Becoming a Sought-After Architect with Andreas Martin-Löf
This episode features Andreas Martin-Löf, an architect and a founder of Andreas Martin-Löf Arkitekter, an architectural practice based in Stockholm, Sweden. We cover topics such as Andreas’ approach to architecture, the advice he would give to young architects, challenges he encountered so far—including dealing with job burnout—the importance of embracing opportunities, his work routines, the value of beauty, and being brave, and much more.
Andreas Martin-Löf is one of Swedens most established younger architects. His architecture practice, Andreas Martin-Löf Arkitekter, with a team of 20, has a portfolio of award-winning projects that span residential, cultural, and commercial sectors, private and public. Their practice is driven by curiosity and a questioning mindset exploring the tension of man and space, past and future, hand and machine, function, and feeling.
"What is not in your hands should not be in your mind."
Their architecture is celebrated for its intelligent and intuitive response, combining rational rigor with the soul of craft to deliver buildings and interiors of compelling quality and character. Their clients include Oscar Properties, Absolut, Monocle Magazine, Kulturhuset, Nordic Property Management, Frama, Svensk Form, and Winkreative, to name a few.
- Andreas Martin-Löf Arkitekter Website
- Andreas Martin-Löf Arkitekter Instagram
- Andreas Martin-Löf’s Personal Instagram
- Snabba Hus
- AML Stool
- Aspvik, Private Summer House
- John Kandell
- Oscar Properties
- Andreas Martin-Lof Arkitekter / One To One, Book
- Genius Loci
- Ragnar Östberg
- Frank Lloyd Wright
- Monocle Library Lamp
- Introduction [00:00]
- Episode Introduction [00:52]
- Advice to Young Architects [02:21]
- Work Routines and Habits of a Professional Architect [09:18]
- Challenges of Being an Architect Today [14:34]
- How to Run an Architecture Business [19:45]
- Short Episode Break – Support the Podcast [25:00]
- Growing As a Creative Professional [25:44]
- On Embracing the Journey and Taking Opportunities [31:35]
- On Struggles, Making Mistakes, and Professional Burnout [39:48]
- Hands-on Approach to Architecture [52:22]
- How to Be a Better Creative Professional [01:01:05]
- Episode Outro [01:02:50]
Andreas: “You need to have time to contemplate and then you need to have time to take in what other creatives do.”
This is the Creative Voyage Podcast, a long form interview show with the mission to help creative professionals to level up. I’m your host Mario Depicolzuane. I’m a creative professional myself active in the fields of graphic design, art direction, and creative consulting. In this podcast, I present in depth interviews with some of the world’s most inspiring creative professionals revealing the stories that shape their lives and careers, plus actionable strategies to help you take your mindset and skills to the next level. I invite you to join me on this journey.
Mario: In this episode, I talk to an architect.
Andreas: I’m Andreas Martin-Löf and I’m an architect based in Stockholm. I’ve been doing architecture for 10 years now in my own company called Andreas Martin-Löf Arkitekter.
Mario: Andreas Martin-Löf is one of Sweden’s most established younger architects. His architecture practice, Andreas Martin-Löf Arkitekter, or IML with a team of 20 has a portfolio of award-winning projects that spend residential, cultural and commercial sectors, private and public. Their practice is driven by curiosity and a questioning mindset, exploring the tension of men and space, past and future, hand and machine, function and feeling.
Their architecture is celebrated for its intelligent and intuitive response, combining rational rigor with the soul of craft to deliver buildings and interiors of compelling quality and character. Their clients include Oscar Properties, Absolut, Monocle Magazine, Nordic Property Management, Frama, Svensk Form and Winkreative to name a few.
In this episode, we’re going to listen to the highlights of the conversation I had with Andreas in August 2019. We cover topics such as Andreas’s approach to architecture, the advice he would give to young architects, challenges he encountered so far, including dealing with the job burnout, the importance of embracing opportunities, his work routines, the value of beauty and being brave and much more.
