The backpack workspace

A lucky lockdown
The beginning of the pandemic was overwhelming for most traditional studios that didn’t have the habit of working remotely. For us, a nomadic and digital studio, it became a strength since we already had the structure for it. In April 2020, we entered a competition to redesign all the public spaces of a neighbourhood in Brussels, Belgium. Such competitions normally get around 30-40 applications and are aggressively competitive. But since the deadline was two weeks after the beginning of the first lockdown, only 3 studios applied and we won! Two years later, the permit was accepted and construction started in the summer.

Building nomadism
As part of the nomadic mentality of our studio, we believe in chance and randomness. In February 2020, a new person, Ary, joined our team as an intern in Berlin. He was supposed to start working with us from April 2020 but first, he would go to Buenos Aires to visit his family for a month. A week later, the pandemic started and he never came back to Europe. Nevertheless he continued working with us remotely. As we experienced rapid growth in the spring of 2021, he helped us to develop an office in Buenos Aires with his local contacts. Today we have around 8 people there working for the studio on the design phase of all our projects.

Where to be flexible, and where not
As the owner of a nomadic studio, I (Pierre Escobar) live a nomadic lifestyle 50% of the time, travelling mainly around Europe for client meetings, construction site visits and project presentations, and I live a 50% family man lifestyle in Berlin. When I travel, I don't sleep much, I have very long days and try to do as much as possible. When I am at home, I stop work at 16h30 to pick up my child and spend time with her in the afternoon. Since part of my studio is in Buenos Aires, I can talk to my team again at 21h when my kid goes to bed because it is still within the working hours in Argentina. Concerning the rest of the team, we have an 8 hour per day work policy and no work on the weekend. We believe that people work best when not stressed or overwhelmed.

The rooms of a virtual office
Our office is 100% digital. We have replaced real spaces by apps - which sounds ironic for an architecture firm. Workstation = Laptop, Meeting room = Zoom, Entrance hall = Website, Window with street view = Instagram, Archive room = Drive, Corridors = slack, Workshop board = Miro Board. In addition to this, we have an online coffee break every Friday afternoon, we organise an online lecture series on the first Tuesday of the month with architects from all over the world and we have three major events per year: Summer party, Christmas party which are both hybrid events; and the office retreat, a physical meet up somewhere around the world: last year it was in Buenos Aires, and this year it will be in Venice.

Making the first move
When I opened l’atelier in 2018, I had just spent the last 6 years working on major territorial master plans around Europe as an employee. The main difficulty was that this market was totally inaccessible to new and young practices. Our digital and flexible way of working directed us towards online platforms that connect clients to architects. As a person without a local network to start with, these platforms helped us to grow for the first few years of the studio. In total, we won over 60 projects with online platforms within the time span of 4 years. Our first projects were 15sqm apartments and small object designs. Our growth went through every scale and programme and built up layers upon layers in a slow and meticulous process. Today, four years later, our studio is handling projects of upto 2 Million euros of construction cost in 2022. The question we are now asking ourselves is to define the perfect scale for us, both for mental and financial stability as well as for a good creative potential. Our major goal on the realistic spectrum is to build the projects in progress and for them to be amazing. Designing cool stuff is easy but making them real is a very hard process.

From ethics to housing affordability
The housing crisis is a major and global problem. Homes become less and less accessible and smaller and smaller. At l’atelier, we are building up tools for people to be able to live in smaller units while having the comfort of a bigger space. For example, we designed a home for 5 people in 50 Sqm in Paris where it actually feels a lot bigger because of a series of architectural typologies that we have developed.

We are very much involved in the movement of transforming instead of building new. We believe that today in Europe, most of the urban fabric is already built and only needs adjustments to adapt to new situations. We try, in most situations, to find tools and solutions to keep as much of the existing as it is. This goes in contradiction with the business structure of an architecture firm but seems like the right thing to do.

We believe in a non violent non toxic working environment where people work normal working hours in an harmonious and efficient way. We wrote an ethical chart of working conditions in the studio and we do everything we can to respect it.

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Images courtesy of l'atelier

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