Kunik de Morsier
Lausanne, CH

Kunik de Morsier is a Swiss architecture practice founded in 2010 by Valentin Kunik and Guillaume de Morsier. In our interview with the founders, they dive deep into their design philosophy, focus on environmental sensitivity, instabilities that surround architecture, as well as adaptability all while paying attention to innovative and experimental ways to utilise local materials and resources. Read on to find out how they are reshaping the collective design process all while exercising an integrated approach to architecture.

Developing an identity

V.K: Although Guillaume and I attended the same architecture school in Lausanne, he went to Zurich while I completed my studies in Lausanne. In spite of this slight difference in our backgrounds, we have spent a lot of time exploring architecture together. Even though we had never collaborated on a project or worked for the same office, we shared a deep curiosity about life, the changing world, love, humanity, nature, and how architecture fits into the universe.

G.dM: Having never collaborated in any studios during university, we still always pursued parallel activities together and planned to continue to do so after graduation. We participated in numerous workshops and explorations during our time at school. Carrying forward our collaboration was a natural step towards answering questions that we had pondered about for years, such as how architecture can evolve and operate in a broader field. In 2010, we made it official by registering as a company. 

V.K: In 2010, architecture in Switzerland underwent a strange transition. As recent graduates, we found ourselves in a reality with little urban development in the city and many competitions in remote villages and peripheral areas. Although our academic background didn't fully prepare us to win these competitions, we participated in as many as possible to gain experience in unfamiliar environments. Additionally, we spent half of our time on investigations, art installations, research, teaching, and workshops. Over the first 5 years, we developed an office identity with a local attitude but a focus outside the city limits. We gradually started working in remote areas, such as the alpine arch and high-altitude locations like the Jura mountains, receiving more commissions and gaining recognition outside of the strict architectural system.


Strategies to scale and empower

V.K: We share the notion of “empowering architecture” from Charlotte Malterre-Barthes, a French architect and urban designer teaching at Harvard. As architects, we shape more than just buildings. We work closely with people, discussing life's matters, conducting anthropological experiments, and developing alternative ways of thinking. Field investigations in peripheral areas helped us explore perpendicular approaches to Swiss design, which often prioritises commissions over community needs. As we continued to listen to people, conducting such explorations through our work, over the course of the last 5-7 years, people started reaching out to us for architectural solutions. Swisscom, the main communication company in Switzerland, commissioned our first institutional project which allowed us to showcase our alternative approach to spatial design. We were no longer seen as ”enfants terribles”, but as young experts who could provide unique responses to contemporary paradigms.

G.dM: It is funny that, initially, we were not often the first choice for clients seeking architects. However, after several years of developing our personal approach, clients began to contact us due to our ability to meet their expectations in complex environments. 

V.K: We do not have a predefined approach to architecture or its typology; rather, we believe that the architect's role should be defined through open discussion. The ultimate goal of architecture is to make the world more habitable and to foster relationships. If we do not participate in this process or if we decrease the quality of the world, we are not fulfilling our role as architects. It is our duty to improve the world for human beings and other living creatures by proposing natural as well as technical solutions that take into account factors such as light, wind, and water. Such an approach can help strengthen the profession and reduce its negative impact. In Switzerland, the architectural sector is responsible for 40% of CO2 emissions and 80% of the country's waste. Imagine the impact we could make by addressing these two areas!

G.dM: The role of the architect is highly debated in today's world, as they are responsible for making crucial decisions about the use of space. Fortunately, in Switzerland, one must be a certified architect to obtain building permits, which helps secure our position. However, despite making strides towards a more sustainable future, carbon emissions continue to increase, and large construction groups are consolidating their power. As an architect, it's essential to go beyond our roles of designers and take an active part in the promotion of more sustainable ways to transform, and ultimately build spaces. We frequently have discussions in our office about how to approach projects of various scales, from designing a simple object like a table to large-scale interventions like a campus. Each scale requires different strategies and stakeholder involvement to increase architectural and social quality while reducing environmental impact until the end of a project.

V.K: In order to maintain the importance of research and discussion, especially when dealing with brick and mortar world constraints such as material shortage and cost limitations, it is crucial to engage in experimentation. Additionally, this approach helps in developing an authorship role which can be useful when working with clients. By constantly pushing the boundaries of our approach, we can ensure that we remain open to debate and continue to evolve as architects.


Design as a collective experiment

V.K: As a simple anecdote, in our office we have an established practice of including the sun path, dropping water, and wind analysis on every single printed plan. This approach sets us apart as we always take into account the natural elements of the site where we are building, including the climate and the people who will be using the space. We recognise that architecture is not just about creating a 3D model but also about designing for specific conditions and contexts.

G.dM: We have an integrated approach to design, which involves various tools such as representations of space, prototyping, and 3D modelling, as well as drawings - all of which are standard tools for architects. However, we also involve different stakeholders, fields of expertise, and users in the design process. We organise workshops, visits, and field trips to discuss with people and guide them through the design process. This collective experiment involves not only the team in the office but also external stakeholders and individual clients.

