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New Generations is a European platform that investigates the changes in the architectural profession ever since the economic crisis of 2008. We analyse the most innovative emerging practices at the European level, providing a new space for the exchange of knowledge and confrontation, theory, and production.
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Based in Bogotá and founded by Laura Huertas and Irene Espinosa in 2018, Hs2E focuses on the potential of architecture as a transformative component of societies, and believe that good design can positively shape human behaviour and interactions, promoting fair and healthy environments. The design and thinking process is the center of their daily routine. They enjoy working on different scales, and seek to enhance the interaction of the individual with the architecture that surrounds us.
A multi-faceted context
Colombia is characterised by its remarkable cultural, social and geographical diversity; contexts, landscapes and climates vary throughout the multiple extensions and altitudes of the country. This diversity is mirrored in the population where a wide range of ethnicities coexist, resulting in a rich and vibrant artisanal and handcrafts culture. This cultural richness extends to the architectural scope, where traditional architecture meets with popular and spontaneous urban development in most small towns and regions. In the largest Colombian cities, more contemporary urbanism and architecture can be found while still blended with unplanned and popular neighbourhoods; a characteristic duality for most South American cities.
Bogotá, the capital city where Hs2e mainly operates, is an expansive metropolis with multiple architectural typologies mixed with all sorts of informal systems. It is in its own a sprawling, diverse city, where it’s possible to find all types of places. In our work, we move through these areas such as residential compounds that exhibit varying architectural and urbanistic typologies. We keep discovering new neighbourhoods while being captivated by eclectic views and atmospheres that present a stark contrast in scale and composition in the different areas of our city. From the diverse residential layouts to the commercial and often improvised areas, one can find any conceivable material, atelier, shop or leisure spots surrounding the spread around the central areas.
A mix of experiences in Colombia and abroad leads to the creation of "The Studio"
Hs2e was founded in August 2018, following the participation in an architecture workshop in Portugal known as Porto Academy. We will always remember an invited tutor from the firm Arquitectura-G who strongly advised us to establish the office first, rather than waiting for a significant project to emerge. Later that same year, we attended a lecture in Bogotá by a Colombian architecture studio Taller, which also emphasised “The Studio” as the primary project itself. Both of these perspectives were highly influential in our initial path. We began brainstorming office names, created a joint portfolio for a website, and then spread the word about our new project. Simultaneously, we actively sought opportunities, collaborations and competitions.
We [Irene and Laura] had met around a decade before, while pursuing our architecture bachelor's degrees at the Universidad de los Andes, and became friends by the end of our careers. Each of us took our own path in the first years of working, but shared a common preference for smaller-scale offices that allowed us to engage in diverse duties and responsibilities in various projects, especially oriented towards interior design and construction within typologies such as commercial, leisure but primarily residential.
From 2013-2016 Laura pursued her master studies in TU Delft in the Netherlands graduating from “The Public Interior” programme led by the chair of Interiors of the Architecture faculty. She acquired a philosophy and methodology to deeply analyse the interior atmosphere of any project, regardless of its scale, contributing to the creation of healthy and stimulating spaces. A focus on representation methods, which have evolved into significant tools for our ongoing studio practice, was also an important part of these studies. Meanwhile, Irene continued her studies in Colombia, exploring diverse fields ranging from bioclimatic and sustainable architecture, landscape design, as well as holistic science and transitional economies. These varied research perspectives enabled her to integrate a more holistic approach into her practice, broadening her architectural views concerning design and construction processes. Upon Laura's return to Bogotá, she started collaborating with her former employer on a fascinating commission involving the design of 10 kindergartens spread around Colombia. For this significant task, Laura invited Irene to join them, forming a dynamic team of three for the design commission, conducted throughout 2017.
After this interesting but intense experience, we both took a break to do some travelling and a few independent projects, but keeping in mind the desire to continue working together. The decision to assist the Porto Academy workshop marked the beginning of the journey where this story begins.
A flexible routine: finding the balance between a different set of tasks
Throughout the years, we have maintained a flexible organisation structure for our office due to the nature of our work, which requires us to move around the city quite a lot. Typically, we spend a couple of days a week at the office, while other days we work from home. Additionally, Laura attends a side teaching job and Irene is pursuing a Masters Degree, further diversifying our use of time.
A significant amount of our time is dedicated to supervising the construction projects we manage, visiting suppliers, ateliers and shops. Also, visiting various locations for potential projects that require assessing the space to develop proposals and quotations. This has allowed us to get a wide view of our city Bogota while understanding better its dynamics and systems.
We still remain a small office with a couple of simultaneous collaborators at different times. Currently, we have one employee, Alexandra, who oversees certain aspects of construction management and design tasks related. Additionally, we collaborate with freelancers at different times, who help us with specific representation duties such as collages, diagrams, presentations, along with some other media and web-related tasks. This enables us to share our vision, work and processes with a broader audience.
We prioritise collaboration with women in both our studio and design practice, while our construction teams are predominantly composed by men. This intentional balance has become very natural and enriching of our practice. Our close collaboration with our building team, involving construction masters, carpenters, ornamenters and painters among others, has led us to experiment and refine our designs throughout the years. This symbiotic relationship has been instrumental in the evolution and improvement of our creative process.
