Paris, FR

In our interview with Paris-based architecture firm, faire, we see how Nikhil Calas and Federico Diodato are questioning the industry with their multidisciplinary approach to architecture, incorporating a deeply diverse design into their practice. They engage in architecture, carpentry, research, teaching and political advocacy. We delve into their philosophy of balancing functionality and responsibility, choosing clients and projects that align with their values, and how they plan to grow a sustainable practice in the coming years.

Blending carpentry and architecture

N.C: I founded the firm in 2016 with two other friends, although they have since gone on to pursue other paths. Our initial goal was to combine architecture with related fields, which is why we chose the name "faire" meaning "to make" in French. We valued not only research and design but also participating in the building process. As both an architect and carpenter, I am trained to design and build furniture, being involved in the entire process. I've always been fascinated by establishing a connection between the hands and the mind and how they influence one another. Thus, understanding how construction works and how it affects our thinking and drawing is crucial to us.

F.D: Prior to joining Nikhil, I spent several years working at Alexandre Chemetoff's office, an architect, urban planner, and landscape architect, which has given me a background in larger-scale architecture. In 2020, I joined faire as a partner and, alongside Nikhil, helped to redefine the firm's direction, notably towards research as I'm currently a PhD candidate in co-tutorship between the University of Paris-Est and the University of Bologna.


Researching, teaching, making

N.C: There's a huge gap between the idea of creating a firm and actually doing it. Initially, we wanted to take steps towards woodwork, so I studied full-time for a year to become a carpenter, while working on the studio during nights and weekends. This experience not only taught me how to build with wood but, perhaps more importantly, it expanded my vision of architecture and its potential work fields.Living in Paris, where spaces are costly, compelled me to think about designing more efficiently. With each project, we deeply reflect on the delivery and production processes. To accomplish this, we pre-produce most of the pieces with the lumberyard. For practical reasons, including space constraints and dust or noise issues, I often opt for hand tools over large machinery.

F.D: We envision our role as architects as a whole, so to us, there are no “main activity” and “side activities”: we associate the practical work with teaching and scientific research in connection with universities, taking part in conferences, round tables, etc. in France and Europe to challenge, discuss and diffuse ideas. We have recently started to publish articles and to participate in the editorial process of scientific review. It is for us essential to challenge and disseminate our thoughts.

Currently, there are only two of us in the office, so we've established a network of collaboration with many other architects as well. Our aim is to expand the firm slowly and steadily, involving new partners who share our multidisciplinary approach.


Freedom in design

N.C: As the largest city in France, Paris attracts many architects, as well as abundant work and opportunities. The most challenging aspect of being a small firm here is accessing public commissions, which are typically awarded to larger firms. However, our main focus at the moment isn’t in this scale of projects. As Federico mentioned before, our multidisciplinary approach to architecture allows us to gain financial security through our various roles and affords us the opportunity of choosing projects that align with our goals.

F.D: Having the freedom to choose clients and projects is important, and it's a privilege we didn't have when we started. Initially, we accepted most commissions, which sometimes resulted in challenging relationships with clients. With more experience and financial stability, we can now determine if a working relationship will be fruitful, allowing us to decide whether or not to engage in said collaboration.

N.C: At the beginning, one of the main and straightforward ways to find work was to spread the word through our family and friends' network. This approach led us to land our first project, which was a hair salon featuring a wooden facade. Nowadays, we rely more on connections through Instagram, social media or collaborations with colleagues. Building good relationships with clients is a learning process. We continuously aim towards better client relationships, much better than at the beginning, when it was challenging to set rules and boundaries, particularly with private clients who expected us to be available at all times. While we understand that clients often invest heavily in their projects and might expect the same from us, we've learned the importance of setting boundaries and maintaining some distance.

F.D: We currently primarily work on private client renovations, rehabilitations, and new extensions. We've recently undertaken the rehabilitation of a barn, drawing inspiration from Scandinavia and Japan. These places serve as valuable references for our work, prioritising simple and solid designs that utilise wood as a functional and durable material. As Nikhil mentioned, we aim to incorporate carpentry into our practice by designing and manufacturing furniture while working with a range of woods.


Harmonising functionality and responsibility

N.C: Our most recent project, completed in 2022, was a 50 sqm apartment located in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. The apartment had a poor layout, with a kitchen unsuitable for cooking, a living room too cramped to sit or dine in, and a bedroom with a door in the middle of the wall. Our solution was to remove all partitions except for the bathroom and toilet's wall. We collaborated closely with the carpenter to construct the apartment with thick partitions that integrate an array of functions, such as a library, a desk and a kitchen. Due to the limited space, we had to maximise every centimetre available to increase the living areas. Ultimately, we were successful in creating a large space with a semi-open kitchen, a bench and table that could seat eight people, and a living area with integrated storage.

F.D: When it comes to materials, we mixed wooden planks and tubes to create a dynamic and durable design that's also warm and straightforward. We prioritise the use of local materials whenever possible to reduce our impact. Although France offers many types of wood, it's often difficult to locally source stones like granite, which usually comes from other European countries. We work with what's available and prioritise reusing existing structures, which can be challenging. In a recent barn renovation, we made a conscious effort to respect and use as much of the existing structure as possible, even though it was more expensive and time-consuming than starting from scratch. While respecting the environment is crucial, it does require additional resources.

N.C: Another notable project is the renovation of a 90 sqm apartment located in Pantin, just outside of Paris. Built in the 1960s and facing east and west, the apartment had never been renovated. We designed and built all the furniture (dining table, coffee table, daybed, and so on) on-site, carefully selecting the materials. Our aim was to create a more open and dynamic space, playing with colours and natural light, using traditional materials such as parquet, terracotta, and wood. This project was a great opportunity to experiment with materials while maximising on-site production.


A critical practice

N.C: I am a board member of the Syndicat de l'Architecture, a national representative organisation for architects and architectural professionals in France. This organisation advocates for the collective interests of the profession with the government, parliamentarians, local elected officials, and all institutions linked with Architecture. In France, there is currently a large protest movement involving architecture students, PhD candidates, teachers and office staff, demanding more funding and a revised pedagogy. In addition to this, many small French architecture firms lack the proper political representation. This is why being part of the Syndicat de l'Architecture is crucial for us. We believe that it is important to take part in the profession and fight for the values we believe in. We encourage students, recent graduates, and architects to join this debate.

F.D: This is a central debate within our office because we believe it's essential to integrate our values into our daily routine, as it is a challenge, we view this as a process we undertake step by step, day by day. We believe that over time, we will be able to select and create projects that represent our stance. As architects, we can exert a significant influence, albeit the process may be slow and difficult.

01 Image faire architecture Federico Diodato Nikhil CalasPhoto by Vincent Hoel

02 Image faire architecture SegurPhoto by Philippe Billard

03 Image faire architecture SegurPhoto by Philippe Billard

06 Image faire architecture SegurPhoto by Philippe Billard

07 Image faire architecture AugerPhoto by Daniele Rocco

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