Andreas has always been creative and hands-on. As a teenager, he dreamt of being a furniture designer. However, his higher education first took him to the architecture school. A year later, he joined the design school and was studying at both universities in parallel. As he put it, his heart was more in furniture design and his brain was more in architecture.
Towards the end of his studies, one of his furniture design teachers, an architect himself, advised him to graduate in architecture and satisfied his interest in furniture by offering him an internship at his design studio, which Andreas wholeheartedly accepted. From that beginning and through the last decade, Andreas has seen himself primarily as a doer, making various small and medium-sized projects, but realized that he grew into a sought-after professional architect leading a team of 20.
I began my conversation with Andreas asking him about the advice he would give his younger self at the beginning of his career and to architects who are just starting their professional journeys today.
Andreas: Maybe I’ve been a little bit too good-hearted and worked too much in some projects and realized that actually, you cannot fight for everything in architecture. If an architectural commission is about a conversion project and there has to be a certain profit level, then it’s no idea to fight too hard for a very expensive solution or something.
Andreas: Then after a while, you will find a project with a client who really shares your values about a certain handcraft, or brand, or whatever. Don’t fight so much against the projects. Try to follow a little bit and just fight for things that are possible within projects. It takes a little bit time to understand that different architectural projects have different goals and different setups. That’s maybe one thing I have learned over the years and would maybe, I think I treat commissions in a very different way now than I did 10 years ago, because of that knowledge.
Andreas: It makes my life a little bit easier and it also makes sometimes, the project a bit smoother. Young architects are a little bit more naive sometimes and that naivety can lead to good things, but it can also complicate things a lot.
Mario: Okay. Then let’s shift to the next step, because I’m sure now in a position where you are with 10 years in with your practice and being renowned younger generation architect, I’m sure you get a lot of internship applications, probably interns, or young architects coming into your practice. I’m curious, what advice would you give to a young person who is entering architecture today?
Andreas: I would maybe advise young architects to look around and see everything that are constantly around them, rather than just look into architectural magazines. Because everything that is around in the built environment, you can learn so much from it; a door made in the 70s, or a door made in the 1800s, or different building methods, or a letterbox, or awning detail. I look a lot just around me all the time to find inspiration, rather than too much in architecture magazines and blogs, because it’s so driven by trends.
Andreas: I of course, think it’s important to be aware of where things are heading. If you want to develop something deeply rooted in the project you are, or in yourself, you have to look somewhere else than in architecture magazines.
Mario: Let’s say somebody is just finishing their studies, so going out of an architectural school and they see you and your practice and they’re inspired. They’re like, “Okay. I want to be that. I want to have my practice. I want to have all these interesting commissions.” What would you advice how to go about it?
Andreas: Yeah, that’s interesting. I think there are two typical ways of starting an architecture practice. One is a very tricky one to win architecture competitions and to get started. The other one would be to just be open to people who ask for things that are architecture-related. It could be interior, it could be design, it could be in small scale architecture projects. I see a tendency that once an architect get a job at a big corporate office, or medium-sized office, they stick to that job and are not so open to commissions to friends and stuff.
Andreas: I worked then by my old professor. I also was very active. I’d like to be walking in the city, attending parties, meeting people. After a while, people started to ask me questions, “Can you help me with my kitchen? Can you help with my small attic conversion? I have two kids, can you build a bunk bed, or whatever?” It sounds a bit childish, but I was very open to help people.
Andreas: After a while, it grew. Now when we counted for the 10-year celebration, I had more than 200 commissions in the project database just for the last 10 years. That was even before I started AML. I also had a few years when I did this small kitchen and bunk beds and they were not included. I have been open to help people and also open to business. Everything starts small, I would say. Also, yeah, you have to take also small things quite seriously sometimes.
