I want to stay human. Martin Stara on the psychology of tomorrow’s office architecture
Magazine Contact #25
In recent years, Prague has become more and more of a hotspot for young, creative architects. What has led to this development?
Stara: I can only confirm that and I think that there are many factors which have influenced this development. Young Czech architects have much smaller budgets to carry out their projects, compared to their colleagues in the west, and must therefore improvise a great deal, which leads to innovative solutions, which are published worldwide. The manageable size of the city gives Prague a uniquely creative atmosphere where architects, artists and designers meet daily. This creates a strong community.
How has your approach to architecture developed?
Stara: [laughs] My approach to architecture changes constantly and is marked by a deep understanding for people’s needs. With the Perspektive studio, which I founded two years ago with Jan Antal, we specialised in office concepts and working environments. Our overall approach there is to combine urban planning with innovative interior design. We wanted to be more than “just” architects and tackle the issue from different angles. We were trying to understand why people do things, how they do them, what drives and motivates them.
How would you describe your way of working?
Stara: Very clearly – with teamwork. I mostly start my work with mind maps or sketches and develop the ideas further with my team. As well as this, I go out into the world with open eyes and try to find inspiring places where people feel happy. These places often have nothing to do with offices, however.
What have been your biggest projects so far? What are the most important experiences you took out of them?
Stara: Our biggest and most important client so far was STRV – a rapidly growing IT Start-up run by four young men, who asked us to design their new office spaces. The strong company culture and a clear vision of how the office should be created was an ideal basis for collaboration. STRV inspired us in many ways. I can think of a second project, Accolade. We developed offices for “scrum projects”, which was a big challenge for us. We won prizes for both projects, for the best offices in the Czech Republic. That suggests that we were able to find a good solution for bo th of these customers.
Which projects are you working on at the moment?
Stara: Above all, we are concentrating on office design. At the moment we are working on twelve projects. Most of them will be built in and around Prague in the next six months. We have a diverse number of clients, from IT start-ups and co-working space providers to traditional companies. Each client is unique, just like every building plan and room concept.
Stara: I think I know the answer. We have learned how to create a strong community of freelancers, start-ups and small companies. To be successful in Prague, it is essential to know the right people and to create real connections. Here, networking is everything.
How is it within companies? Can you see a development in the direction of co-working lounges here too?
Stara: Definitely. All of our clients want to have places where they can meet people during work. We know that only companies where colleagues know each other well, integrate constantly and help each other, are strong on the inside. Company investments in these areas or places will always pay off.
And how strong is the drive from company owners to change the working environment? How difficult is it to reconcile customer wishes with your own innovative ideas?
Stara: I think that when companies don’t allow change, they will lose out on the labour market in the long-term. A carefully considered office concept can improve the culture and the workflow significantly. Sometimes it takes time to really understand the needs of the customer, and often companies are wary of the change that they pushed for in the beginning. We respect our customers and believe that innovation must come from within the company and cannot be forced from outside.
How do you define New Work?
Stara: For me, New Work is taking opportunities to use new technologies, yet at the end of the day to still be human. That is a big challenge for the future.
And what does your own office look like?
Stara: We have a very beautiful studio with high walls and large doors in Vinohrady in Prague. On average, fifteen people work here. Basically, we are divided into two teams in two rooms. The architects work together at one big table. We also have a meeting room full of samples and catalogues and a magnetic whiteboard. This is where we meet with our clients and create new ideas.
How do you think the future looks for architects in the Czech Republic, or in Europe in general?
Stara: Here in the Czech Republic, we have to concentrate more on long-term quality, understand our mentality and cultural roots and force a change in thinking. Many projects are still executed as quickly and at as low as cost as possible. A more sustainable approach is needed. And in Europe I think that we just need to stick together and exchange ideas among each other. As dad to three children, I’m optimistic and see the future in a positive light.