V.K: We recently completed a project for Audemars Piguet Manufacture, the most amazing watch manufacturer in Switzerland. To design the project we have worked with an Agile workflow: we formed groups of 10 users who worked on different aspects of the project such as landscape, public spaces, and industrial flows. Each team consisted of a wide range of profiles such as watchmakers, logisticians, or  housekeepers. We then conducted workshops with these groups using physical models to identify the right kind of spaces for their specific uses. We also hiked up the surrounding mountains with a professional photographer to capture the different seasons and climate conditions, allowing us to add atmospheric elements into the design. By integrating both material and immaterial information, we were able to create a successful project that goes beyond “form follows function” and touches the senses and creates emotion. The feedback received has been positive, both from a programmatic perspective on the watchmakers’ work and from a sensorial experience.


Recalibrating the design process

G.dM: Over the past three years, we've been focused on developing industrial facilities with a radical "carbon approach”. We are collaborating with various partners to design and transform these facilities to reduce CO2 emissions, promote biodiversity, and create more liveable spaces for humans and non-humans. We currently have three projects running in parallel, where we're exploring structural solutions to build with local materials while meeting the needs of contemporary industries. We strongly believe that architecture must play a crucial role in this programmatic field to create a circular and sustainable future. It's essential to keep industries in urban areas and build with local resources in a circular way, which requires architects to design compliant industrial facilities that fit our cities.

V.K: We believe it's important to focus on quality over quantity and ask more questions about what makes good architecture and a great place to live. We need to take a step back and really examine what makes us feel comfortable and appreciate our surroundings.

G.dM: We are increasingly integrating materials supply chains into the design process from the beginning: what are the deadlines, which materials are required, what resources are available and when. Although we've previously only done this for smaller installations, we're now managing to apply it to larger projects. For instance, we recently went to a forest to select the trees we would use to construct a building over a 6-month period. We went with a forester, the individual in charge of maintaining the forest, By doing this, we were able to choose the timber we used in the project while assessing its impact on renewable resources that are planned on a much larger time span as the ones we are used to. A tree needs several decades to grow, and forests are managed in order to provide resources for at least the three next generations.


Adapting to new climates

G.dM: We're really fascinated with site-specific designs, particularly in extreme weather conditions. We've worked on projects in Algeria, Kosovo, and other places around the Mediterranean, and currently we're working in Switzerland and Florida, US. What's particularly intriguing about our current project is that we are dealing with something we're not accustomed to: keeping the interior cool while it's hot outside. But no matter where we're working, we always strive for a local approach, with local people, materials, and knowledge. We want to make it a bespoke adventure. We don't believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to design.

V.K: Both Guillaume and I teach at different architecture schools. I teach in Geneva while Guillaume teaches in Marseille. Our teaching experiences put us in two completely different situations when it comes to natural resources such as forestry, water, and harvestry. The culture and approaches to using local resources are quite distinct in these two regions. But we see them as two very specific bioregions in which it is interesting to rethink how the architect can operate as an accelerator of ecological transition. But we don't want to limit ourselves to designing for our local area. 


An experimental and functional freedom

G.dM: Currently, we have 6-8 different projects going on, with a diverse range of programs. One third of these projects are industrial facilities, another third are public projects like schools, concert halls, and a rock club, and we also have a couple of public/private housing projects. Half of these projects involve adaptive reuse interventions. We don't want to limit ourselves to a particular program or building type. Here in Switzerland, we have the functional freedom to explore different types of projects, which is not always possible in other countries. For example, in France, if you design a library, you may be expected to only design that type of building for the rest of your career. The UK is similar in that respect. We want to maintain a flexible approach to our work. In addition to our regular activities, we also try to keep one or two exhibitions, art installations, or other experimental projects going at all times, to push ourselves beyond what we know. Currently, we are working on a sculptural installation that will be located in the Alps, in collaboration with the artist Séverin Guelpa. Art, whether it's music, sculpture, photography, or any other form, is important to us because it resonates with our human experience and our connection to the world.

6123151 R1 30 6A Nicolas HaeniPhoto credits ©Nicolas Haeni

KDM APS Iwan Baan 01Photo credits ©Iwan Baan

KDM APS Iwan Baan 02Photo credits ©Iwan Baan

KDM APS Nicolas DelarochePhoto credits ©Nicolas Delaroche

KDM HGL Matthieu GafsouPhoto credits ©Matthieu Gafsou

KDM ICE Kunik de Morsier 01Photo courtesy of ©Kunik de Morsier

KDM ICE Kunik de Morsier 02Photo courtesy of ©Kunik de Morsier

KDM VDJ Eik FrenzelPhoto credits ©Eik Frenzel

KDM VUF Bois InitialPhoto credits ©Bois Initial

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