In a conversation with Vikas Bhadra, Rob Wagemans, Creative Founder/Director of Concrete Architecture Studio based in Amsterdam talks about the firm’s success stories scripted by team of 55 multi-disciplinary creatives which includes architects, interior designers and visual marketeers.
“Our firm creates spaces that work and places the needs of people at the very heart of the project, at the end of the day we are always very excited with images and messages on social media & online platforms of people who have experienced our work,” says Creative Founder/Director Rob Wagemans of Concrete Architecture Studio, “Concrete unites people. we work with a team of 55 multi-disciplinary creatives as architects, interior designers and visual marketeers to help businesses and institutions.”
One of the premier firms in the hospitality space the inception of Concrete says Rob began with a coffee shop “Designing and building a coffee shop that became a well-known chain in the Netherlands: Coffee Company, started it all. Closely after that the design of the Supperclub (a restaurant and club) that expanded all over the world and made Concrete the design suppliers of the nightlife and hospitality world.”
Once the firm came into existence, CitizenM, a hotel made of prefabricated room modules at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, truned out to be a major turning point for Concrete. This project not only disrupted what the hotel industry meant, but also opened a lot of doors for concrete when it came to designing in the 5-star sector. “As a matter of fact, shortly after we started working for W London, which was also a big milestone,” Rob points out, “citizenM revolutionized not only our image, but also the industry: it proposed a solution for a really big frustration. What we did was nothing more than filling in a gap in the market: providing a luxurious hotel room that would be affordable. All the comforts, and the style of being young at heart, compacted in a tiny space.”
For a firm which works with a big team the inspiration too comes from both the past and the present. Architects like Mies van der Rohe, BIG, Tadao Ando, Sanaa and Kazuyo Sejima are often a reference for the projects executed by the firm. The projects executed by the firm is a demonstration of their affiliation to minimalism and concept/function driven spaces. “There’s often playfulness, an element of surprise, and that is also what we try with our design: creating total identities/concepts, architecture and interior that have a layer of humour and unexpected opposites. Combining elements that traditionally would not match, to create something unique. Because we believe that change happens in unexpected moments.”
This design eclecticism takes into account the sustainability factor as well “We have a sustainability strategy, to design spaces that can survive the trends, can stay for a longer period and become somewhat timeless,” says Rob, “we prefer to use durable, authentic materials that age nicely, and become more beautiful because of their wear. We apply different layers in our designs, styling that can be replaced easily, furniture layouts that can be flexible over a period of time, and the hardware of the interior architecture, buildings and landscape, that can survive and stay relevant over decades.”
Any project requires a symbiosis of the architect’s creativity and the clients’ requirements and to be able to arrive at this state of synergy at times can be quite a task at times. “To avoid incongruences with our clients we are used to having workshops with them, with the main goal of brainstorming. Usually, a client comes to us with a goal, but often there is a bigger, deeper truth, that actually defines the aim of the project.
And to do that the only solution is brainstorming, asking ourselves and the client many times the question “why?”. Because our aim is not to create a product that fulfills a checklist, but a striking concept that truly enriches the client’s portfolio. The reason behind something might be different from what we first think, and therefore the outcome is also very different from what the client expects in the first place. And that’s because we question everything, to get at the very core of the project.”
“For concrete a design challenge can be in small scale or big scale, and for this reason, every project becomes one. We like on keep creating the difference, shake up an industry with innovative designs, and that is why we like challenges. One of the biggest we recently faced, is getting on board of the design of several areas of Virgin Voyages, the latest cruise ship launched by Virgin. We had no experience in this industry, but this is actually what made the design revolutionary! The fact that we had no idea of how the design of a cruise ship is usually made, resulted in a complete alteration of its blueprint. One of the main changes was the addition of a running track around the perimeter of the boat, functioning as part of the concept of the fitness area as a playground for adults.”
Form and function are the fundamentals when it comes to smart design. Concrete loves to place the needs of people at the very heart of the project: first people, then a good concept, followed by smart solutions translated into form and function! The firm aims to create unique custom-made experiences and design for their audience, brand or clients. Therefore, unifying materials many times is hard to discover in their portfolio. Nonetheless it hasn’t stopped them from fabulous projects like W Osaka one of the most recent works, where the firm interpreted the city and culture of Osaka through contemporary design.
Concrete’s experiments in global design events have also been quite successful “What we did for Salone del Mobile in collaboration with Moooi and Marcel Wanders in 2018, got the attention of the press and audience,” reminisces Rob, “because the installation was not what they expected. We surprised the crowd by bringing concrete literally in the space: we designed a space that recreated our office temporarily; recreating our working environment with a homely atmosphere thanks to the Moooi products.”
Awards and accolades are nothing new to concrete but one award which stands out is the 2017 AHEAD Award that concrete received – the outstanding contribution award. The award recognized the outstanding contribution of individuals to the hospitality design industry. “It was an honour to receive an award,” concludes Rob “that highlights our work as a whole and proves that the work we create is making a difference in the hospitality industry.