Architects from ten different countries are working at the architectural office Franz&Sue in Austria. One of them is Suvi Repo from Joensuu, Finland. I have talked to her, among other things about the work as an architect and about her projects. This year she was also part of a Finnish architectural competition, where she designed an extension for the Finnish National Museum.
The young architect Suvi Repo came to Austria by accident about five years ago. Thirty years old Suvi is a native of Joensuu, Finland. She has studied architecture mainly in Tampere, but a part of her studies she has accomplished in Australia and Portugal. Soon after her graduation, she moved to Austria together with her boyfriend, who had gotten a job there.
"I ended up in Austria by accident, but it was that kind of good fortune that we have liked to be here, and the office where I am is very nice. Now we are here to stay."
In the beginning, Suvi worked as an architect intern for half a year before she started to work as a project manager of the competition team about three years ago. First, she did not speak much German, but her language skills have developed quite quickly.
"I have started to learn German just at this office. The working language at this office is German. Because I did not speak it at all before, it was a kind of language immersion, and now everything is in German. That works out quite nicely", Suvi says with a smile on her face.
Thanks to her friendly team, occasionally appearing difficulties because of language skills do not influence the teamwork. There are four permanent employees and a few interns working together in the competition team. The team usually is simultaneously working on about 4–6 projects. The work within the team is quite independent. Nevertheless, the team members discuss and generate ideas together a lot. They also ask for the opinion of the five partners of the company. They think together about the direction they are going to and try various options.
An architect can empathize with various roles
Together with her team, Suvi works on very diverse projects. They design educational buildings from kindergardens to universities. Suvi says that she, however, has also done more exceptional projects as a prison, for example. She likes her work in the competition team and the participation in competitions very much because she can always empathize with various roles during the different projects.
"I imagine that if I was the person, in what kind of surroundings I would like to live in," Suvi explains the background of how she gets ideas for her projects.
In Suvi's opinion, the best aspect of the work of an architect is, additionally to putting oneself into someone else's shoes, the fact that through architecture, it is possible to have quite much influence people's behavior. As an example, she mentions the design of a university. Through the design of the rooms and spaces, it is possible to have an impact on how much people interact with each other and how much they are on their own.
The projects of the competition team change quite quickly about every second month. Due to that, the team can view the result of their work almost simultaneously – and when they win competitions, they can see how their projects come to life.
The fusion of two architectural offices bore the architectural office Franz&Sue in May 2017.
"That was interesting, because when I started here in 2016, there was only Franz, and then it merged with the office of Sue. Everything started with the famous Fight Club here in Vienna, where young architectural offices met once a month and talked about their projects. The group believed that they are stronger when they work together and exchange their opinions and visions. Through that Franz and Sue found each other, and then we celebrated their wedding two years ago where Franz and Sue got married", Suvi says, laughing.
The five partners of the architectural office met during their architecture studies. They first founded two separate architectural offices in Vienna. At some point, they recognized that they have the same kind of architectural approach. The company culture and the commitment to building culture have been similar in both companies as well. In May 2017, they merged, and in this way, Franz und Sue ZT GmbH ergo Franz&Sue was born.
"In the beginning, we have been about ten employees at Franz, and then when we merged, we have already been 25–30. Now we have grown so much that we are already 50", Suvi explains.
After the fusion, Franz&Sue has developed into a successful architectural company. It has won the best architects award in 2015 as well as in 2019. In the last few years, the office has won about 40 architectural competitions of educational, residential, and public buildings. Behind the success, there is an enthusiastic group to whom teamwork and equality are essential. Everyone's ideas are considered, and the best of them is taken forward by the team.
"In my opinion, it is very nice here that everyone is equal," Suvi summarizes the atmosphere at the office.
The collaboration of the team is also supported by the newly built office building called "Stadtelefant" (or “city elephant”), where they eat together every day. In the same house, there are also other smaller offices, and A-Null, the ArchiCAD representative of Austria. Working under the same roof brings positive synergy effects to all offices.
