Chaos as a catalyst
Brussels, BE

NOTAN OFFICE is a Brussels based architecture practice founded in 2014 by Frédéric Karam. Aware of the specificity of each project, the studio often collaborates with others and works on projects in Switzerland, Lebanon, England and Belgium. The work of NOTAN OFFICE is socially and programmatically committed. With a rational approach, the studio boldly manipulates the established, resulting in a unique architecture.

Reaching a crossroads

NOTAN OFFICE did not start off as an office. While freelancing for several studios in Brussels, I (Frederic Karam) was also working on a number of personal projects during my time off such as some competitions in Switzerland where I had studied, some projects in Lebanon where I was born and brought up, along with certain opportunities in Belgium where I was working at the time. Handling personal projects abroad and having a professional experience in Brussels was a complex combination. However, at that point a choice had to be made.


Promoting flexibility and adaptability

Our office was founded out of the will to build a bridge between different know-hows, personalities and client needs. Depending on the size and the location of projects, the studio would collaborate with local experts and vary its team to best fit the demand. NOTAN OFFICE operates as a multilayered skilled entity and rejects the idea of a signature architecture; each project has its own story, a new beginning and a start from scratch. We try to be as flexible and adaptive as possible through temporary associations, avoiding the pattern of repeating concepts, routine work and generic answers. 


Finding a place in Brussels

We are “architecture atheists”; we do not support any specific beliefs in architecture. Dogmas are hard to sustain in the long term. There is something to learn from every architectural “movement”. Those movements are tools. Our job is to sample them and create new openings. In a hyper-connected world, many influences can occur, it’s not so much about an ideal anymore as it is about social phenomena and needs. There is no good or wrong way of doing things. Rather, every project holds its own philosophical stance. We like to reflect on what has already been done and push it to another level. It’s ok to contradict ourselves because it’s not about ourselves or what we think. It is and always should be about the project. Versatility is positive as long as there is coherence within a project. This is probably why we are so comfortable to be based in the eclectic city of Brussels. 


Chaos as a catalyst

We are 4 freelance architects. Apart from myself, none of the team works 5 days a week and we all have different schedules, resulting in a positively chaotic and active atmosphere. We try to avoid routines except for building site agendas. Everyone is free and encouraged to have personal projects next to NOTAN’s priorities. It’s all organised in a very organic way, depending on needs and levels of work pressure. Each architect is responsible for several projects but still intervenes in others projects. Spontaneous discussions every now and then, in front of a model, prints or a screen, include all of us. We have no formal meeting-room except for the ones with our clients. Those discussions tend to be very productive for our decision taking and boost most of our projects. Our studio is loud. We speak a lot, the phone rings and there is music playing most of the time. Everyone is responsible for these musical choices, setting the daily mood. We do like chaos.


A grounded space

We share our studio with 3 other creatives. Risograph printing (FRAUSTEINER), typographers (OR TYPE) and architects (NONANTE architects) with whom we sometimes work. The dynamic atmosphere where different worlds mingle with our practices, keeps us in touch with other realities. On the top floor of a 2-story building, our studio is located in an industrial building. On one side, a train track, and on the other, a shared courtyard. One would find a red concrete floor and green “betonplex” tables designed by us for everyone. Independent subspaces open up to a central meeting room which doubles as a common shared space. This area encompasses printing machines, books, coffee cups and a variation of posters and graphics related to each practice.


Straying away from stagnation

In the long term, we would like to keep a wide variety of project types; from very small projects to furniture ideas as well as large public competitions. It’s important for us to test our knowledge on every scale of design. This builds an inclusive way of thinking and helps us gather new references and widens networking horizons. We want to be able to evolve. The comfort zone is not a good place to be for an architecture studio. As soon as we feel we are stagnating, we try to vary our attitude or approach the issue from another perspective. This is what keeps the studio alive and we would like to be able to keep that energy as long as possible.

NOTAN OFFICE 2021 fred

NOTAN OFFICE Office 1 fred

NOTAN OFFICE Office 2 fred

KID fred

KOTO fred


Photography Courtesy of NOTAN OFFICE

a project powered by Itinerant Office

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