Gradual growth
An interview with OOIIO
Madrid, ES

Sat against a playful mural at the studio in Madrid, OOIIO founder Joaquín Millán recounts his story of how he came around to setting up his practice. After almost a decade of experience in the field, the studio continues to work with all kinds of architectural, interior and urban design projects. This is part of a series of video-interviews with a selection of emerging European practices. A project by Itinerant Office within the cultural agenda of New Generations and the support of Funder35. Interview by Gianpiero Venturini and video by Luca Chiaudano - CPStudio.


Foster, OMA and back again in Madrid

Right after finishing my studies, it was a time in Spain where you could get a job as an architect in 15 minutes. There was a lot of work. I sent my portfolio for the first time ever and a got a job in 15 minutes. I found that too easy and I wanted to make things a bit more complicated. So, I decided to try to work in some of the best studios in Europe. I realized that if I failed, I could always get an ‘easy’ job in Madrid. I started a trip around Europe, I attended many interviews, I sent my portfolios to many offices and at the end of the day, I got a job in Foster and Partners in London. That really turned out to be an amazing experience. I was so happy to spend every day working at such a great office, seeing those fascinating buildings happening around me, and all the people that I met over there. It was quite a shocking experience, to have my first job in such a great office. After growing as an architect at Foster, I got another job, I decided to move, and went to OMA in Rotterdam. Over there again, I learnt a lot. I spent another year there, working for another big architect in a big studio. Later, I got a commission to do a house for a friend and I left all those big names to come to Madrid and open my own studio.

It was right after the 2008 economic crisis in Madrid. The world was falling apart, the market was really a disaster, and especially the construction and architecture market, was a non-existing one. In the midst of all this, I had my ‘brilliant’ idea of opening a studio in Madrid. However, that came to be a very defining period for the following years. The first six years of the practice was an attempt to survive as a practice, basically. 


Growing every day through little achievements.  

The office has gone on for 8 years since the day I opened it. The first great moment was the first client which really marked the beginning for us. Since then, it has been like a process. The most important moment is when you learn how to start getting new clients, one by one and how each new project brings in other clients. This happens because they get to know your projects slowly and you end up building a name for yourself. That gave us a base to start out. Later on, we did some competitions. There was one competition that we one, and you can see the ceramics that we have in the back of the office which were part of that competition submission. We had won around two competitions and were commissioned to developing two public spaces that later on were awarded. That was an important milestone for us. Another great moment for the office was when we managed to get enough funding to create this new space. Earlier, we were working in a very small studio. Now, we have two-levels and it is slightly bigger. Day by day, we are making little achievements that are important for us. This comes from a combination of being able to get clients, being able to win some competitions and slowly building up a certain reputation. 


Competitions and private commissions

We do competitions and we also get private commissions. That is basically it, we don’t really do more than that. We try to get more private commissions and do less competitions as far as it is possible. It is really crazy how we do competitions in architecture. When you compare it with other professions, it’s crazy how your best ideas, your best talents and your biggest efforts are all done for free you throw them into a pit to fight with another hundred more that are also very good. We understand that it is really insane, but we do them from time to time. The commissions that we get are mostly a lot of private villas and private housing. The first project of the studio was a private house. Things have worked out because this house brought two more commissions and those two brought another few more. We often design residential projects in the studio.


Public Space in Talavera: when architecture brings together crafts and tradition

On several occasions, we have focused heavily on local traditions, the local crafts, and the local culture in order to rethink them in a new contemporary way and add to the project. This is probably a topic that we are always trying to get work with when we design a building.

For example, we played with this kind of idea in a public space, a project that we developed in Talavera de la Reina, where they have a local tradition of craft pottery and ceramics. They work with their hands, draw by hand, and from the Renaissance, they have these motives, that has such beautiful colours. In our project, we played with them, introducing them into the public space on a huge scale. For the people in the city, it created an immediate attachment to this public space because the whole city was very much in love with their ceramics. This is always something that you can play with in architecture and in public spaces by understanding the customs and tradition of the place. 


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Photography Courtesy of OOIIO