Livingroome, June 2014

In their early thirties and with a studio opened over a decade ago, the A1 Architects are a young enterprise based in Prague founded by David Maštálka (born in 1978) and Lenka Křemenová (born in 1982).

The two partners shared their studies at the Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in the Czech capital, and work on the boundary between two extremes: ironic minimalism and balanced complexity.
All enhanced by a poetic use of wood, in a vast array of different shapes and types. They have received several awards especially at a national level, such as the Grand Prix 2012 – Czech National Architectural Award won in the micro-architecture category for the Black Teahouse. And it is precisely in these miniature architectures, 4 examples created to celebrate the ritual of tea, that the A1 architects best express their own poetry. Made of contrapositions, natural and harmonious contrasts.

In 2003 you decided to set up your firm. After your studies at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague and after different work’s experiences, what pushed you to start your own company? We discuss architecture from our very early studies together cause we are a couple since first year at the Academy, and though it was somehow natural we wanted to work together and with no senior boss above… to be able to work independent on our topics an ideas.

In your website, in the section where you present your office there is written this sentence: “The secret of architecture lies in naturalness… . What do you mean with these words? And what represents Nature in your work? We are strongly interested and focused on people ́s life which hap- pens within their enviroment, which is mostly built by people and though artificial. When we search for ideas for any issue we con- centrate on discussion about investor ́s life and their dreams with the aim to find the house and its form to be finally very their own an natural place to live and just to enjoy anytime. Literally we could say that when one lives or stays in architecture and finally forgets thinking of architecture itself, the place become really natural form him. So we always think of activities and form of the enviroment together very deeply, but our goal is to design a place that would be such a harmonical piece, that nobody would need to specially admire or think of it , but rather enjoy it as pleasant place to live, to gather with their families or friends…this is our meaning of naturalness in architecture.

Most of your work is based in Czech Republic. How is working in this Country? What are the difficulties? And what is the future for contemporary Architecture?
Czech Republic is quite small modern country, but deeply rooted in european history not just in the meaning of architecture…, we love this harmonical contrast between old and new in our country, we love its unique landscape, which changes every 40km, CZ is a country in between south and north and you could find pure minimalism next to very romantic bohemian ideas here. We find CZ very opened towards young people and their business, there are no strong divisions among established and young studios. There are many young architects running their own offices nowadays. Now it is a time after the boom like all around the Europe, which is better for small flexible offices and for all who are focused on quality oriented projects. The main difficulties are the rigid systems of authorities and as I mention at the beginning our history is very old and though is the history of cities. It means that as an architect it is sometimes very limited what you could actually design according to local building rules which in some regions or cities could be found very conservative, but it always pays to discuss the issue and stick on your ideas and give good arguments. The bureaucracy is from our point of view the only problem, then it is up to you, how you could communicate your design and ideas and realize them.

Among your works we found many Tea-houses surrounded by green fields, deep in the wild nature. To me, they have a strong meditative aspect. And it’s easy to find this peculiarity also in your resi- dential projects as the Rounded Loft in Prague. Wich is your approach to architecture? I think I mentioned it in previous answer it is the passion for harmonical contrasts we are inspired from our surroundings like: “minimalist romanticism or rich purity or layered simplicity…” these could be all found in our teahouses.

Looking to another residential project, the House on the marsh – located in Janov, a small town in the north-west of the Czech Republic, closed to Poland – it’s evident another characteristic of your architecture: the poetic use of wood. To me in balance between tradition and in- novation and also strongly influenced by the japanese contemporary architecture. How would you describe this aspect of your work? It is again this nature of contrasts in harmony we love no matter if in local or Japanese culture, which is very rich in beautiful contrary. We always look back to the history to be in- spired by old techniques or crafts an then we are excited to reuse, redesign and reinvent them for contemporary purpose of life.

Your latest completed project, the Teamountain Teashop, again, shows your attitude to find a compromise between contemporary and history. In this case between the traditional tasting of high quality tea imported from Asia and the modern needs of the praguese customers. In which way this compromise is translated into Architecture? The contemporary feature is the style how you drink the tea, how you meet people there, like in a café at the small bar or table, but we have packed these activities with materials which were inspired by old techniques such as of plasters bind with straw or usage of gold leafs together with wood and its natural edges.