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Small award winning architectural office received a large assignment

Imagine the Greek attitude of "everything is possible", in combination with the Swedish respect for nature and the conditions of the place. You then end up with the architectural office OOAK, which in tough international competition got the commission to design one of the houses in Albany Marina in the Bahamas - and who also have received several awards for the villa Patio House in the Greek archipelago.

The small architectural office OOAK Architects is located in a converted shop premise of 51 square meters on ground floor at Döbelnsgatan in Stockholm since 2014. OOAK is an abbreviation of the words "One of a kind" and reflects the office's efforts to develop projects based on the unique conditions of each project.

Johan Annerhed's and Maria Papafigous's office is located in a 51 square meter former shop premise on street level at Döbelnsgatan in Stockholm. Photo: Lars Bergström

The office’s interior reminds of a workshop. On tables and shelves miniature house models made of lime tree and cardboard are scattered, together with tools of various kinds and a number of colour charts. Logistics schedules, drawings and important messages are also hanging from a mounted string with clips under a bookshelf - like laundry hung up to dry.

Johan Annerhed and Maria Papafigou ran the architectural office Paan Architects in Athens before moving to Stockholm. Today, they run the architectural office OOAK in Stockholm together, which has assignments worldwide. Photo: Lars Bergström

Despite the fact that most things are done digitally in BIM the office has not abandoned the practice of building models. "Building a model gives us time to summarize and highlight the essentials of each step in the project. The ideas get a physical shape. It becomes obvious if something is wrong and you get a notion about the end result", explains Maria Papafigou, who is running the architectural bureau together with Johan Annerhed.

Every apartment is unique

The apartment house Tetris is currently consuming the main part of the office's working hours and energy. This project is being erected at the luxurious resort of Albany Marina in the Bahamas. The community is emerging around an inviting golf course and a canal that allows large yachts to dock safely. One of the major financiers in the project is Tiger Woods.

In the beginning mainly detached houses were built in Albany Marina, but recently nine very exclusive apartment buildings have been built, designed by renowned international architectural practices. Three of these buildings are designed by the well known architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG).

OOAK Architects where most probably considered a long shot when the office won a competition to draw one of the houses in competition with major international offices such as Squire and Partners from London, Rojkind arquitectos from Mexico, SAOTA Architecture and Design from South Africa and AXI: OME from St Louis.

OOAK's project in Albany Marina was named Tetris.

All apartments in the Tetris building in Albany Marina in the Bahamas are unique. The idea that appealed to the competition jury and the assignment to build the house went to OOAK Architects. Illustration: OOAK Architects

"The idea was to redefine what a luxury apartment can be and design apartments that are all unique - "one of a kind" - or "limited edition". You should be able to stand in front of the building and point out your specific apartment", says Maria. It was an idea that appealed to the jury, including Bjarke Ingels.

Maria and Johan put a lot of work into producing a so-called "marketing book", or concept book in order to present the project to the customers. "We always spend time explaining how we arrive at our design decisions. It is important to be able to show how the initial idea guides the design of the building and the entire work", says Maria.

Albany Marina is built around a canal that allows large luxury yachts to dock. Nine exclusive apartment buildings are the core of the area. Illustration: OOAK Architects

Without a BIM program like ARCHICAD, it would not be possible to puzzle together such a complex house as Tetris. "It would have been impossible to assemble the various parts of the building", says Maria, who is very pleased with the program.

Villas in the Greek islands

Maria and Johan attended the architecture program in Lund, Sweden, and did their degree project in Athens, Greece. There they founded the architectural firm Paan Architects and they mainly designed villas in the Greek archipelago. Maria and Johan still design villas in Greece even though they nowadays mainly do larger projects.

One of the more renowned buildings the couple have designed is Patio House, located on the island of Karpathos near Rhodes. The owners of the house are a French-Swedish couple who live in Paris and also love windsurfing. The building is in cast concrete and the structure from the wooden board form becomes a raw wall decoration. The goal of this design was not to blend in with the landscape, instead, the architects played with contrasts. The angular concrete villa is a foreign body that reinforces the surrounding rocky and pristine landscape. The villa's large windows and all its outdoor spaces erase the boundaries between the interior and the exterior. "The house is hovering over the sea and through the floor a large hole opens itself towards a small green ravine that unites the plot's two plateaus", says Maria.

In the Patio House the boundaries between the interior and the exterior are erased. The visitor gets a sense of hovering over the sea. Photo: OOAK Architects

But is it not a bit out of fashion to build a concrete villa considering all the discussions about the climate?

