The next in our ‘Meet The 2016 Winners’ blog series features Austrian-based firm Smartvoll. Their project, Loft Panzerhalle, blew the judges away in the Residential Interiors category and here we speak with founding partner Christian Kircher to find out a little bit more about the team and their spectacular winning project…
How did Philipp and yourself come together to form Smartvoll?
We got to know each other at the technical university in Vienna. Having been grouped together for an intense 6 month design workshop, we bonded playing an old school computer game called SkiJumpDeluxe during our breaks. After that we started collaborating on both university and real-life projects, we wrote our master thesis together and founded the predecessor of Smartvoll the day we stepped out of university.
Loft Panzerhalle has received international acclaim. What is it about the project that you think has been so well-received?
I think that people have realized and acknowledged that design is not just about aesthetics and a project can achieve very deliberate goals if you program it in a way that follows a distinct vision. It’s also become clear that people are generally fed up with designers & architects giving the same well known answers to even better known challenges. Furthermore we’re now approached by people who actually see taking a risk not only as a danger but as a chance, who are bold and willing to really go with us where no man has gone before!
What was the greatest challenge when embarking on the project?
Definitely getting the project built. We perfectly modelled the whole staircase in 3D and thought that the formwork for the concrete would be 3D milled out of polystyrene or similar (in a very modern way of working with 5 axial robots who cut away from the polystyrene). After the first bids were brought in the whole team saw that it was basically not feasible, since all company’s who bid, were afraid of the complexity and adjusted their prices accordingly. This continued for a couple of weeks and suddenly voices arose suggesting that we do it in wood or steel – which would have been a horror. The client then said: ok, having watched 3 carpenters on the ongoing construction site, I reckon they are efficient enough to complete the work in 3 weeks in a direct labour contract (so without a bid or indication of how much it will cost). The carpenters pulled it off and completed it in 3 weeks, which for us was a brilliant example of what you can achieve as an architect if you have a great client who shares your vision and is proactive. In the end it was not an uber-modern robot who did the work but an old fashioned handcraft, paired with a lot of engagement and experience by the carpenters.
What are you working on at the moment that you’re particularly excited about?
It has been a great year so far for us, since we have been designing one project after the other and that’s really what we like most. In an old Warehouse we are building one of the longest swimming lanes in Austria that is surrounded by moveable crane-like platforms that can adapt the space to fit an array of sporting activities. In south Austria we are planning a Community Center which takes a radically new approach to rebuilding a community and counters the donut effect that many villages currently experience in Austria. Right now we are working on a water-based fitness contraption which has the potential to change the mechanical way we train. Diversity excites us!
You’re based in Vienna, a city renowned for its stunning architecture both old and new. Is
there a particular space or building in the city that inspires you?
We love to live in Vienna but we tend to look abroad for inspiration. For example, we were stunned by how informal old buildings sit side by side with brutalist and British high-tech architecture in London. It’s a complete contrast to the way Vienna literally embalms its architectural heritage and we firmly believe that you can only evolve by exposing yourself to the unknown.
What would you say to anyone considering entering the WIN Awards now?
Just do it. We have started way too late entering the awards circus and for a long time we did not realize what a door opener this really is. Especially with all the international platforms and awards around, there is no need to limit yourself to the boundaries of your immediate neighborhood! Apart from that Steven and the WIN gang are a great bunch to hang out with!