His firm is known for projects that integrate architecture into the landscape, while he is known for thoughtful designs tailored to improve the everyday life of end-users.
Multi-award winning architect and designer, Borja Ferrater, 40, is the founding partner of OAB (Office of Architecture in Barcelona).
Together with his father Carlos Ferrater, he was an FAD (Spain’s national award) prize winner in 2007 in the category Ephemeral Architecture at an exhibition in Madrid called M.C. Escher’s Art of the Impossible.
He was also winner of the Wallpaper* Design Awards 2010 for the building Roca Barcelona Gallery, together with Carlos and his sister Lucía Ferrater.
The PhD holder has also given lectures, joined roundtable discussions and been a competition jury.
Renowned OAB projects include the Six Senses Kaplankaya resort in Turkey, the Barcelona Botanical Institute and the West Beach Promenade in the popular Spanish resort city of Benidorm.
Borja is the keynote speaker at the upcoming Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) 2018 Conference, the anchor event at Archifest 2018 in Singapore.
The annual festival, which celebrates architecture and the built environment, carries the theme “Design for Life” and will discuss issues related to liveability, sustainability, wellbeing and life satisfaction.
In an email interview, Ferrater talks about his family’s influence on him, and how he strives for authenticity in his work.
Being a family-run business, and a relatively small firm, what edge does OAB have compared to bigger firms?
In recent years, we have observed a tendency in which architecture studios are either presented as big offices with dozens, if not hundreds, of architects or otherwise as small boutique firms with a clear trend of being more “craftsman” studios … almost as if there is no room for intermediate formulas.
We at OAB work in more than 15 different countries nowadays, doing many different projects that span from landscape to urban design, from big facilities like hospitals to single family housing or restaurants.
However, we have chosen not to grow either too much or too fast, and we try to keep our core small, around 25 staff.
The way we found how to do that is by collaborating with other studios that have the expertise and know-how of their local context, and with whom we share a similar design philosophy. And most importantly, we do not only consider them architects on record, but also co-authors.
I no longer believe in franchise architecture, which regardless of where it lands, applies a similar formula everywhere.
I believe in a fusion of architects. I believe that what we can offer is a close relationship with our clients, and a very respectful approach to the different contexts in which we work, in which we consider ourselves a new visitor that will have to merge and fuse with the present day realities of a site and a culture.
In other words, when we step into a new place, we are coming to learn, and then from there, we try to add value.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in a family-run firm?
It is a complex phenomenon, complex as opposed to complicated. People tend to think it might get complicated. And of course, it could.
However, if from the start, everybody naturally understands and respects each other’s role, there is tolerance, respect and openness to changes and challenges to be confronted as a team.
Then everything is advantageous; the trust in each other is absolute, the spirit of improvement and motivation increases.
Also, our staff also becomes part of the family in a way and the atmosphere is friendly and not extremely competitive. The advantages of working with multi-generational teams and with both genders are simply just better.
My father has more than 50 years’ of experience, my brother-in-law is 10 years older than me and my sister is in between. But ideas do not come from “quartiers de noblesse” (quarters of nobility), as Picasso said.
When we are all confronting ideas together, everybody is the same.
What do you admire most about your father and his work? What is the most important thing you have learnt from him?
I guess the thing I admire most about my father is his capacity to adapt and collaborate with many different people.
Carlos has worked with many people in the past and has a brilliant way of dealing or agreeing with all of them. I admire that and I follow it as an example.
Also, another important thing is that he knows how to do a lot with a little. Meaning he is capable of synthesising, but on an intellectual and also material level, (focusing on) what is necessary for an idea to come true and eliminating those things that are just “noise” or extra “expenses”.
I don’t just mean it economically, but also in the field of creativity.
In other words he still surprises us, almost like how a magician suddenly pulls a rabbit out of a hat, and we still do not know how he did it!
Why is it important to maintain authenticity in an architect/an architectural firm’s work?
For decades, we have been debating on (the issue of) architecture that keeps an eye on the context and the generic (wrongly called “global”) one.
Unfortunately, we can see out there in our cities around the globe how the generic-commercial style is winning the battle, seeming like we never learnt the lesson.
I might not have a clue on how to do it for everyone but we do have in our modest studio some very clear principles.
It’s about the context, about the site, the people you meet during the process of a project, the client and its particularities, the local construction techniques that have been used for centuries of popular knowledge.
It is the history of a place, its footprint and its major events. It is the materials that you use, the way you dialogue with the landscape and of course the way you play with light. It has been done for centuries.
All such things and many more, such as the new technologies we can use, etc. are part of the ingredients to create something new.
I like what Paul Valèry says: “Those who are the best at doing something new, are those who have responded to an ancient desire”.
What is a topic in architecture and/or sustainable design that you feel strongly about, and why?
I am mostly interested in the recent trend of identifying the cycle of the construction materials we use, what we call Km 0, in which we try to both minimise the impact of energy that is produced in order to build, and also understand the whole concept of construction cycles and materials’ cycle of life.
In our projects, we look very carefully at the materials being used, the cycle and the energy consumption that the whole process takes.
What is the gist of your keynote address at SIA Conference 2018, and why?
The gist, I guess, is to try to demonstrate through the work we have done over the last years that a world in between local and global is possible, and that is by understanding that the essence in architecture is timeless.
Good architecture has a secret weapon, TIME.