Samir Alaoui Architects
Lausanne, CH

Samir Alaoui Architectes is an Architecture office based in Lausanne, Switzerland. They are particularly distinguished for their use of physical scale models, a technique that facilitates effective client communication and enables testing of various solutions before construction begins. The studio also focuses on a wide range of projects in Switzerland and Morocco. Emphasising connection to the project location and the influence of local conditions, they strive to create an architecture that is truly tailored to its environment.

From collaboration to the unfamiliar

S.A: After 12 years of collaboration in various offices across Madrid, London, and Lausanne, I ventured out on my own. Throughout those years, the idea of heading my own office was always in the back of my mind. I believe I needed to amass experience, in order to build confidence in managing all project stages. I also utilised that time to cultivate my personal perspective on architecture. Over five years ago, whilst still employed at a Lausanne office, my sister requested that I design her house. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to launch my own practice. This was my first project and it was intriguing to work independently, especially for a family member. I'm quite pleased with the design process, and more importantly, she was highly satisfied with the outcome. Now, despite the project only being five years old, I observe a notable evolution in my design approach – I wouldn't execute it in the same way today.

When I began, I was entirely alone, having worked as an employee on projects with limited time. Since then, I've developed various tools to aid in the design process. Our now three-person team crafts models at different scales (1:50, 1:20, 1:25), which greatly influences the results. We thoroughly test various solutions, materialities, and details, and I believe this undoubtedly impacts the final product. When I was operating alone, and during my previous employment, the offices didn't utilise physical models as part of the design process. Thus, this approach was unfamiliar to me and something I honed after starting my independent work.


A small team with large-scale thinking

S.A: Our team is small, comprising only three members, which has its benefits. We can openly discuss our projects, allowing for the exchange of ideas. In larger offices, such a close relationship with the boss might not be possible. We engage in extensive discussions about our projects and their details, constantly refining our ideas. I anticipate that the office will continue to grow next year, with more architects joining us, especially as a new project is getting underway. Our work days typically start around 8 or 8:30, depending on the project and its phase, focusing on planning. We have a dedicated space for constructing physical models, which form the heart of our office operations. Presently, we have two projects under construction, so I visit the site once or twice a week to monitor progress. I usually accompany the team member assigned to the project, affording them the chance to observe the construction first-hand.


The beauty of expertise

S.A: For us, it is a valuable tool to test various solutions and to communicate with clients. What I observed from my first project is that clients often struggle to visualise the solutions or materials we propose. When they are unsure about the final look and the construction process, they tend to play it safe, preferring a conventional solution that they've already seen. I believe I developed this tool for two main reasons: to aid in the design process and to enhance communication with clients. Having collaborators and interns who are highly skilled in model making has also been beneficial. I believe that the effectiveness of this tool is a reflection of the people with whom you work. It's crucial to have team members who understand its utility and apply care in their work, including elements like furniture and small details, which bring life to the space.


Adapting the physical models

S.A: Depending on the scale of the project, we start with a 1:500 model (for larger projects), sometimes a 1:50 one, and then we craft bigger models at 1:20 or 1:25 scale. However, a crucial aspect of our process is considering the details of all models we create. We plan how to construct each model so that it can evolve and adapt through all stages of the project. Very few components are permanently fixed, allowing us to readily change facades. Numerous aspects may change, depending on the discussions we have with clients, so it's vital that our models can evolve. They are not considered as final objects. This approach is entirely different from creating a model for an exhibition, where the goal is to display the final result. For us, these models are working tools, so it's crucial that they can evolve, change, and be modified. We have often used traditional materials, such as cardboard, wood, plaster, etc.

 We're currently working on a mixed-use building project, featuring industrial spaces for small companies on the ground floor and the first level and apartments on the second. We initiated the process with a 1:500 scale physical model, followed by a larger 1:50 scale model of the entire building. Then, we created a section of it at a 1:25 scale. We take photographs to capture different views of the space. This project is currently under construction. The models have proven useful in presenting potential solutions to clients, and for us to test them. They offer a glimpse into what the final result will be, which is often challenging for a non-architect to visualise in 3D or comprehend solely from plans and sections.

Our model workshop is a modest room of about 20 square metres. Despite its size, we maintain organisation by utilising boxes to store our disassembled models, optimising our use of the space.