Buildings for people
Franz&Sue operates mainly in Austria, but they have done some projects for Germany as well. The office designs especially schools and residential buildings. Asking how the office differentiates from other architectural offices, Suvi sees that mainly working as a team, listening to everyone's ideas and opinions no matter from whom they come, and bringing the best idea forward distinguishes them from other companies. Additionally, they design real spaces for real encounters and buildings that are user-friendly and sustainable.
"We have an excellent atmosphere here. That also reflects in the buildings that we design. Our philosophy is: the more complex a task is, the simpler its solution has to be."
The excellent atmosphere is also reflected on the company's homepage and their business cards. The sentences used there highlight, among others, the good features of the Franz&Sue team and the fact that they want to be as close to their customers as possible. That is implemented in the sentence "Franz&Sue hören gut zu" ergo "Franz&Sue listen to you", for example. According to Suvi, this sentence emphasizes that they listen carefully to the needs and wishes of their customers and that they build for people. The company's customer-oriented approach also emerges from the sentence "Franz&Sue sind wie ich und du" ergo "Franz&Sue are like me and you."
"Because many have come from abroad, we are all very open-minded. That is why it was easy also for me to integrate into the team. Additionally, many of us have different references and views on architecture."
Architecture in Austria
Austrian architecture differs, at least from the outside, from Finnish architecture.
"In comparison to Austrian architecture, in Finland, the shapes are lively and experimental. The roof landscape is very variant. Additionally, I think that Finnish architecture, as well as facades, are quite open. The openness can, for example, be seen at schools whose yards are open for everyone also in the afternoon and evenings. In Austria, they are more often surrounded by fences", Suvi reflects.
Architecture in Austria differs within the country between the nine states. In Vienna, for instance, there is a different kind of architecture than in Western Austria. As an example, Suvi says that wood and bricks are used quite rarely in buildings in Vienna. Still, in Western Austria, there are many wooden buildings.
Especially the city of Vienna is growing very fast, and that is why there is a need for new residential buildings all the time. As a result of a large amount of newly built residential buildings, nearly every architectural office in Vienna is working on projects that concern residential buildings. Those projects are running all the time. Under construction are especially many apartment houses.
"It works in a very different way than in Finland, so maybe they are then done with a smaller budget. The city supports competitions that are organized by constructors. In the competitions, the developers and architects need to find solutions for certain flats for a certain price. The prices and sizes of the flats are regulated by the city, and it also affects the market prices. As the building costs are higher now than before, the sizes are smaller and the quality therefore sometimes suffers", Suvi estimates.
According to her, the tighter budget of tenements can be seen among others in the material used in the facades.
Projects in Salzburg and Linz
At the time of the interview, Suvi has been working on two projects in the second round of the architectural competition. One of them was a small school in Siezenheim close to Salzburg. The project contained ten classrooms as well as a gym, a canteen, a banquet room, and a folk music school.
"The other project I am working on is of a different scale than the two-stored school building of 5.000 m² in Siezenheim. The Post City project in Linz is exciting and the largest project that I have worked on so far," Suvi explains.
Post City Linz is planned on an old post area next to the central train station of the city of Linz. The project in question is a mixed-use project of about 150 000 on earth gross floor square meters. It contains commercial spaces, business spaces, and offices as well as an international bus terminal and different kinds of residential buildings, such as a boarding house, a sheltered home, a hotel, and a hostel.
Study Center in Leoben
Last summer was victorious for Suvi because she has won two architectural competition. The first win she achieved in a two-stage open competition where she designed five new buildings as an extension to the Montanuniversität in Leoben.
The Montanuniversität is one of the world's leading universities thanks to its specialization in mining, metallurgy, and materials science. There are about 4 000 students from all over the world studying at this very modern campus. It is situated right by the river and surrounded by mountains. A part of its buildings is historic and build already in the 1870s.
The university is supposed to grow continuously over the next 30 years. Franz&Sue realizes two of five new buildings – a library and a lecture hall center. In the Study Centre, there are three big lecture halls for altogether around 1 000 students, as well as open study spaces. The crystal form gives it a unique identity that also refers to the specific focus areas of the university.