Mario: Is there something that you’ve noticed working with younger architects, or those who are still maybe studying and finishing their studies that you wish was different? You as a potential employer for them, you’re definitely looking for certain traits and skills. I’m curious, did you notice something that’s maybe lacking in the education and you wish was addressed, either through education, or by just individuals themselves?
Andreas: Of course, I know that there is a lot of good architecture theory in the world and so on academia, but I myself I’m a quite hands-on person. I’m looking for architects that feel quite grounded in what they do and that they do not try to hide themselves behind complicated words and theories. I like when I see that people have potential in learning about very ordinary things, because I build up my architecture from very straightforwardness and common sense. I rather want to see those sites in the architects I employ.
Andreas: I think there is also side of the architecture world that is quite pretentious and theoretic. Of course, you can also have use of the theory, but I think I’m more interested in when it’s grounded in common sense and reality.
Compared to most creative disciplines, I find architecture daunting. It seems that everything is more prominent; massive budgets, project timelines that span years or even decades, innumerable stakeholders and huge teams. I’m continually interested in how a specific field demands play out in a practitioner’s schedule, so I was curious to hear about Andreas’s work routines.
Andreas: On a Monday morning, I wake up hopefully after a nice Sunday dinner with friends. Nowadays, I try to keep away from work on the weekends. I did not do that when I was younger. Then on Monday mornings, now we have a quite important Monday morning meeting and then we meet – we are at the moment around 20 architects in the studio.
Andreas: I have a studio manager who will be leading that meeting and then we go through the week and it’s normally around 15 to 20 active projects maybe in the studio. We plan and see that people are in the right places. We also brief a little bit about new commissions coming in. Normally, my phone is I get phone calls almost every day, but maybe once a week it will come in a new tempting commission that we might take on. That is what we do on Mondays until 10:00. Then we start to work with the projects.
Andreas: Then I have a PA that have done a schedule for my week and it’s normally includes driving away to one of our building sites. Not every day, but maybe every second day, or sometimes twice a day. I’m going out to different places at the moment. For example, we are building 300 “snabba hus” apartments, these modular things we are doing for young Stockholmers without a home. I drive out there and see how it goes and see how things coming up, facade and color tests and other things.
Andreas: I also drive to more private projects, like conversions of villas and apartments, or new construction villas and I have meetings with carpenters. Normally then, I change colleagues. For every project, I have a colleague with me. Then we are doing that. We also have a lot of internal meetings with the projects. We have client meetings. It’s a lot of things going on. At the moment, we are doing these book also, so we have meetings about the book.
Andreas: It’s quite much a busy office week. The business comes out of creative projects, but you have to keep up with the week. It’s a lot in the calendar all the time. Personally, I’m never behind a desk sitting in by a computer, but I’m drawing a lot with my pens on other colleagues drawings and sometimes I’m drawing drafts of new things on paper directly, and then I give them to colleagues. That’s if it gives a picture about what the week could be. Busy, but fun and sometimes a little bit too busy. For the creativity to come, you have to have a slower pace that I also try to have sometimes.
Mario: How long are your days?
Andreas: Quite often, I have an extra meeting between 8 to 9. Most people are coming into the office at 9. Also, it’s quite usual that I e-mail after dinner a little bit an hour, maybe between 7 and 8. Maybe I do 8 to 10 hours a day or something in medium. It’s much more controlled nowadays. When I was younger, it was long nights, but I have stopped with that because of I think it’s maybe something you do when you’re a bit younger. Now, I’d rather go up an extra one hour earlier in the morning or something to extend my day.
Mario: Do you think those longer days and even nights were in a way, even necessary when you’re younger?
Andreas: I think they might have been necessary, because the difference is if you are in responsible for a package of drawings, like my younger architects are in the studio, if the drawing package is not ready, then you sit until it’s ready. That lead sometimes to late nights. Meanwhile, my role is more managing many of these teams that it works fairly okay and that does not include night work.
Mario: How are you managing to balance that doing the managerial tasks, versus being much more hands on, would you said is closer to your heart?