Navigating various spaces and sites

S.A: Initially, my work was centred around Lausanne. Currently, I am managing two local projects located about 30 minutes away from my office. Last year, I began a project in Morocco, a country from which part of my family originates. This has given me the opportunity to work on a collective housing building in a suburb of Casablanca. The construction is set to commence at the end of the summer. I believe that feeling a connection to a project's location is crucial because architecture responds to micro-conditions, material availability, among other factors. Generally, I am sceptical about engaging in projects to which I have no connection. However, due to my familiarity with Moroccan culture and regular visits to the country, I feel connected to this country. Still, I've had interesting discussions with local architects, learning that construction techniques, working hours, and material costs differ significantly from those in Switzerland. Our process for this project has not changed. We created models and then revised our approach to adapt to local techniques and regulations. Until now, I have mainly overseen the project from Switzerland, but I am figuring out how to monitor the construction remotely.


Architectural transformations

S.A: In the beginning, my work primarily consisted of private commissions from relatives and friends. Now, half of my projects are private, and the rest are public commissions. I am working on the renovation of a contemporary dance theatre in Lausanne, as well as the restoration of a hotel for patients situated in a protected 18th-century farm. We seldom participate in competitions due to time constraints, but I plan to engage more frequently in the future, especially if the studio expands. Competitions offer the chance to work on diverse projects and potentially secure larger commissions.

I completed the renovation of a small worker-house in Lausanne about two years ago. The house, dating back to the 1940s, is approximately 60 square metres and located in a neighbourhood where all the homes were similarly constructed for national train company workers. The house was originally designed with just one floor for the living room, kitchen, and bedrooms, while the lower floor, partly underground with small windows, was sold off as a parking lot. It wasn't conceived as a living space, given its low ceiling height of just about 2m. The clients wanted to create in the lower floor of the house a bedroom and a studio (a larger room with a bathroom, kitchen, and independent outside access). They also wanted an internal connection between the two floors. Previously, the main floor could only be accessed by an exterior stairway, leaving the lower floor isolated. To make these changes, we had to excavate beneath the house to achieve a minimum height of 2.4 metres, as per Swiss regulation. We also insulated the entire facade which hadn't been done before and added a small entrance with stairs to provide access to both the main and lower floors. I am quite pleased with this project, which earned the Best Architects 23 Award last year.


Bridging gaps, building communities

S.A: I'm currently working on two self-initiated projects, both of which are still in their early development stages. One is a small community centre for women in a village in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. This centre will encompass various programs, including agriculture, arts and crafts, and accommodations for tourists. I'm planning to create my own non-profit organisation with local partners for this project. This project is one that I'm incredibly excited about, mainly because it presents an opportunity to work with the local community and to learn about their unique construction techniques and materials. Since I spent a year studying in Morocco early in my career, I've made a few friends who are now architects based in Morocco. One of them is collaborating with me on a collective-housing project in Casablanca, and is also part of a non-profit organisation that constructs small structures in villages. In Morocco, there's a noticeable development gap between the big cities and the countryside, where facilities like schools and health-care centres are scarce. I expressed to my friend my keen interest in contributing to a project that addressed these real needs. He already had contacts with a local organisation in a village who had a plot of land ready for the project. At this point, we are working on the basic design, after which we will start looking for funding.


Decoding Casablanca

S.A: My second project is also set in Morocco. Working in Casablanca has kindled my interest in a particular suburban urban model that's quite common there. This model often includes repeated architectural designs, mainly two-storey buildings, with a scarcity of public spaces and amenities. I want to comprehend the principal factors that contribute to this kind of urban development and explore how it might adapt to future challenges like climate change.

I'm still in the early stages of my research, but I've secured a grant from a Swiss foundation to assist in this endeavour. Even though the potential outcomes remain uncertain, it's a subject I'm keen to delve into. I had a study trip to Morocco in May, during which I established contacts with local researchers from various fields such as architecture and urban planning. I'm still working to refine the research theme and anticipate where it may lead.

SamirAlaoui DSC4002 HDPhoto credits ©Mathilda Olmi

SamirAlaoui DSC4420 HDPhoto credits ©Mathilda Olmi

Mixed use building Model 25 1Photo credits ©Samir Alaoui

Mixed use building Model 25 5Photo credits ©Samir Alaoui

Conversion of a workers villa Photo East facadePhoto credits ©Tonatiuh Ambrosetti

Conversion of a workers villa Photo Principal view of the studioPhoto credits ©Tonatiuh Ambrosetti

2110 FACADE 04Photo credits ©Samir Alaoui

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