Welcome to the new interview series at archipreneur.com with architects who are doing interesting things. The series will highlight people who have taken their architectural degrees and followed an alternative or entrepreneurial career path.
The kick off interviewees are three young architects from Vienna – Theresia Kohlmayr, Christian Knapp, and Jonathan Lutter. The guys are still practicing architecture with their office KLK architects. But they founded an interesting company called the URBANAUTS. A hotel business converting empty street-level shops into urban lofts for city visitors. I love the idea and already wrote an article about their business once I stumbled upon their site.
I hope you enjoy the interview!
What made you decide to start URBANAUTS after many years of training in architecture? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?
Due to the fact that we always had a strong focus on urbanism, we started to think about the development and gentrification of European cities. There are thousands of unused square meters of space in our urban areas that went „useless“ in the last decades.
We wanted to establish a social and economical function in this microcosm that satisfies the needs of independent city travelers combined with a strong experience on one side together with a soft reactivation of our local resources on the other.
We wanted to learn what it means to create something new…, bring it into life and make it tangible.
There was actually no particular moment that pushed us towards URBANAUTS. We were triggered off by our will to act and produce something discussible. We wanted to learn what it means to create something new in all of its dimensions, bring it into life and make it tangible.
What do you find most fulfilling about your current job?
The most fulfilling aspect of our job is definitely the diversified contact to the people requesting our supply of services. No matter if they inquire a warm and comfortable bed, a specified design or a technical solution.
We are a small practice and we are very proud of our clients. Developing solutions, thinking and acting for them on a wide spectrum of different assignments makes life diversified and vivid. Through them we obtain inspiration and energy.
Furthermore and depending on the specific condition, task or vision, we have a lot of great people around us, sharing, developing and bringing ideas into action.
How does your architectural training help you in your business. What specific skill sets are the most useful?
In developing the business, our architectural background was rather obstructive. The role as client and planner in one ‘person’ was really hard and difficult to distinguish. The formal planning process in developing Street Lofts is not a difficult task. Finding an adequate design and taking decisions on your own accountability without the view from the outside can be quite a challenge.
Our individual background and non- architectural skills were much more valuable. Theresia grew up in a hotel close to Salzburg and knows how to make guests feel comfortable. Jonathan studied philosophy and photography and Christian studied economics and worked as a cabinetmaker.
Do you have any advice for architects who are interested in branching out from traditional practice?
We are very careful with recommendations. They should account for very special conditions. Undirected they can pretend something cryptic. One thing that turned out to be a good advice for us is to stay hungry and foolish.
Architecture is one specific term in a wide societal context. It doesn’t even stand for our built environment, but for a very specific, often natural scientific or aesthetic process of reacting to assignments of tasks. That is what we understand as traditional practice.
One thing that turned out to be a good advice for us is to stay hungry and foolish.
At this stage you decide which nature of architect you want to become before starting your education: the technical orientated, the artistic or conceptual one. If architecture could be understood as an act of societal engagement, the possible scope of action broadens dramatically.
What will the architecture profession look like in the future? Which challenges and opportunities will architects face?
Architecture should still be seen as a liberal or independent profession, the way it was seen at it’s origin. With this view comes a very specific demand for the acting individual: personal and social responsibility, integrity and a good understanding of the topics of the time.
The core skill of this profession is solution- oriented thinking. These conditions form a great opportunity to fulfill the next evolutionary step architecture has to take. Architecture has to heal; it doesn’t need to burn, it doesn’t need to glitter and sparkle. Heal the wounds that are still and always obvious in our different societies.
That’s what we can perform out of bricks, wood and steel. Being a shelter, a primary grit for life, humans and nature. If we can implant our specific conditions and standards into a self- constructed framework which enables the dignity of existence, our generation did an assumable job.
About Urbanauts and KLK Architects
URBANAUTS was founded and is run by KOHLMAYR LUTTER KNAPP | OFFICE FOR SYSTEMIC DESIGN, a design agency based in Vienna. Following a post-structuralist perspective, their credo is the creation of systems not buildings. (www.klk.ac)