Architects for Urbanity
Working close to reality
Rotterdam, NL

Architects for Urbanity (AfU) is a Rotterdam-based collaborative design and research office directed by Irgen Salianji and Karolina Szóstkiewicz. With a drive to produce high-quality, concept-driven architecture, AfU’s work focuses on the analysis and design of cultural and mix-use buildings, as well as the research of the urban qualities that drive our contemporary cities.

 

Winning a competition after many failures

Our work is rooted in architecture competitions which we started doing since the second year of our studies, often inviting professors to join our teams so that we can be eligible to participate and at the same time boost our design capacity. Since I -Irgen- met my partner Karolina in Italy during an Erasmus exchange year, we eventually participated in larger competitions such as the ones for the Central Library and the Guggenheim Museum, both in Helsinki. After becoming experts in losing too many competitions, we kept insisting and in 2015 our submission for the new Bauhaus Museum in Dessau was shortlisted into the second phase, while later that year we won the first prize for the new Library in Varna, a project that kick-started the formal set up of our office. 

 

Looking for ambitious concepts

For us, architecture is synonymous with motivation, excitement, momentum and teamwork. There are no tricks. We can only produce architecture the hard way, by researching and experimenting on a design process that is open, intense and unfolds in steps. Each step of the process bears its importance into building a project concept that is contextual, robust and meaningful to the project requirements and the urbanity that encloses it. For us, a concept is robust when it makes a statement or it reinvents a certain typology, when it challenges the site and the brief, when it solves a problem but it also creates urban value with a single big gesture. We constantly test ideas and develop internal discussions throughout the process until every last moment before a submission, searching for an ambitious concept for every project and present it accordingly. 

 

Intellectual and dialectic confrontations

Architecture offices are by definition dynamic work spaces in which every week is different, depending on deadlines and project submissions. Our office is not different. However, certain patterns repeat during the day and the week, such as team workshops, internal presentations, discussions, meetings with clients and consultants, travelling, etc. We enjoy working with design options in every step and very often we end up over-producing models, drawings and images which we then hang on the wall and present to each other in search of feedback, critique and dialogue.  We would like to believe in the power of intellectual confrontation within the office and in the old dialectic notion that quantity changes into quality, that it produces a new language and it becomes collective capital.

 

A generic, modernist, raw and informal building

Our office is located in Schieblock, a modernist building from the sixties that is home to a significant portion of Rotterdam’s creative industries. We are sharing our office space with other architects, designers and entrepreneurs, with whom we also share facilities, ideas and expertise. The space that we rent is generic, raw and informal – therefore subject to flexible arrangements, catalyst for unpredictable encounters and vulnerable to constant changes and transformations. The character of this space has inevitably affected our workflow and has kept us grounded, yet it keeps us evolving by daily exposing and blending our strengths and weaknesses with the ones of our fellow colleagues and competitors. 

 

Working close to reality

There is no gap to be seen between our initial expectations and the work that we develop nowadays, considering that we have not yet gotten the chances to explore our full potential as an office. We could have been more effective in approaching private clients, but it is of secondary importance to us to conquer the market at all costs and the soonest possible. We are rather trying to bring in more public and cultural projects, a very tough endeavour. Very often private projects are exclusive beautiful objects, in contrast to public buildings which address a wider audience and therefore create beauty by acting as urban condensers.  We are rather investing in establishing our language, approach and agenda that can gradually provide real service and innovation to the world of architecture and eventually produce a new better market of its own. We have our doubts and look at the city in a critical way, it would be therefore a missed opportunity for us to conform and capitalise too early, eventually capitulating to the idea that we cannot pursue the unimaginable. 

 

Setting realistic objectives

Our drive to produce high quality concept-driven architecture precedes the confrontation with the necessity of having a successful business plan. We are very competitive when we have space to express our ideas and make an impact, and that is something we need to protect. So far, for example, we have succeeded to re-image the future typology of the public library through our project in Varna, which is scheduled for construction later this year. A second prize for the Passenger Terminal in Souda and a mention in Europan 14 for the Sluisbuurt site in Amsterdam were also recognition for the way that we see mobility and the future productive city. It is a priority to keep enriching our collective intellect and grow as an office by selecting the projects that we engage with and achieve the designs that will inspire our generation to think radical and produce vibrant and inclusive urbanity. This is our realistic objective and challenge for the near future.

01 Founders portrait Irgen Slj min

02 Office space Irgen Slj min

04 Souda Terminal Station 2nd prize Irgen Slj min

05 Bauhaus Museum finalist Irgen Slj min

06 Europan Sluisbuurt Amsterdam finalist Irgen Slj min

Photography Courtesy of AfU






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