architecture. In my opinion, truly historic architecture should be restored and protected, but not imitated. No way.

And more generally, do you think the current changes will spark new trends in Ukrainian architecture and interiors, and if so, what might those new trends be?

Well, new trends already start to appear in Ukraine. Though still mainly in interiors. Some short time ago, modern houses could be done only for individual customers, very rare customers. And now we are happy to report that such a philistine way of thinking goes away. Many customers don’t want their houses to look flashy and expensive anymore. They finally come to understanding of a simple, functional and modern architecture.

For example, we’ve recently finished a project of a cottage town, GoodLifePark (http://goodlifepark.com.ua/gallery), which is under construction now. It is performed in modern style and, at the same time, positioned in the premium segment of the market. It is one of the first such cottage towns in Ukraine. But I’m sure there will be more.

You mention changing trends in interiors too?

The fact that our company and a number of our competitors are offering modern interiors in Ukrainian market demonstrates the trend.

How much international work does TSEH do at the moment? Are you hoping to broaden out into attracting more clients from around the globe?

At the moment we’ve implemented interior design for the company, SarMatEnergy in Aktau, Kazakhstan, and carried out façade reconstruction and landscaping on the same building. Also in Aktau, we have undertaken a project to renovate a hotel. We also started a project in Gudauri, Georgia. But, unfortunately, development did not go ahead. Design for clients around the world is our sacred dream.

Going back to the beginning of your own personal story, you were born in Odessa in Ukraine. When and why did you move to Kiev, and have you always lived in Ukraine?

I've always lived in Ukraine. When I was 17 I moved to Kyiv [Kiev] to become an architect. I went to Ukrainian National Academy of Architecture and Fine Arts. After graduating I stayed in the capital to build my family and career.

You were obviously born with a great gift for art and design, but who or what inspired you to make a career of it when you were growing up?

My dad and grandfather were good painters. But life is a complicated thing, so they became engineers. I also liked to draw, so when I was 10, dad sent me to an art school. I dreamed to become a fashion designer - actually it’s my hobby now. But someone told me (those days there was no Internet to check!) that there is no such institute in Kiev. I was desperate.

But one day we had a tour to the National Academy. And I fell in love with this place. Since that very moment I made a firm decision to study there. I chose the faculty of architecture and when I was 11 years old I already knew that I’d become an architect. Today I can’t imagine my life without architecture.

You studied to become a qualified architect-artist at the National Academy. In order to qualify with this title, you had to stage your own mini-exhibition. Can you tell us about the exhibition you staged – when and where was it, what did you exhibit, and what was the general reaction?

That exhibition was held in the lobby of the National Academy. All architects of my department, who claimed the title of artist, staged at the same time. All works were completely different, and it was up to you what to exhibit. I showed my plain air watercolour paintings - from St Petersburg, Crimea, Kiev. I painted wherever I happened to

be. The three founders of our company (Denis, Egor and I) studied on the same course and faculty. So, we staged simultaneously. Perhaps someone liked our works? Our professors praised us at least.

Your Diploma submission, ‘Centre of Palliative Medicine with Hospice in Kiev’ was a winner at the ‘XVI Competition Graduate Architectural and Artistic Specialities of Higher Educational Institutions of Ukraine 2007’, for which the head of the jury, Igor Shpara, was then leader of the Union of Architects in Ukraine. That must have been a great honour – how did it feel?

Diploma contest is held every year. That year it took place in the city of Poltava. I remember that time well. I did not go there, because my grandfather died. It was a hard time for me and my family. I could not even print my presentation, so I had to ask a friend for a favour. Our professor, Anatoly Davydov, simply took the presentation and brought it to the competition.

Afterwards Igor Shpara told me very kind words about my diploma, emphasised the fact that I chose such a complex subject. It was very pleasant. After all, he was not only the chairman of the Union of Architects but also, and maybe first of all, a very respected professor, a practicing architect, and simply a good person. Sometimes it seems to me that Kiev architectural environment is like one big family, in which while you are a kid, you are praised and caressed, and when you are grown up, they scold you and nothing is allowed.

What gave you the idea to base your diploma around palliative care?

