We talked to Martin Gruenanger of Space Group of Architects about creating unique family homes, exciting workspaces, and apartment blocks.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Martin Gruenanger: Thanks for asking. My own little family is doing OK. I have got two little daughters, and we think for them it was actually beneficial to spend more time with us. We are fortunate enough to live right next to a massive forest in East London. During the first lockdown, every day offered a different adventure for them. Needless to say that it is hard work to juggle childcare and homeschooling whilst also making sure that our businesses carry on as normal as possible. Sadly though, we know quite a few people have suffered and even died during this crisis. One of which was my grandmother, who passed away on the weekend, just 25 hours after being tested positive.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Space Group of Architects.
Martin Gruenanger: I have completed my architectural training at the Technical University of Graz, Austria. Following on from some work experience in the United Arabian Emirates, I arrived with the benefit of a scholarship in London, which has subsequently become my base to work from. As a qualified and registered architect in the UK, I am a member of the ARB and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). My previous roles enabled me to work on exciting projects in the UK, Ireland, and India for highly regarded London based practices. In 2007 I then formed Space Group of Architects, a RIBA chartered practice and began to take on domestic and commercial projects in the UK and abroad. It has been an exciting journey since.
How does Space Group of Architects innovate?
Martin Gruenanger: We consider ourselves as architectural scientists combining methods of old with technologies of the future to create the exceptional. We view our office as a laboratory where we are continuously experimenting with staying at the forefront of industry evolution. This acquired knowledge is then applied to projects. The results vary from Carbon Nanotube structures (Tate in Space), inhabitable landscapes (The Green Knot), crystalline building envelopes and magnetic shifting surfaces (Cadogan Cafe) to rammed earth offices (Benetton in Tehran), 100m tall wooden towers (The Green Knot), screens incorporating preserved plants (The Garden House), etc. Despite the fact that the modernistic and boundary-pushing approach finished projects appear contextual and warm with the human scale in mind. Over the last 13 years, we have completed well over 150 projects. We have created more than 100 unique family homes, exciting workspaces, apartment blocks, and various public spaces.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Martin Gruenanger: Against our initial worries, we have not suffered from a negative impact at all. Whilst we had some projects put on hold, we have also managed to secure new projects throughout the pandemic. As it currently stands, we seem to be on track to have a better year than the one prior to that. In fact, the outcome of the Brexit referendum had a greater impact on us. I think being able to deliver private residential projects well really helps during a recession. People will always have to live! If anything, the pandemic has taught society, then it is worth having a good home. Properties are not just a short term investment but also here to enjoy, feel safe, raise our children in, and, well, also to work from. I would go as far as to say that a good home transcends beyond its physical boundaries: If the environment we live in makes us happy, then I think it is much more likely that a positive neighborhood is automatically formed. This has shown to be of particular importance during the time of hardship.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Martin Gruenanger: During the first lockdown, I had to work extra hard to make up for the time lost during the day when I had to take care of my children. I was literally the weak link in the chain within my own office.
But we have all pulled on the same string, worked hard and diligently. We have resorted to virtual presentations, did the occasional site review via video calls, and adapted to different internal communication means. While some aspects were slower than normal, we have also seen some benefits which we will seek to maintain. The compromised social interactions are perhaps one of the bigger challenges not just for us but for society as a whole.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Martin Gruenanger: I talk quite openly with my team about everything. I think we all need to acknowledge that these times amplify any pre-existing issues. I believe that as long as there is a communal and individual understanding of these impacts, we can tackle this beast a bit better. I found long walks and cooking good family meals help me to unwind. However, I cannot wait to travel and play badminton again in the not too distant future.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Martin Gruenanger: We seem to have two types of competitors: There are those that set out with the same ambitions as us. I think we should not see them as competitors but as colleagues, as contributors to a better-built environment for the greater good. Sometimes a project goes their way and at other times to us; one cannot get too upset about that but has to look forward.
Then there are the others: People who pretend that they are architects or firms who offer a much more limited, lower quality approach for a reduced price. As with anything in life, you get what you pay for. I find it more painful when we lose out to those, especially when we then get to see the end result, which is often a wasted opportunity and, once built, will stick around for 25 years.
We do not have any substantial concepts to change the way we work. Over the last 13 years, we have crafted a wonderful portfolio that we are proud of, and on that journey, we have managed to satisfy many clients. We will continue to keep our heads down, work hard, and deliver projects to the best of our abilities. We are planning to release a new book about our work sometime next year. This is something to look forward to. We are taking a step back and reflect on what we have achieved. This is certainly something we should all be proud of.
Your final thoughts?
Martin Gruenanger: I think we are heading in the right direction: The COVID-19 vaccines are looking very promising, while BREXIT was and always will be a daft concept, a deal seems now likely (at the time of writing), the regime in the US is coming to an end and (perhaps thanks to the pandemic) there is now a global understanding that we have to tackle climate change collectively.
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