Andreas: Yeah, it’s closer to my heart to be coming up with ideas for projects and also, I’m very interested in the execution phase, because I believe that good architecture must be good in its details. Sometimes, you can give birth to the best way of executing something together with the carpenters, or together with the stone installers, or together with the blacksmith. That means you have to be out in the field. That’s why I have left the planning of projects and stuff to other people, to get more time for what I’m interested in and what makes me happy.
In many ways, the creative industry is going through complicated disruptive times. Even in cases where there’s a change for the better, the process brings alongside many obstacles. It seems that it is becoming increasingly difficult to be a professional in any creative field. I’ve asked Andreas to share what he thinks are the main challenges of being an architect working today.
Andreas: I think we’re living in a quite challenging time for architecture. It’s not a lot good architecture being built. For me, working in the residential side of it, like I’m actually much more happy with houses that was built 100 years ago than with most of the things we are building today. I think it has to do with how streamlined the construction industry is today and also, that there are so many rules to follow with accessibility, ventilation, fire safety. It’s becoming more and more technocratic. People are talking about all these rules to follow, but nobody talks about the beauty of architecture and actually to be an architect.
Andreas: It has been for thousands of years about function and beauty and stability over time. It’s hard to work with a profession that is about it’s creative and it’s about beauty, when you’re not really allowed to talk about beauty, if you understand. I don’t know why it’s so forbidden, but I attend all these meetings and nobody’s talking about beauty. Everybody is just talking about economy, function, ventilation, safety. You have this protocols from the meeting and you have all these different headlines, but I can’t really see where my headline in that protocol is, even if I might be the one who actually is pushing the whole project forward. It’s sometimes very hard to convince your clients about that we are trying to do good things for the whole project and also for the people who will inhabit the house and for the people who will strolling by, walking in the city. It’s big things and people tend to not understand the big picture.
Mario: It does seem to be that in a lot of ways, we lost that connection to beauty in some way.
Andreas: It’s a little bit like when I go to Milan, I’m always shocked about when you enter the old trams. For some reason, they are still rolling a 100-year-old trams in Milan. I don’t know why, but they’re so beautiful with wooden interior and a lot of small details. Then you’re entering a recently built bus and you simply do not feel that sense of – of course, it’s also designed. Some industrial designer have done a good job there, but it’s not particularly beautiful in my opinion.
Andreas: Some people say that, “Oh, Andreas. He’s going backwards into the future,” but I think it’s a little bit necessary to be able to believe that sometimes it’s good to go a little bit backwards into the future, I think. We released this little stool a couple of weeks ago and that is really to go backwards into the future, but people love the tool.
Andreas: When we talk about what inspired us and what we have put attention to in this, how it feel, how when you touch it with the special stain we have used to get the wood in that color, with small details on the underside, then when you talk about that in that way, then people say, “Oh, why not?” Of course, some people just think, “Ah, old milk stool. Why are they doing that?” It’s a little bit what you’re interested in. It’s actually, the total sum of what people now today do that will be the thing that will be tomorrow.
Mario: Yeah, exactly.
Andreas: If we think it’s important, then we do that.
Mario: Is there anything else which comes to mind?
Andreas: No, I think that’s the biggest challenge to bring beauty back into residential architecture and building components. Otherwise, what I’m a little bit skeptic to also, but I don’t know, I also know that it’s necessary. That’s so much time in the big projects we’re contributing to the tallest building in Scandinavia in Gothenburg, for example, is that so much time and energy goes into these cad systems to create the building.
Andreas: Of course, we are also doing that and we have that knowledge within the company. For me personally, I think it’s a bit shocking how much hours that are spent on just managing these BIM programs. Sometimes I wonder if it’s really efficient. We could build skyscrapers also 100 years ago. I think Empire State Building was created in just 18 months without any computer. The tower that I’m working on in Gothenburg, I have seen those drawings for four years now and we are still only at the foundation. To say that BIM programs makes things much more efficient and faster, I’m not a 100% sure.