I was looking for something I’d never done before as I prefer to move forward with my every decision and choice. While studying we had different tasks: gazebo, cottage, garden, high-rise, city district, village, hotel, and others. So I came up with an idea to design a medical facility. But I didn’t want to make a hospital.

This seemed to me rather boring. Just a hospital was not enough for me. There was no room for my imagination. So I decided to make it more complicated and chose a medical centre with hospice. Moreover, this theme was in keeping with my magisterial work ‘Effect of the Objective Features of Form to a Man’.

You then went on to work as an architect for 21st Century, a major Ukrainian developer. Can you tell us about two or three of your favourite projects there?

Well, even though the company I worked for was one of the biggest Ukrainian developers, we were not designing actual projects. We mostly established and developed communication, and were mediators between marketing managers and foreign architects. But this was a huge experience, and I receive paybacks today when I have to negotiate with customers all the time!

In 2012 you co-founded TSEH with fellow architects Dennis and Egor. How did you meet, and what was their background?

As I said, we studied together at the Academy. While we were students we were doing lots of joint projects to earn our living. In Ukraine you could work as an architect even while being a student. For instance, I worked officially at a design office while studying. So, back to Denis and Egor, since we were not only studying, but also working together. We became a solid team, tied with friendship, common failures and achievements. And to create our own company was a logical evolution of our architectural practice.

What inspired the three of you to form TSEH and what were your main values and aims?

We were inspired by our common ambition - to implement our own projects and develop modern architecture in Ukraine. Our values are quality and creativity. Our aim is to design and build constructions of a new generation, to bring something fresh and breakthrough to the world of architecture.

What does TSEH stand for?

In Ukrainian our company name is written as ‘ЦEX’, which translates into English as ‘TSEH’ and means ‘workshop’ or ‘shop’. It comes from Polish ‘cech’ and Old German ‘zëch’, ‘zëche’ - a trade and handicraft corporation uniting masters of one or several similar professions, a medieval guild.

Although your clients are varied, ranging from phone companies to TV studios, what are the main qualities you try to bring to every TSEH project?

Individuality. We try not to duplicate our work, and to do different projects.

What’s your favourite TSEH project to-date, and why?

Our favourite is the last one - the GoodLifePark cottage town. It is placed in a lovely forest on the bank of the Canal Kiev reservoir, with a very picturesque view. In this project we design the whole complex of functions: the restaurant (which is already working), waterfront, general planning (37 occupancy houses and various public buildings), interior designs in three already constructed houses, community centre, entrance lobby and so on. Complete variety. I love it!

And are there any particular types of project you’d love to undertake in future?

Well, in so far as we are open to new ideas and insights we are ready to undertake any interesting project.

What do you feel are the advantages of being a young team?

Actually, I can see none. Except for more time, which is hopefully still ahead of us. Time we can dedicate to fulfilment of our dreams.

Can you really only see that one advantage? What about energy and open-mindedness for example?

Let me explain. I do really believe that in 20 or 30 years I won’t be tired of architecture and will be full of energy to develop myself, look for new ideas. I do believe that I won’t dry up but I’ll be thirsty for new breakthroughs and insights. I’ll be more experienced and matured, but not crusty.

Everything moves on. In 20-30 years the whole world will change and I will face new challenges, I’ll be able to open new dimensions for my ideas and creative energy. So I’m looking forward to this. And the only disadvantage is the price we have to pay for such a luxury of upcoming future. And this price is time. Now, when we are young, we have a lot of this currency.

Speaking personally, what sort of things inspire you most professionally?

Customers with good taste and enough money to bring projects to fruition.

Are there a few examples of existing architecture that you particularly like that you could tell us about?

It would be a long list… I am definitely inspired by Zaha Hadid's architecture. Not a specific object, but her approach to design, her taste and unique view. Another source of inspiration is the Architectural Biennale in Venice. We try to attend it each year it’s on, recharge our batteries and dive into two next years!

And when you’re not busy working, how do you like to relax?

I try to spend more time with my family, husband and son. He is already five. Finally it ceased to be annoying babysitting and becomes a real friendship of two individuals.

Has your little boy inherited the artist gene from you, your dad and grandfather do you think?

Max is still too young to detect undeniable talent in him, but I think that it’s inevitable since his father is also an architect!

Gail Taylor