Interview by Sarah Kilcoyne
Once a month here at ESDIP, there is a prestigious prize up for grabs – the esteemed ‘Coworker of the Month‘ award!
We are proud to take this opportunity to show off one of our fabulous coworkers, and give you an insight into the type of work that our community members do here on a daily basis.
Photo credit: Sarah Kilcoyne
Nicolau studied at the Royal College of Art and the University of Greenwich. His postgraduate thesis project explored the influence of hyperreality in the built environment through film and was nominated for the RIBA Silver Medal. His work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Venice Architecture Biennale.
We sat down with Nico to talk about life as an architect, creepy abandoned buildings, and Indian food.
Sarah: Hi Nico! Let’s start at the start – what do you do?
Nico: Hi! I’m an Architect.
S: And how did you end up coworking here with us?
N: After having my own office space for some time, I came to realise that I feel much better in a creative environment shared with other people. I have visited and tried several coworking spaces. ESDIP was the best choice.
S: Tell us a bit more about your work! What’s your area of expertise?
N: Before coming to Berlin, I specialised in public work – designing schools, town halls, stations, airports, public spaces, etc. – but since arriving in Germany I am trying to focus on residential and mixed-use commercial projects.
A still from one of Nico’s current projects, a plan for Tottenham Court Road Underground Station. Photo credit: Nicolau Faria
S: Last week you showed me a plan you were working on, a proposal to restore an old Sanitorium outside Berlin. Have you ever done something like that before? If yes, can you tell us a bit about it?
N: I have worked on the restoration of large and protected old buildings – such as the Hackney Town Hall in London – but never one in such a state of decay.
It’s very different to designing new buildings or even reusing existing ones because you need to take special care in bringing the original elements of the building back to life while making the restauration obvious – you need to make a clear visual distinction between what is original and what has been restored. You also need to give it the comfort and safety of a contemporary building without destroying or modifying any essential elements. And all this requires a sign-off by the local planning officers.
S: You’re the only architect we have working here at the moment! Do you find it at all inspiring to have other types of creatives coworking around you? Like the motion designers, etc.
N: Yes, very much. I think that the variety of creative work is one of the best things of working here.
S: How long does it take to become a professional architect?
N: It takes at least 7 years to qualify, including 5 years of study and 2 of work experience, but I think most people take on average about 9-10 years to become a qualified architect.
A still from one of Nico’s current projects, a renovation plan for the Waldhaus Sanitorium in Buch. Photo credit: Nicolau Faria
S: Was it creepy, visiting the Waldhaus Sanitorium?
N: The Waldhaus Sanatorium in Buch has been abandoned for almost 30 years since the end of the GDR and yes, it is super creepy. Although every wall and door is still in place, the paint has peeled and curled off every single surface which gives it a very strange character. All the windows have been covered and there are remnants of hospital-like beds and medical equipment, so some rooms look pretty scary. During the visit I was told the building was used as the main set of a horror film not so long ago – and I don’t think the production designers had to do much work to get it ready for filming.
S: A few weeks ago, for Co-Lunch, you made us a fabulous vegan bolognese! What’s your favourite cuisine to cook?
N: Indian. I love making curries, dahl and chutneys. I guess that will be the menu for my next co-lunch.
Some snippets from a previous project, displayed at the Venice Architecture Biennale a couple of years ago. Photo credit: Nicolau Faria
S: How does it feel to win the esteemed Coworker of the Month award?
N: It is a great honour, thank you. It’s very nice to feel part of the ESDIP community.
S: As someone who knows very little about the intricacies of architecture, I’m curious – is it more about design, or engineering?
N: A bit of both, really. Projects usually last at least a couple of years, so you end up going through different stages that require completely different types of work. The early stages are very much design oriented, but later it becomes quite technical with a lot of engineering input.
S: Are you planning to stay here in Berlin?
N: Yes. I grew up in Porto, lived in London for many years, and finally decided to move to Berlin three years ago. My better half is from here and we are very happy in Berlin.
S: What is your favourite style or school of architecture?
N: That would be Art Deco from the 1920s and 30s, because it combines the simplicity of cubism and modernism with delicate decorative elements and craftsmanship. This also makes it a beautiful style full of contradictions, which is something I love and I believe is missing in contemporary architecture.
S: Are there any cool buildings here in Berlin, you would recommend we check out?
N: To me, the most interesting buildings in Berlin are early modernist industrial buildings from the 1910s to 1930s, which became fundamental influencers of the modernist movement and the Bauhaus, such as the AEG turbine factory in Siemensstadt and the
AEG Kleinmotorenfabrik in Wedding, both by Peter Behrens, or the old tram depot where the Uferstudios and the Tanzfabrik are located, also in Wedding.
S: And finally! Any advice for aspiring architects?
N: Enjoy the ride. The process is too long to focus only on the end result.
Are you also interested in coworking? Then check out our pricing plans here, or just drop by the space any day within the opening hours, Mon-Fri 10-19h, and we’ll show you around.