We interview Manuel Enríquez, the architect in charge of the new Focke Meler headquarters.
We spoke to Manuel Enríquez, the architect in charge of designing Focke Meler’s new headquarters, and co-director with his partner Javier Barcos of one of Navarre’s leading architecture studios, ByE arquitectos.
Their outstanding track record has earned them awards in more than fifty public competitions, and, in the past few years, their work has been featured in some fifteen exhibitions -both individual and collective- and in over ninety specialized publications, including the catalogues for the C.O.A.V.N. and the FAD Awards, as well as ON DISEÑO and Av MONOGRAFIAS magazines.
Let us go back to Manuel, however. The first thing that strikes you is his enthusiasm and stamina. He is an architect, a Passive House Designer, a university lecturer… His concern for healthy, sustainable architecture is obvious from minute one; he developed this awareness many years ago, when he combined his own professional activity with the drafting and coordination of the Navarre Bioclimatic Housing Plan for the Government of Navarre Environment, Territorial Planning and Housing Department. This project was the team’s first experience in the field of bioclimatic construction: autonomous buildings, use of renewable energy, high-energy efficiency, etc.
How did you become interested in architecture? What drew you to it?
It was by mere chance, just like most things, actually. I was really taken by my drawing teacher at Secondary School. He was a hippie in a Catholic school, a breath of fresh air; he always said I should study architecture.
When I started university I realised he was absolutely right: I had high spatial perception skills, I was good at drawing and enjoyed it. I met my business partner there, in my first year, because people used to mistake us for each other. We began to work together; then, after leaving university, we founded our own company in 1992.
How do you combine individual creation and team work at ByE arquitectos?
I have always worked with Javier. We start projects together, discuss things, then separately develop a series of ideas, before putting our heads back together to study them. Once we reach a common position, one of us starts developing the project.
We prepare for architecture competitions just for the exercise, sometimes we don’t even get round to presenting a project, but it gives us some practice with different typologies.
Whoever takes on the project development gets to do the project management too.
Is there any kind of project / work you would like to attempt that you haven’t tried already?
We would love to work on a religious building project: a church, a mosque, a synagogue… I think that would be a really attractive, spiritually related project. More special, out of the ordinary, allowing some sort of freedom from the pragmatism of a hospital or an office building…
What can you tell us about the new FOCKE MELER headquarters? What would you remark about our building?
Meler combines two functions that don’t often share the same space: HQ offices and the industrial plant. In this project, the two spaces are integrated into a nicely balanced whole.
The industrial sector is highly pragmatic and does not tend to focus on architectural issues. Office buildings are more architectural, but often stand apart from the industrial premises. What we like about Meler is the balance between the two. The plant needs both to be functional and have some character, but the offices should never be a mere appendix; they must represent the company.
There are two semi-attached buildings, both speaking the same language in that the same materials have been used for both façades, which is quite unusual.
What principles did you adopt for the construction of our headquarters?
The industrial sector tends to focus on production whilst largely overlooking energy efficiency and comfort issues. We have made an effort to link the office building with the plant in this respect. The thermal insulation for the plant, for instance, is so unusual and innovative that installers had never installed it before. It will provide extra comfort throughout, while the office area has the added benefit of acoustic and light insulation.
What type of materials have you used?
For some time now there is a tendency towards making offices more “pleasant” and the current trend in office furniture is to create a collaborative working environment.
Offices are no longer cold and impersonal. but Hasta hace poco tiempo las oficinas eran lugares fríos, ahora son blancas, con suelos grises… priman las oficinas impersonales y abstractas. On the outside, our office design incorporates the concept I mentioned earlier of continuity between plant and offices, while on the inside we give the functional, clean, practical, aseptic features a slightly more human touch, all of this with a sustainability focus. We have been working on the so called “bioclimatic matrix “for over 20 years, and are committed to sustainable practices. We use wood chip roofs, rock wool insulation, textile elements… and avoid energy-intensive manufactured materials.
We use the bioclimatic matrix as a checklist. We observe the client, the type of project, the budget and the level of concern for environmental issues and draw conclusions based on three key aspects:
- Energy saving: increasing energy efficiency. This is understood from two standpoints: demand and consumption. Consumption is the use you actually make of a given utility and demand is the use the building requires for your comfort. Demand is closely related to architecture, and the first principle is saving energy, hence the sun screens on all the windows at Meler except for those not subject to direct sunlight, such as the showroom, which faces north. The lower part of the west façade is covered with a metal grid to shade functional areas such as the gym and the canteen; the upper part has adjustable louvers you can swivel open and closed. This building is constructed on the concept of architectural energy demand.
Employees will be able to control both the amount of sunlight coming through each of their individual windows and internal lighting through adjustable devices.
- Use of renewable energy
- Sustainable construction
You mentioned that blank, impersonal offices have developed into pleasant, comfortable spaces for workers, but what will be next? What does the future have in store?
We can observe a growing importance of corporate identity. Companies are concerned about improving their image.
The concept of equipment is changing, offices are becoming more and more open in order to promote a collaborative working environment; we spend the entire day in meetings . Collaborative office furniture is gaining popularity, the concept of a fixed workplace is disappearing, and the tendency is towards switching from one space to another.
What’s the next step in architecture?
Adapting. Architecture develops more slowly than the rest of the market, changing a building is not as easy as changing furniture. We still work on really old buildings; in Madrid, for instance, there are 40 year-old buildings to let, so we undertake renovations, but the basic structures are very old. Architecture needs to keep pace with the market, construction is a very slow process. The challenge is to gain agility, because right now we are still building in the same way as 80 years ago.
What materials have sparked your interest lately?
Maybe it’s less about specific elements than about an overall evolution towards more sustainable materials. For some years now the tendency has been to certify buildings. There are numerous types of certifications: energy-related, such as Passivhaus, sustainability-related, such as Breeam, the Green certification, and the Leed certification. Some of the latest ones, such as the Well certification, have to do with human health. So the latest thing is the development of materials to meet these standards.