The library building designed opposite the Study Centre contains not only a library but also a cafeteria. Between the buildings, they plan a green area that makes the campus look like a park. An essential part of the buildings designed by Franz&Sue are spaces that give students space to meet and give presentations. Additionally, they design spaces to concentrate and to relax because they are an essential part of research and education.
Institute of Anatomy in Graz
The second project Suvi won last summer is, at the same time, her favorite project. In Suvi's opinion, it was an exceptional project because she had to plan an extension to an existing building to a hospital area in Graz. The entity of the building contains a study space and libraries as well as a mortuary since the extension was destined for the faculty of anatomy.
"That was a special building. There I somehow had to think like the students that study there. They need to have open studying spaces, but on the other hand, there were the corpses. So, I had to figure out how to design the logistics of the corpses from one floor to the other and from one room to the other. Also, I needed to plan the passageways of the students in a way that there would be a more closed side for the corpses. That was to give them the respect they deserve even though they are in the same building with a lot of laboratories, auditoriums, and open studying spaces. Additionally, we also needed to plan the location of the operating tables and the transportation of the corpses as part of the entire building," Suvi tells me about the challenge of the project.
According to Suvi, the fact that the idea was clear right from the beginning, and has proceeded consistently, has made the design of the project more manageable.
The project was, in her opinion, despite its challenges and various regulations very great to do. After they had won the architectural competition, the teams of Franz&Sue proceeded with the design of the project, and it is now already in full swing.
Extension to the Finnish National museum
This year Suvi also took part in a Finnish architectural competition for the first time. In this project, she benefited from being Finnish because the project was to design an extension for the National Museum in Helsinki opened in 1916.
As one challenge of the project, Suvi sees the fact that the competition team did not design museums before. Another challenge was the language used during the project because Suvi read the assignments in Finnish, the others in English, and the working language was German.
The assignment for the extension of the National Museum was very open. Thus, the submissions of the first stage (in total 179) have, according to Suvi, been very different from each other. The submissions that reached the final were all made from a different manner of approach. The requirement of the organizers of the competition was among others that the new building that was in its size the same as the old building was supposed to work as an own entirety, although it is a part of the National Museum. Additionally, there were technical requirements as well as requirements concerning the connection paths. A part of the extension is meant to be built under the ground.
In their submission, Suvi and her team have used much wood and glass to make the building accessible from many different directions. They tried to keep the museum park as untouched as possible because they did not want to make significant changes to the landscape. In their project, they thus used soft shapes and light structures.
"We wanted to respect the old museum that represents the birth of the Finnish nationalism and architecture. That is why we kept our building a little separated from it, and we did not build it in direct contact with the old building of the museum. The park of the museum was important for us as well. We did not want to make significant changes to it, and that is why we also kept the trees next to the Mannerheimintie road. Based on these thoughts, we tried to design a light pavilion-like solution into the existing park and not a too big or heavy building."
The respect for the National Museum also reflects in the name of Suvi's project: Ulriika. The original National museum was designed in the early 20th century, and the name of the winning applicant was Karl 12, after the Swedish king of those times. Ulriika was the sister of Karl and the next monarch. The old and the new name were thus set as a brother-sister-arrangement.
On ARCHICAD from start to finish
Suvi has used ARCHICAD right from the start of her studies and during her entire career. She started to use it in 2008 when she took part in an ARCHICAD course at the University of Tampere. After that, she has used ARCHICAD in most of her school projects. She does not need to use other tools, because, in her opinion, everything is possible to design with ARCHICAD, and it adapts to multiple purposes.
"I can do projects from start to finish with ARCHICAD. It can be used to do sketches quickly and then present them. Additionally, I can also do the layout in ARCHICAD. We do not use any separate layout software, but we use ARCHICAD from start to finish. That is great."
Suvi and her competition team use ARCHICAD in a different way than the execution team. With the software, they get deep into everything. They also use ARCHICAD's teamwork because teamwork is essential in the daily work of Franz&Sue.