The diverse and vibrant cultural mix has an impact on the style of the studio
Situated at the high altitude of 2600 metres above sea level, Bogotá, the city in which Hs2e operates, experiences a rather cold climate throughout the year. A daily routine here is marked by the possibility to have 3 to 5 distinct types of weather, ranging from sunny and warm to windy, rainy and cold. The imposing presence of the Andes mountain range acts not only as a natural barrier but also serves a prominent orientation and reference point for the city's residents. The diverse visuals encountered in our various projects gives us the opportunity to react, reflect and create within this dynamic atmospheric palette. These aspects have certainly influenced Bogotan architects in the way of conceiving and building architecture from modern times. Through decades Bogotá has grown into the brick and masonry architectural culture that aligns seamlessly with the prevalent cold weather. This classic culture together with new material entrepreneurships has continued to evolve. The artisanal commercial fields are nowadays rich and diverse and contribute to the city’s vibrant fabric. This offer is certainly influential in our practice and in the experimental design and construction processes that we engage with.
Designing places that stimulate human interactions
Recognising the potential of architecture as a transformative agent, we believe that good design can positively shape human behaviour and interactions, promoting fair and healthy environments. In our practice, good design emerges from emphasising on a meticulous development of the inside of projects intertwined with the various representation methods we use. We place human interactions at the centre of our work, through the use of vibrant, contrasting colour palettes and artisanal finishing materials like coloured enamel-coated concrete, wood, coloured metal among others. With our designs we aim to create stimulating environments that enhance the sense of place of the individuals that inhabit them. For this constantly evolving task of design, we base on different sources of inspiration from local and artisanal architecture to contemporary eclectic and daring studios and projects from many parts of the world.
Flexibility, as a fundamental part of our life philosophy, is also an inherent attribute of the spaces we design. With the aim of creating rich indoor atmospheres, we focus largely on the creation of furniture, placing it as an integral part of the design proposals. The pieces consist of different layers of functions that respond to the specific projects and users, understanding spaces from a perspective that seeks not only to address specific needs but also to enrich human habits and interactions with their surrounding indoor spaces. Through eclectic designs that combine different materials and construction systems the result is flexible, modular, and adaptable furniture. Through this perspective, we aim to contribute to the creation of spaces that not only meet practical requirements but also enhance the overall quality of human experiences with its physical surroundings.
Renovations: the Apartamento CUAN and Kindergarten at Colegio Andino
The renovation of the Apartamento CUAN, nestled within a cultural heritage complex in Bogotá, exemplifies our design philosophy, achieving a harmonious balance between preservation and modern functionality. Through strategic demolitions and punctual wall constructions, we efficiently maximised space, tailoring the transformation to our clients´ specific needs.
Fresh and vibrant colours infused personality into every corner, creating a cheerful and energetic atmosphere. Sliding wooden doors provided a layer of flexibility, allowing division for privacy when needed, or integration of the various spaces into one, imparting a sense of spaciousness throughout the apartment. The renovation was a fun experience, as elevated pathways and hidden spaces within furniture and walls for the cats were integrated, for them to enjoy their own separate space from the dogs' realm. This particular design transformed the living space into a unique and personality-filled home for both our clients and their adorable pets.
Another engaging project was the design for the expansion and renovation of the Kindergarten at Colegio Andino, on the outskirts of Bogotá. We approached it with the belief that architecture and pedagogy are intimately connected – the design of space supports and stimulates pedagogical processes, providing children with autonomous experiences.
The architecture is thus proposed as a transitional living area that blurs the line between exterior and interior. Exploring the concept of furniture|facade and furniture|division, livable walls comprised of benches, doors, niches and windows facilitate interaction [visual and physical] between two independent spaces [inside – outside | inside – inside]. The interior design emphasises spatial flexibility to adapt to evolving educational proposals, incorporating textures and varied colours to stimulate and encourage children's exploration of different spaces.
Folded wooden roofs harness north-south light through large skylights that facilitate the direct connection of children with the sky, reinterpreting the concept of transitional living space utilised in the walls. Additionally, the folds not only lend proportion to the space, tailoring it to the scale of the children, but also successfully create distinct areas that encompass the expansive spaces.
Side activities nourish the growth of the studio
For both of us, flexibility and richness are integral aspects of our life philosophy. Therefore, from the outset of our collaborative journey, we have encouraged each other to engage in side activities that can complement and nourish our communal practice.
Currently, Laura actively contributes to the academic sphere by teaching a studio class at the University of Andes. This role allows her to share her practical knowledge and insights gained from her professional experience, as well as keeping her engaged with the evolving perspectives of aspiring architects. This aligns with her belief in the transformative power of architecture as a profession, as well as a source of inspiration for future generations.
On the other hand, Irene has embarked on a new academic journey, pursuing a Master's Degree in Architectural Management at the same institution. This experience is providing a unique intersection between her practical experiences and a deeper understanding of architectural processes. By learning a strategic and managerial viewpoint of architecture, she is enhancing her existing knowledge with insights into effective project management, resource allocation and leadership within the architectural context.
As Hs2e, we are also currently engaged in an ongoing collaboration with the graphic design studio Latitud. This project involves architects, designers and one artist envisioning the creation of individual, versatile furniture pieces and collections. The aim is to enhance the teachings about dwelling and the daily experiences within the spaces we inhabit, going beyond what conventional furniture can provide in terms of usability and mix of materiality.
Hs2e office space seen from garden, Image courtesy of Hs2e
Apartamento CUAN, View from living room, Photo credit Laura Huertas
HS2E Portrait, Photo Credit Simon Bosch
Colegio Andino, Aerial view (central patio and playground), Illustration by Hs2e
Colegio Andino, Colegio Andino, Classroom interior model by Hs2e
Mueble Wills, Library front part, Photo Credit Laura Huertas