Breaking the Mold in Architecture
What made you decide to found M AD LIMITED? Was there a particular moment that sealed the decision for you?
From very early on I wanted to get a foot in the door and create small-scale interior design projects, furniture and products. But there is simply no chance to do architecture as a newbie. Working as an architectural slave in some corporate office for longer than necessary was a no go.
I needed the infrastructure and I founded my first company M AD Ltd. Now, after 10 years, we have a ‘real’ architecture studio and a construction company that provides the infrastructure to operate in various scales and fields of development, hospitality and creativity.
You explored the fields of PR and Advertising before you studied Architecture and then worked for starchitects. Which skills that you learned along your way proved the most helpful for starting your own business?
Architecture, just like any creative discipline, is ultimately a form of communication. You communicate through what you create – unconsciously or consciously – and bring something to the respondent or viewer: feelings, statements, personal attitudes, interests, agendas, intentions, and meanings. You create symbols to inspire others, to give them ideas.
There is no difference between designing a house, a chair, an advertisement campaign, a logo, a movie or a piece of music. It’s only the parameters that differ from creation to creation, such as responsibilities, budgets and clients. We are somehow always dancing a thin line between personal agenda and service ¬like diplomats, managing expectations that are both our own and those of others. We mediate and mix these, like a chef creates a dish. We want to override the disconnect between what we want and what others want. This disconnect is what drives me in what I do.
You call your practice ‘method-based architecture.’ Could you elaborate on that?
What interests me is the lead-up to an outcome – it interests me even more than the outcome itself. Imagine a movie consisting of only the final act – not too inspiring. Same with the people you meet. The experiences that shape people’s character is what inspires me. The countless stories and experiences both good and bad that influenced their personality, their aura, and what they have to say. The same can be said for architecture.
A method is a narrative, as is a program and a sequence of decisions that have been taken along the linear path of time, whether they were made unconsciously, consciously or intuitively. ‘Method’ sounds dry but it is the most beautiful, exciting and inspiring thing. And it is somewhat explainable. Methods are always changing from task to task, and we choose the methods that feel best at a particular moment in time.
Imagine the divisions of architecture as martial arts styles. Frank Gehry would be the ambassador of wrestling, OMA taekwondo, Louis Khan boxing, and Zaha Hadid the master of judo. Mies van der Rohe might be a samurai, and Calatrava a master of jujutsu. Each of them has cultivated their own way, philosophy, intention, meaning, technique and agenda – and ultimately method, before stepping into the ring.
What interests me is in using a combination of those methods whenever we have a specific task or need to fulfill a condition.
I believe that architecture is a little like mixed martial arts – clearly the strongest fighters are those that are able to adapt, and are not attached to the style that they have mastered. Simply put, they will do what is necessary or available to succeed.
Most of your projects are located in Bali, for instance the recently completed Origami House. What are the challenges of working in Bali, what is completely different there from Western architecture?
It is all about managing expectations. I have to be a diplomat; someone who mediates between personal expectation and reality. Patience is key, as is the willingness to be inspired by different cultures, energies and philosophies. Working in another culture is ultimately about finding the sweet spot between surrendering to their methods while also pushing your dreams, your passions and agenda.
Do you have any advice for archipreneurs who are interested in starting their own business?
As architects, we have learned to be systematical. We have learned to provide a service but are also interested in using architecture as an individual outlet or medium to manifest our own agendas.
If there is anything I have to say to architects, it would be to really use the skill set that they have, and to see that anything has a structure whatever the scale, scope or idea might be behind it. Everything with a structure follows universal rules. To make any idea come true, we need to apply structure. Do other things in addition to architecture, like part owning what you build. It’s a good feeling.
It’s about the fun – and the method – that this process brings along. Go cross-disciplinary. Cooking is like architecture, as well as music. Stop wasting time creating a ‘signature’ because it is egotistical and outdated. That was for those dusty masters. Now there is a new concept – to understand that everything is alike.