Images and expectations
An interview with Fala
Porto, PT

Fala Atelier sat down with us to talk about their journey as a fresh architecture studio in Porto. With a self-proclaimed eclecticism, they create collages of representative images to communicate spatiality and materiality, thereby allowing architectural ideas to be more accessible to their clients. This focus on experimental communication also allows sufficient abstraction in order to work flexibly instead of being tied to a realistic rendered image. 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: Gianpiero Venturini - Video: Luca Chiaudano - CPStudio


Meeting. Japan, Portugal, and first commissions. 

Ana Luisa Soares: Fala Atelier started in an unofficial way maybe when the three of us met. We are three partners: Filipe, Ahmed, and I. We met in Switzerland, after Filipe and I went to work there in Basel and ended up working in the same office together with Ahmed. After the internship, Filipe and I went to Japan and Ahmed went on to finish his studies. In Japan, we started to do a few public competitions, conceptual competitions while working for other offices. When we came back was when we started to do more competitions in Switzerland. That’s when we spoke to Ahmed and decided to start something together. Our first official project was an exhibition in Lisbon, about the building where we lived in Japan, the Nakagin Capsule Tower. From then on, we were talked about on a few websites and that’s how we got our first client. 

Our first project was an apartment project for a foreign client who allowed us quite a lot of freedom. Later, we did a second project for the same person, again in Lisbon. When you finally have something built is when other clients actually start trusting you more because you have proven that you can build something. We started with one apartment and then two. Slowly, we had three small projects in Lisbon and at some point, we got our first building in Porto, then a second, and then a third. The office grew very slowly and in a controlled manner. That was very good for us as a learning process that we didn’t get huge projects in the beginnings, so the mistakes we made small because the projects were small. 


Office organisation, tasks, and roles

Ahmed Belkhodja: Although the office has been steadily growing for the last five years, we don’t plan on growing much more at this stage. This is the kind of structure that we are able to manage in a pleasant manner. The projects, on the other hand, are getting progressively bigger. The office has a rather stable scale right now. There are nine and we will perhaps grow to around 10 to 12 people, but not much more than that. Now we are doing lesser number of projects at a bigger scale. We are very interested in residential design but at the same time, we are trying to tackle public programmes. We are currently also designing a new office space for us, so when we move there, we will have the physical means to go back to doing a few competitions a year. That is something that recently, we didn’t have the time or space to do.

AS: Out of the 9 people, one is a full-time engineer. Deciding to have an in-house engineer was a big step for us, but it really helps a lot with the project development. We do everything from the concept to the project construction, and we follow the entire construction. It is much faster and efficient to follow the details when you have an engineer to discuss things. Each person in the office gets one or two projects, sometimes more than 2 projects per person and the three of us review the projects with everyone. To get into how the specific tasks are divided between the three of us; Filipe is the one who takes care mainly of images and e-mails, Ahmed is more like the international projects, I care a lot about the finance department, but in terms of work we spend most of the time discussing, because we have so much work we actually don’t really design in rhino, because all the bureaucratic that has an office. When you grow, there’s a lot of things we were not expecting or we didn’t think about before and now they are very important and we have to deal with. 


Role of residential spaces in shaping the city

AB: There are many things that are important for us. Recently, and it’s not something that we had planned, the question of the residential spaces shaping the city and questioning the city, being almost a critic of the society in which they exist, is something that we are very interested in. In a way, almost all of our projects are residential. So this is what I’m saying, it’s not something that we have planned, but it’s something that happened like this. We wonder what the potential of these programs is. A good residence must never fully submit to the demands of its context, neither should it be totally opposed to it. It must find a certain tension and that is what we try to search through our projects.


Bring together very diverse desires into something coherent

AB: We are quite obsessed with the format and the idea of bringing everything within a coherence framework. It’s probably a reaction to the fact that we are attracted to a lot of different things. Very deep within ourselves we are rather eclectic, our desires are eclectic, then most of our work is about bringing together desires that are very diverse, which also translates in the way we present a project, which is really about bringing everything into something that seems coherence at least. So this is why all our plans are drawn the same way, collages seem to come from the same place… To us, it is important that we maintain a coherence between our projects. At the same time, we are always looking for a certain diversity between our different buildings. This is a contradiction that we constantly have to play with and can sometimes even be fruitful.


Images as a way of communicating with clients

AS: Our clients are not educated in the terms of the architectural world. Some clients don’t understand drawings, some don’t understand models, and some don’t understand images, so we try to mix everything in the form of a collage to try to explain a project. But something that we learnt by using images or collages is that they can understand that there’s some abstraction in those images, so we don’t have discussions about the handle of the door that they don’t like, because they know that are just representative points, so we can discuss the space, we can discuss the materials. It also gives us a little bit of margin between the images and the final construction. We can change a few things because won’t affect the general idea of the project. If we do renderings then the final images might not really be exactly like the photo as they expected. So we use it as a way to manage expectations between images and final products. We are often told that our images or our collages look very close to the final result, and we never change the collages, is that sometimes we make the photos with some objets to match the collages, not the other way around. 


fala 12 min

FALA min

Photography Image 1, courtesy of fala | Image 2, @ricardo loureiro