The third interview from the new series: FemGems in the Arts, featuring the founders of LXSY ARCHITEKTEN, Kim Le Roux and Margit Sichrovsky
Kim Le Roux and Margit Sichrovsky founded LXSY ARCHITEKTEN — a planning office for inclusive architecture and interior design in Berlin in 2015. They initiate, moderate and implement long-term, functional and sustainable projects that identify and strengthen the potential of places and social spaces. With their work, Kim and Margit pursue innovative approaches to working and living. With each project they try to influence social coexistence, because they strongly believe that architecture can promote a socially, culturally, ecologically and economically sustainable future. Together they have already garnered a couple of awards, among which is the prestigious German Design Award 2017.
How did you find each other and why did you decide to make a team?
We met at the Technical University of Berlin in 2008, when both of us started our Masters in Architecture.
It was love at first sight, we saw each other and thought: “Damn, she is cool. I need to work on a project with her”.
So throughout our Masters we worked on a few projects together which culminated in us doing our Master thesis together. The topic we chose was: Urban Renewal of Philippi, Cape Town — essentially a slum upgrading solution. We came up with five different ideas on how we could provide better living in a neighborhood with only a limited architectural intervention.
Kim is from South Africa.
Kim: Yes, I was born there, but we’ve kind of moved backwards and forwards to Berlin. I did primary school in Berlin, then high school and my Bachelors in South Africa and Masters here in Berlin. Margit, who is German, has also been several times to South Africa, so that was a match as well.
What kind of difficulties did you have to deal with in the beginning when you were establishing your own studio?
We finished University and we both worked in respected offices. Margit worked in an architecture company in Berlin and I worked on a big building site in Ethiopia for the German government.
So we both have worked on big architecture projects, which wasn’t exactly what we had in mind when we were in university. And we called each other and said, “Okay, maybe it’s time to start our own thing”, but we weren’t sure if we could do it or not.
We actually wanted to work on our Masters thesis as a project to sort of kick off the office with that. We soon realized that even though we both had already worked for 2/3 years in big architecture companies we might still be slightly out of our depth starting with such a mammoth project. We knew we would have to find funding because we wouldn’t be making money on оur own.
In January 2015 we started our studio with no real economic plan, but rather because we needed to work on projects we could stand behind (from a socially sustainable stand point). It was a struggle to try to find a way to get our business to make a profit or to pay our own salaries. So it was kind of tough beginning, but sometime we just got lucky and while we were looking for a workspace we moved to a co-working space called Impact Hub, which became our first project.
It’s a co-working space with a focus on creating a community of Social Businesses. At that time they had just decided to move to a bigger space and they had put out an open call for architects to present ideas. We made a proposal and we got the project. It was a fantastic first project with amazing clients (although а very tight budget).
It took us two more years to really get off the ground and develop a solid client base. Аnd 2016 was a particularly hard year economically. But from 2017 on it has started to look up and now our Studio has grown to eight people.
What do you prefer — working on projects for housing or on interior design?
We like both of them. For us it’s like to have a holistic approach for an office where we really like to start the design and even go to the site and implement it. It’s nice to sort of work on a shell and then even do the interior. Then everything sorts it out together. Also, we work with the active participation of users and we like to get feedback on how they use the space, how they like to live and work, what’s their daily rhythm. We try to match their style with our architecture. We have such amazing clients. Most of them are our age and they want innovative office spaces, they want different kinds of living opportunities.They really allow us to use our creativity freely, with few restrictions.
How do you choose your clients or do they choose you?
It’s a mutual event. Sometimes we get the feeling that we like each other and we want to work together. Sometimes not. It’s intuition and luck.
Have you ever felt some restrictions or prejudices in your professional field?
Well, there are always a few prejudices in our field, especially on site. Architecture is a male dominated sector. There are not so many architecture companies run by women.
Sometimes that becomes noticeable — for example, when we started it took us some time to convince the construction workers to take us seriously. It wasn’t uncomfortable or problematic, we really enjoyed that process of proving ourselves. It was more or less a matter of finding the right tone.
How do you cope with your differences or different opinions on something particular that you are working on?
We have known each other for over ten years now and have learnt to compromise.
We value each other’s input.
Although we often have the same vision. That is why partnerships are so awesome.
Can you describe each other’s personalities?
Margit: Kind, tolerant. Full of innovative ideas. Empathetic. Clear on what she wants.
Kim: She is a very empathetic person. Great designer. Organised. Full of life and positive thinking. Decisive without being determinant. Fun to be with.
How do you both complement each other in your work?
It’s very easy because we are very similar. We very seldom have disagreements and when we have them we solve them pretty quickly. We enjoy working together and running the company. This is our least complicated relationship.
