We realized what needed to be changed in our company for our jobs to feel meaningful again.”
We want to make the right decision about whatever we do
Every building, along with the people who will use it, have a unique soul that can and should be respected. That’s the vision of KOGAA, a young architectural studio aiming to show through their work that good architecture is about much more than just buildings – it’s also about the surrounding area and the people using them.
What happens when you put talent, young ambition, and international experience into the magic hat? Abracadabra – you get KOGAA! Alexandra Georgescu has travelled all around the world; born in Romania, she studied in Italy, Denmark, England, and finally the Netherlands, where she met her partner Tomáš Kozelský. Together, they went to Beijing to try their luck, and two years later they returned, loaded with valuable experience that they decided to put to use in Brno. Viktor Odstrčilík, Tomáš’s friend from university, hopped on and in 2015 the three of them established KOGAA, a studio that designs its projects with a focus on positively impacting users, communities, and even the areas surrounding them.
Beyond architecture: Slow development
The beginnings of KOGAA were a bit different from what most would expect. Their experience from abroad helped shape their ideas on approaches to architecture and made them more comprehensive. In order to truly excel in their work, they decided to go beyond the borders of their profession. “It’s not enough to create beautiful things; that’s only the beginning. I believe that the role of architects is changing, and we need to get more involved in the entire process. We should plan the building’s strategy, think about what it’ll be used for, and – last but not least – keep in mind its sustainability, not only in terms of the environment but financially as well,” explains Alexandra Georgescu.
And that’s how these architects started to think like developers as well, taking over responsibility for their buildings and their successful operation. This is the philosophy KOGAA showed in its pilot project “The Distillery”. For this project, the architects took over an abandoned former distillery in the centre of Brno and turned it into a multipurpose pulsating centre that offers an innovative, shared space for educational and cultural events. They focused both on the inside as well as the outside of the building – on how the building works as well as on the local community and its interaction with the surroundings.
Most recently, they applied a similar approach during their reconstruction of the former Lyceum building, which they rent out from its owner and share with other creative companies. Unlike usual architects, though, they work in a creative and purposeful way, and intentionally seek out historical buildings that would otherwise be torn down. They breathe new life (and often a new purpose) into them, calling their approach “slow development”.
Chaos out, luck in!
As early on as their work with The Distillery, the young architects were meeting with people from JIC. The mutual respect that grew between the two parties eventually led to a year-long mentorship with Katarína Morvai, which turned the excellent creative people into very competent planners as well. “Planning budgets is a completely normal thing in IT companies, but I don’t think too many creative studios have adopted this kind of thinking,” explains Alexandra. Katarína helped the architects assign roles to each other; now, each of them does precisely what they enjoy.
“Each of us is different and better at something else. I’m a social and open person, so I’m in charge of communications with media, partners, and clients. Tomáš is a visionary and authors many of the ideas in our studio. And Viktor is very practical, good at starting things up as well as finalizing them. JIC helped us define our roles in order to avoid stress and be truly happy. Now, we’re not only more efficient but also more positive, and this has brought further results – better cash flow and related growth. The more efficient you are, the more quickly you can grow,” explains Alexandra.
KUMST is a community
According to Alexandra, creative people often miss skills like these, and KUMST provides a place to obtain them. “At school, we are taught how to create and express our ideas. But we aren’t taught how to share them with the public, gain a new project, finance it, cooperate with communities and institutions, draw up contracts for clients, or handle copyright. People from creative industries need to be able to create a budget, know how much the taxes are, and what to do when a client steals their idea.”
By the way, Alexandra is the mind behind the successful Brno Design Days festival, as well. One of her reasons for coming up with it was to bring together local creative people and create a community. Four years later, her efforts will be handed off to KUMST. And it’s more than symbolic that our building, previously used by the Faculty of Visual Arts, on Údolní Street in Brno, was reconstructed based on a design by the architects of KOGAA.
Kind of a lifelong project
The plans of this aspiring studio are as daring as the architects themselves. KOGAA would like to have their own (i.e. not only rented) building. They are currently in negotiations with the city of Brno about buying what’s called the White House (Bílý dům), which they’d like to apply their slow development to. Their hope is to use their own proven way to reconstruct it and thus protect it from being potentially torn down in the future. And it’s the White House where the architects would like to have their offices. For now, however, they are opening an office in Prague, and they’d like to get active in other regions, even outside the country. “Life keeps bringing more and more new challenges. And even though they’re often far from simple, they are what keeps pushing us forward. This never ends and is a kind of a lifelong project,” concludes Alexandra, smiling.
What does consultant Katarína Morvai have to say about the cooperation?
“KOGAA is a modern and highly-professional architecture company famous for its unique approach to projects, unusual personal determination, and a sense for seeing architecture in a wider context. Together, we clarified the roles of individual members at various management levels, task organization and human resources, budget, and cashflow. Their unusually deep self-reflection and a passion to improve allowed us to deal with rather serious questions, such as brand identity and USP, leadership, and development of human potential.”