"It was not a simple decision to build in concrete. But Greece is not a country with forests and during the Greek crisis it was important for us to use local materials and local labour. The island's isolated location also lead to that we wanted to minimize the goods that were to be transported and the raw materials for concrete were available nearby", explains Maria. Another advantage with concrete is that the material is relatively resistant to earthquakes, which are common in the region. The concrete structure also made it possible to design a house that came closer to the sea than the site actually allowed. "We kept and exposed the concrete on the exterior to minimize the maintenance of the house. Over time, the material will get a natural patina and blend nicely into the landscape", says Maria.

The concrete structure made it possible to build a house that came closer to the sea than what the site actually allowed. Photo: OOAK Architects

Last year, Patio House was shortlisted for "Villa of the year" in the World Architecture Festival. WAN awards (World Architecture News) nominated the villa in the category "House of the year". In addition, Forbes ranked the Patio House as one of the five best designed villas of 2018.

The years living in Greece have given Maria and Johan the belief that everything is possible. "In Greece, there is a lot of willingness and plenty of labour", says Maria. She compares it with the Scandinavian architecture tradition where respect for nature and the consideration of the surroundings are key words. In Sweden you are also more controlled by regulations, platforms and processes that provides an efficient and controlled building process. Perhaps the architect couple have found the best combination of both worlds.

Courtyards will strengthen the community

Maria and Johan moved back to Stockholm, Sweden in 2012. At first, they tried out employment at mid sized architectural offices, Maria at Strategic Architecture and Johan at Concept, but it didn't take many years before they started their own practice again. In the beginning they collaborated with Marie Kojzar in OOAK Architects, but today they run the office themselves.

In recent years there has been more work at home. OOAK has, among other things, formed two district plans in Bålsta and Upplands Bro for the private construction and real estate company Gillöga. In Bålsta, 300 detached- and townhouses are planned with common car-free courtyards as an extension of the individual gardens. The idea is that cultivation and other courtyard activities will create a sense of community in the district - a bit like the city's ward community can do. The project has been put on hold because the municipality has not yet managed to expand the water and sewage network in the area.

The green courtyards in the area of ​​Hadebo i Bålsta will create a sense of community and togetherness among the residents. Illustration: OOAK Architects

The planning of an area on Stäksön between Kungsängen and Kallhäll in Upplands Bro municipality is also delayed. In that case, it is because the County Administrative Board wants to make a decision on how the area is to be defined and whether the coastal protection should apply as well. "Our vision is to create a new city park at Stäksön. At the moment there is no larger park in neither Kallhäll nor Upplands Bro", says Maria. The park is supposed to be located in the Stäksön valley. And the homes will be placed on the slopes overlooking the park, which lead down to Lake Mälaren.

At Stäksön in Upplands Bro there are plans for a new area. The buildings are planned around a city park that leads down to Lake Mälaren. Illustration: OOAK Architects

Virtual meeting over the Atlantic

Towards the end of our interview, Johan has entered the digital weekly meeting for the construction of Tetris. The meeting also includes the MEP consultant, the construction manager, the contractor and the interior designers. Johan shares his screen with the others who are in the Bahamas and in Miami. Today it is, among other things, the position of the interior walls that is up for discussion. The participants walk around in the virtual model. They comment on, and point out different details in the building with the shared cursor. "It works incredibly well with the coordination, even though I have not met all of the people that I discuss with in person", says Johan.

Johan Annerhed participates in a weekly meeting for the construction of Tetris. He shares his screen with customer, MEP consultant, construction manager and interior designers, who are located in the Bahamas and Miami. Photo: Lars Bergström

Are there differences compared to building in Sweden?

"Yes, one must take hurricanes, at least once a year, into consideration. Therefore, it is crucial that the load-bearing facade parts must hold the wind pressure. There is also much more condensation due to the high humidity."

Both Johan and Maria emphasize that the architect have much greater responsibility towards the client in both Greece and the Bahamas compared to Sweden. "You are the “spider in the web” that coordinates the design and the construction of the building. But it also has its advantages. You have greater means to be part of the decision making", says Maria.

Three starting points for OOAK's architecture:

  • Strives to create buildings and environments with clear identities.
  • The specific conditions and characteristics drive the design process: the program, the physical and cultural contexts, the climate and the people.
  • Inspired by the Nordic respect for nature. The point of departure is that all OOAK's projects around the world should respect the surroundings.
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About Lars Bergström

Lars Bergström is a journalist with focus on articles within the construction, urban planning and architecture fields.
  • Sweden