Do you easily make decisions in your work and in your personal life?
Kim: Well, for me it is easy to make decisions at work, even very enjoyable. In my personal life, it’s always a bit more complicated. It possibly has something to do with the fact that we spend a lot of time at work. We are still working on the work-life balance. It’s not so hard to follow through with our work decisions which are logical and according to our values.
It’s also very important to not be afraid of trying new things. Try and fail — it’s not a problem. If we didn’t make it, we didn’t make it. But sometimes you need to try — there isn’t the option of not doing it.
Margit: For me, I sometimes find it hard to make unpopular decisions since I always want everybody to be happy… but I’m working on it. In my personal life as a mother of two children, I am used to making decisions, but also to making compromises.
How do you feel about architecture: is it closer to art or is it merely a tool to impact the practical world?
For us architecture is about people. What that means to us is that the design comes from the required needs of the users. Architecture is a language that should translate to the users’ needs in a practical, but also in an aesthetically pleasing, manner. The social impact of architecture should have a much bigger role in the world. It is a direct reflection of who we are as a society or who we want to be.
Architecture should actively bring people together, foster tolerance and make homes and neighbourhoods spaces where people want to live.
Do you follow specific ethic and aesthetic professional rules?
Social sustainability is of utmost importance to us. Human elements are the most important in architecture.
This means that we feel we have an obligation to produce architecture that puts the person’s needs first and is of a very high aesthetic quality.
As architects we want to step back and listen and try to translate what the person really needs. That’s one of our strongest sides. We also keep in mind that we are not creating only houses and office spaces, but we are trying to add social value to neighbourhoods.
So that it should become a neighbourhood where you would like to be, where you would like to work, where you would like to live. That’s very important for us. We really focus on details, because they make the difference between good and great architecture. With our work, we pursue innovative approaches to working and living. Our interests range from office interiors, product design and architectural spaces, to our own concepts and social initiatives.
With each of our projects, we try to influence social coexistence. We are convinced that architecture can promote a socially, culturally, ecologically and economically sustainable future. Our approaches are unconventional and by rethinking working processes we create tailor-made solutions.
How does one achieve simplicity in life and work?
We are focused on the details and we try to make things multifunctional. We like the smart slogan, “reduce to the max” that means,
we put in a lot of thought and effort into each and every detail, to produce a clear and aesthetically pleasing architecture.
Have you been influenced by other architects or artists?
We appreciate the attitude of Jean Philipp Vassal (Lacaton Vassal). He welcomes the users by letting them unfold their own personalities in buildings designed by him. He does this by giving them the space to add their own touch of design/identity and not enforcing his design style. For example, a lot of architects don’t even want the inhabitant to hang their curtains if it doesn’t fit to the color of the facade. Another influencer is Susanne Hofmann with her participative approach to architecture. Maybe it is all about appreciation of the people and their neighbourhoods and not about the vanity of the architect. Other influencers are Jan Gehl, Richard Sennet and Peter Herrle. They have a strong focus on the development of the neighborhood and the participation of communities. We really like how they transfer that into architecture.
What would the perfect city look like?
The perfect city is unfinished. With open borders, always ready for change. It enhances interconnection between people with different backgrounds and cultures.
What about Berlin?
Berlin is a good example. Maybe not the prettiest city, but it’s still an unfinished city. It is a collection of different styles, cultures, identities, neighbourhoods, etc. The city is permanently changing and in this sense it should stay the way it is. Every neighborhood is a little bit different, culturally stylized — from very hipster neighborhoods to more sophisticated neighborhoods. It’s so mixed up, but everything has an opportunity for change. Things could be added and taken away.
What does success mean to you?
Having a studio with an environment where our colleagues enjoy working on projects that are innovative, inspiring and add value to society.
Which are the projects that you are most proud of?
Impact Hub — we loved the client and the design. Also Full Node &b — also a co-working space, created by fantastic people and we went crazy on the detailing. What’s coming next is another office space, called Spielfeld, which means playground in German. It will be very interesting in terms of interior design and should be done very soon.
What are your plans for the near future and long-term goals?
The next steps for our studio are expanding the housing sector of our studio, which ideally would include projects like collective housing, co-living concepts and/or affordable housing.
We also want to build up a “city-hub” in our office space with people with a similar vision and in the fields of architecture, urban design, sociology, product design, etc. Another long-term goal is to implement our master thesis in South Africa and other African countries like Ethiopia and Tanzania.
This portray is the third of the brand new FemGems in the Arts, proudly part of FemGems, whose mission is to foster female entrepreneurship.
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