We often interview home owners, advisors and architects on our platform. Through these interactions we have virtually traveled to New Zealand, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and numerous other places. It never fails to amaze us how global our platform is. Every now and then, however, we get the pleasure of meeting various members of our network in person, as it happened last month in Tokyo, Japan, where Imdat As, the CEO and Founder of Arcbazar, presented new and upcoming digital features for sourcing architectural design, at the 10th Annual Forum8 Design Festival. That’s where we met a design power house from Romania – two up-and-coming architects Vlad Andrei Popa and Ioan Ralea-Toma. Their submission in the Obama Presidential Library competition earlier this year caught the attention of many, including Forum8, who invited them to attend the event.
Since we had a chance to meet this dynamic duo, we had to dive a little deeper and sit them down for an interview.
Meet Atelier Monolit
Born, raised and educated in Romania, Vlad and Ioan have been colleagues and friends for a long time. Having graduated in Iasi, a city in Eastern Romania, from the Faculty of Architecture G.M. Cantacuzino, Vlad and Ioan started accumulating international experience from the start. They have spent time studying in Lisbon, following which they spent a few months working for a Slovenia-based internationally acclaimed architectural studio OFIS. They went on to move back to Romania, where they acquired further experience working for large architectural firms, before venturing out on their own.
At the moment, Ioan and Vlad are proud owners and chief architects of Atelier Monolit. Vlad is currently based in Iasi, while Ioan has relocated to Cluj, a city in northwestern Romania. Ioan and Vlad are the new generation of architects who fully embrace the opportunities presented by digital technologies to work with international clients without spending half of their time on the road. While travel is required for large projects, a large percentage of their client work is managed online.
Most of their projects, including the ones on Arcbazar, are developed as a team. “Regarding our architectural process, it’s not rigid, nor is it straight forward, but more of an algorithm that we apply to each project,” explain Vlad and Ioan. “We sketch a lot, we even go too far, a bit crazy sometimes with ideas. We believe this is extremely important in the creative process, because we discover new things, new features that can be developed in the project, even though it may have seemed too much at first.”
If the design process doesn’t come naturally, if it’s not fluid, then something went wrong.
Much of their success on Arcbazar is due to their ability to adjust to the needs and vision of each client. “We haven’t adapted a strict style to be recognized by, since this isn’t our target, as we try to design projects as diverse as possible and as suitable for each situation,” explain Ioan and Vlad during our chat. “Even if we live in a world which is strongly focused on image and looks, we believe that every project has to have it’s own aesthetics that have to emerge naturally, as opposed to one adapted to trends.” Luckily, this architectural team does not have to worry about tunnel vision or being stuck. They are each other’s biggest critics, pushing each other to new heights.
Next Generation of Architects
Vlad and Ioan admit that they do not have decades of experience, however, they did not let that hold them back and start their own firm. Competitive by nature and eager to take on new challenges, they see their youth as an advantage. It pushes them to go above and beyond their clients’ expectations. They are constantly experimenting, finding a unique solution for each client’s needs. “We believe that, at least for some years, we’ll be quite flexible and adaptable, when in comes to work. Being part of this generation, we do not like routine. We like to try different things, work on various projects and get involved in all sorts of competitions, not all architecture related. As we see it, this helps us break the habit and boosts our creativity,” enthusiastically explain Ioan and Vlad.
This approach has won the team numerous awards on Arcbazar. They have delivered winning submissions in both competitions that were requiring conceptual designs as well as those that required attention to such aspects as buildability and functionality. The team’s submission in the Obama Presidential Library competition is Ioan’s favorite example of the former. “It was quite a complex challenge and we knew from the start that we didn’t aim for something that was about to be built. That’s what made working on it a fun process where we could experiment with form and expression.” Vlad’s favorite submission is the example of a more practical, yet still conceptual, design for the Medical Marijuana Dispensary. “We had to think of a concept for a new type of building that could (in the future) house a range of functions in a way that seems very simple, yet intricately connected. We also had the chance to get feedback from the client, who was especially pleased with what we came up with. Having a specialist in that field acknowledge that the new concept was exactly what he was looking for is quite rewarding,” explains Vlad.
While starting your own business is scary irrespective of how many years of experience you have, Vlad and Ioan may be doing so at a perfect time. Much of Romanian architecture is the result of the country’s Communist past with bulky buildings and grey colors. However, the country is going through a revival, re-discovering its beautiful rich national culture, and learning to combine it with modern trends and technological developments. “While not as mainstream as, for example in the Nordic countries, , Romanian home owners and businesses are increasingly aware of such factors as sustainability and green energy when designing their projects,” share Ioan and Vlad. “As a country, we still have a long way to go, as many businesses and home owners have to be convinced that the long-term benefits of building sustainable structure far outweigh short-term costs.”
Sources of Inspiration
They constantly search for sources of inspiration. This trip to Japan was certainly one of them. “Japanese architecture had a huge impact on western modernism, so it was a fantastic opportunity for us to truly see what we have been studying since the 1st year of Faculty. From our point of view, even though it’s one of the most crowded places in the world, Tokyo is not like most European Metropolis. It didn’t felt like the city was suffocating, even in its most crowded areas,” share Vlad and Ioan in their admiration of the city. “This might also be because of the fact that Japanese culture rejected the concept of starchitects, so architecture seems a bit more humble, but still has so much to offer. It’s amazing how you can find huge structures made out of steel and glass, and then, right next to them, this really incredible gardens that offer you a very pleasant sense of calm and relaxation. Japan is build around contrasts.”
We surround ourselves with stimuli from the architectural field, always analyzing the projects of any fellow architect — from starchitects to young offices. After all, if you want to reach for the heights you have to climb on the shoulders of giants, and that’s where the inspiration comes from, by understanding the works of extraordinary architects.
Plans for the Future
While at the moment the team is leaning towards visualization and conceptual architecture, they are not limiting themselves to any particular projects. “We basically want to keep the same goals that we have right now – besides client work, we constantly want to get involved in competitions. Even though we get to express our ideals best through architectural competitions, we keep an eye out for all kinds of tasks, be it visualization, logo, furtniture design or just simple illustrations,” explain Vlad and Ioan as we discuss their plans for the forseeable future. “Meanwhile we are also working on our website and hope on finishing it soon.”
We have no doubt that we will continue to see stunning designs from these architects on our platform as well as get a chance to witness the expansion and success of their architectural firm. Make sure to follow Atelier Monolit on Facebook and check out their portfolios on Arcbazar.