noa* network of architecture: against the boredom of architecture
By Andrea Carloni & Carlotta Ferrati
noa* is the essential expression of a conceptual work ethic: a young team of architects and designers, headed by the two founders Lukas Rungger and Stefan Rier based in Bolzano and Berlin, examines and explores interdisciplinary design methods, which develop and they change continuously depending on the design requirements.
Why do you call yourself an architectural network?
At the time when Lukas and I were with Matteo Thun, I wanted to build my own house and asked Lukas to help me with this project. In this first experience we had the opportunity to fill an important role and from here we decided to open a study together. We needed to find a name for the studio, but we thought it was incorrect to call it by our names because it would have not reflect the truth. Each project is the result of the collaboration between people and its structure changes according to the needs required. It was clear that every project would have been the result of a work network. We asked ourselves why not to call it simply noa*, an acronym for network of architecture. I see noa* as a platform where people interact in a holistic way rather than a simple studio.
Could you better explain the concept of “platform”?
Now we are following the project of a rather particular hotel because only the separated families can access it. Only single people or those with children are allowed, it is not allowed to access together with the partner. People who attend this hotel may have lost their partner in very unpleasant situations like accidents or similar. This is why one of the first figures involved, and with an important decision-making weight within the working group, was a psychologist who explained the needs of this type of people to us.
Hotel Gloriette – 2018 – Photo Credit ©Alex Filz
Could you tell us about your design method?
The first step is going into the place. Then obviously understand the needs of the client. Please note that noa* specializes in hotel facilities, so the approach we have is very different from what it could be with a private individual who has to build his own house.
The first elaborate that we throw down, even if it may seem a bit strange, is not about the sketches, but it is an excel sheet with the list of needs and functions to be satisfied. Only after having understood what is needed we start making sketches and computer drawings.
Zallinger lodge – 2017 – Photo Credit ©Alex Filz
What you have just described to me is the technical approach, but looking at your projects it is easy to find strong and clear messages.
What we always say is that we don’t want to build buildings, but stories.
And every story comes from the knowledge of the place. It is also very important to understand who our client is and what he expects from us.
To give you an example, the project I was talking about, the one of the hotel for separated families, is located in Sirmione and on the ground there is an old reinforced concrete building, now abandoned for years. Over time nature has had the opportunity to recover its spaces and has practically swept away the existing: water has formed a sort of pond inside the building. While sitting in this place I felt like I was on an island surrounded by trees, with a view on the Lake Garda. On the same day I went to Sirmione and even here to access it I had the feeling of arriving on an island. The meaning of “island”, also considering the discussions with the psychologist about isolated people, was becoming increasingly clear and this is how the idea of the project was born. In fact, the project is not a building but a lush green hill with 10 meters tall trees that I can reach by crossing a pier.
Hotel Gloriette – 2018 – Photo Credit ©Alex Filz
Reading between the titles of presentation of your philosophy we can read: “noa* investigates against the boredom of architecture”.
Yes, this thing amuses me and it was born a little as a joke, but in reality it expresses what we really think. I’ll explain better. In the Central European area, in particular in Switzerland or in Northern Italy, many architects speak of a “good” architecture when it is “clean” and I honestly never understood this cleaning in architecture.
First and foremost, in our studio we look at how to create spaces that excite emotions and I don’t think that the only way to communicate it is to have cleanliness, order and rigor! We, as human beings, also like to laugh, have fun, get drunk, make love and many other things. We do not have to practice a Franciscan life like the one suggested by the so-called “good” architecture!
Hubertus Pool, Hotel Hubertus – 2016 – Photo Credit ©Alex Filz
Social media and, more extensively, the network are profoundly changing people’s social habits. Somehow, do these media influence your architecture?
Yes sure. The whole internet world influences us.
From the working point of view the possibility of working with BIM technologies (Building Information Modeling) helps a lot. Furthermore in the presentation of the projects we do not use almost any render, but we make use of videos. We are 40 years old, so we are relatively young, but even younger kids who come to our studio always have something new. There are some important developments about every 5 years.
From the point of view of social media, Pinterest or Instagram allow you to easily search in the most varied fields. The only problem with applications is that through these we all become know-it-all. So in other words people who have no professionalism want and can express themselves like those who know the subject in question. A very obvious example is in the kitchen world where now everyone is a cook.
Computerization helps you a lot, but your projects are very detailed. How do you follow them?
In recent years our studio has changed a lot, we are about 20 people and we have more projects at the same time in some European cities. The only solution to manage distant projects is to rely on local professionals who can constantly monitor the site, the part relating to tenders and contacts with the administrations.
Apfelsauna, Apfelhotel – 2016- Photo Credit ©Alex Filz
Now, a question that I will ask also to some other studios. Why do you think in the Northern part of Italy, at the borders with Austria and Switzerland, it is easier to find a high-quality architecture?
Here in Trentino-Alto Adige we have the great advantage that we are all bilingual or trilingual. This already allows us to work without problems on a territory that goes from southern Italy to northern Germany.
In our case, in particular at the age of 30, a client entrusted us with 3.5 million euros to build a hotel. This opportunity allowed us to have a salary for several months and set up a studio. From here we also started making contests. I am saying all this to say that in Trentino-Alto Adige there is a lot of confidence in young people and you don’t have to be 50 to start managing the first important jobs.
How about the bureaucracy?
A big problem in Italy is the paperwork for the approval of projects. To give you an example, here in Trentino-Alto Adige, a short time ago we completed the expansion project of a hotel. The approval of all practices took about 6 months, immediately after we started the construction site. In some areas of Italy we have similar projects that after 3 years of work have still no authorization. I believe that this situation is often a responsibility of politics that use projects for the city in a rhetorical way as a mean to grab votes, not really caring about how to speed up the realization times. They often merely limit themselves in making interpretable statements. In Germany, if a mayor believes in a project he fights and concretely commits himself to bring it to the bottom. If the same happens in Italy, it is all seen with suspicion and it may even be open to investigations for corruption or worse.
In Italy there is also the problem that often the laws are unclear and in any case interpretable, so the technicians who have to sign the permits are very cautious because they are afraid of any legal action by the investor.
In Trentino-Alto Adige there are many companies of excellent quality that love to engage themselves in new and special projects.
Speaking of competitions, what do you think about architectural ones?
I don’t think they are so fundamental to build a study. It is much more important to move and practice in important studies.
We used them only to get a reputation, but now they are a tool we use only if the project “teases” us.
In the studio we are very structured and people who work with us as professionals have to be well paid. To do this we must have a business approach and understand how the various hours of work are used. Thanks to this system we know perfectly how much it costs to make a competition and how the various resources are used. On average, a well done contest takes away 800 hours but can even reach 1400 hours, like the last one we did.
When you win you need to pay a fee of a few thousand euros, and if you are given the job, three years go by before it is approved. So my question is: when do I get my expenses back? I leave the answer to you!
Hotel Gloriette-2018-Photo Credit © Alex Fitz
So what do you recommend?
In our case we have specialized and we know the hotel sector very well. A customer knows that he can be followed in all phases that are necessary for the construction of a hotel. From those purely architectural and engineering to those of interior design, up to the design of every detail. The knowledge that noa* is a network of professionals specialized in all the fields necessary for the construction of the project greatly reassures the client.