Designing buildings and space is about creating experiences, not just something attractive, while modern challenges have made architects an even more necessary part of the building process.
These are some of the points made by Tasos Georgantzis, owner of architects Urban Soul Project (USP), when we recently caught up with him for a chat.
Some 12 years ago, Mr Georgantzis set up USP with Konstantinos Floros in what has become one of the country’s largest and most successful architecture offices.
With a 75 person staff and an impressive portfolio of projects in and out of Greece, USP is helping reshape the way that buildings are seen and used in Greece.
With studies in Thessaloniki, Liverpool and London, the head of USP has become something of a representative for younger Greeks who emerged from the country’s economic crisis with a more creative outward-looking view of the world, willing to take global competition head on.
By designing houses, apartments, hotels, workspaces, restaurants, commercial stores and public areas, USP tackles each project from a different starting point, testing its creative limits.
“There are millions of ways to design a successful space, as each time different needs request to be fulfilled. And by saying needs, I do not mean only the existing but also those that may emerge in the future or those that have not yet been identified,” said Mr Georgantzis.
The buildings may be firmly fixed into the ground, but architects are faced with moving targets. Changing energy needs, ESG requirements and workplace habits brought on by environmental concerns and the pandemic mean that home and office needs have changed abruptly and look to continue doing so in the years to come.
The need for change and flexibility plays a dominating role in designs, where future-proofing a home is just as important as creating a practical living space.
“The architect’s main objective is to respond to existing and emerging needs. Research in terms of concepts, forms, materials and standards is the essence of architecture,” says Mr Georgantzis.
“Designing buildings and spaces that respond to today’s request for energy efficient projects, is an evolving challenge. For example, for the past two years, in USP we have been doing extensive research on workspace design. We are studying layouts, typologies and materials and we are trying to find new answers for questions considered answered. It is a thrilling process,” he adds.
Based in Thessaloniki, the company has designed a number of impressive projects in the northern Greek city, including the offices of Elxis, which has featured in the Open House Thessaloniki architecture tours.
USP has also expanded with offices in Athens and London, picking up a number of awards along the way.
More recently, in January, the company was among the winners of the prestigious German Design Award 2022 in the category “Excellent Architecture – Interior Architecture” for its design of the Prodea building in Athens. (top photo)
The project, the biggest undertaken by USP so far, concerned the 3,500 square meter headquarters of the Prodea investment building that had a long, complicated list of requirements. It involved the intervention of a prewar building with a listed façade with the aim of maintaining its decorative features while meeting LEED and WELL design specifications and promoting indoor air quality, thermal comfort and natural lighting.
Other impressive projects include Thessaloniki’s Ergon Agora East project, the turning of an old industrial site from the 1970s into a new supermarket, and Villa Brown Ermou, a boutique hotel in central Athens.
USP has also worked on houses, apartments and beachside villas, in areas such as Corfu, the Peloponnese, Paros and Crete. The architects have designed a number of houses for sale across Greece, drawing interest from foreigners looking to get their own high-value summer home that offers strong investment prospects.
Although each one is different, these homes have been designed based on strict criteria, dictated by the principles of sustainable buildings.
“Every project is the resultant of the client’s vision, the unique characteristics that the project’s location has and the architect’s vision and design identity,” he said.
“Apart from the aesthetics, an architect brings to the project knowledge and expertise on subjects that no other engineer has, resulting in user-focused and user-adapted spaces but also in more sustainable and cost-effective projects,” he said.
So how do architects approach the large number of projects they work on? Is there a common starting point or is it back to the drawing board for every new beginning?
There is no rule of thumb, clarifies Mr Georgantzis.
“During our twelve years of experience we have developed strategies and methodologies that we follow on every project, but this has to do mainly with the process, not with the result,” he said.
“It is a persistent question, starting from scratch and at the same time keeping and strengthening your design identity. It is something you can only gain through the years,” he adds.