At this point in our conversation, I’ve asked Andreas about the business aspect of his practice and how as an architecture firm they’re managing that domain. Here’s what he shared with me.
Andreas: I think it goes back a little bit to these two type of architecture offices, the one that I know that if you win a competition, of course you have some talent, but it’s not totally a 100% clear that you are a person good with clients, because what you did was to win the competition. I’m more the other type of guy that have always been good with clients. Also, running the business came quite natural to me, with giving people, offer them to help and then set the price on it and then execute.
Andreas: I tried to teach that within the whole group of architects in my team. If I see in comparison with many of my younger colleagues, I would say we have a quite built up system how to survive within the industry and how to bill our clients and so on. Sometimes, architects focus more on the creative side and less on the business side. I try to handle the business side in a good – I put quite a lot of effort in to get that work, because then what I do after is that I can transfer money from projects where we have been too creative and work too long, because we maybe love the projects and we can let ourselves to work a little bit extra with those, because we have other projects that makes us survive.
Andreas: I like the freedom of being quite flexible with that. To be that we need to have projects that is run very efficient and following the budget. Also, just having agreed with clients that it will cost a certain amount of money. I was lucky to very early, get quite big commissions. Normally, you say you start with small conversions and villas and then you go to bigger projects later. After my very first small projects, I directly landed in big projects and it took me actually five years until I draw my first villa with the – that was my little summer house aspect. That’s a typical example of that transferring earned money to new business, because I invested a lot of the money in the new summer house and later on, this summer house gave birth to a totally new department within the company that are only focused on detached houses and summer houses.
Andreas: Some people call it marketing. I would say, transferring money from different corners of the office to other corners, and that becomes a marketing and research and development at the same time.
Mario: Do you often work on those types of, let’s say side projects, or something which is maybe not a direct commission, but it’s something that’s interesting to you?
Andreas: From the summer house and onwards, I think I have always had own projects, because also I think I tried to explain in the beginning of the interview about this compromise that big projects are that. In the beginning, I fight a lot for my ideas. Now, I may be a little bit more – I do not always fight for everything in every project, but I rather follow the project what the client wants. Then I have my small extra projects that I love, where I do the research and development and aspect was maybe a very clear example of that. With a very much own solutions and tests and risk. Later on, I was done big renovations in the city for myself and now the last two years, I’ve been renovating the place where I live now with a lot of research and development.
Andreas: You can say that construction is a lot about managing risk, but architecture is very often to take a bit of risk. There is a disagreement between construction companies and architects, whether you should manage risk, or take a little bit of risk. When you manage the project yourself, you can let yourself take a little bit more risk, if you’re willing to do it of course.
Andreas: After aspect, for example, I think it was my last apartment, we did this interior with the white sofa and the travertine table that we just did it for fun, because we wanted to create a certain atmosphere there, but then it became one of Instagram’s most shared pictures in the interior section two years ago.
Andreas: I don’t know how much money that is worth, but it’s certainly something that just started as a little experiment and almost like a little joke in the office about this white sofa and the curtains and the travertine table, all of a sudden became very serious, then people started to share it. It was a strange feeling.
Andreas: It’s interesting that that was a small side project and aspect was also small side project. It’s almost that we have more luck within the PR thing with our small experimental projects when our big scale architecture projects, they rarely get that attention. That might have to do with that not enough, the risk is taken. They are candid. They are too safe, so there is not so much to say about them. That’s of course, a little bit sad, but that’s how reality is.
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Andreas: One of my idols in architecture, old Swedish architect called John Kandell, he spent the mornings in the studio and then the afternoons in the art galleries and exhibition museums in town. I think it tells two things about this profession, that you need to have time to contemplate and then you need to have time to take in what other creatives do. That would be my dream to be like him and to only spend mornings in the office and to walk in the afternoons.
Andreas: It’s not possible really at the moment, but I know what happens if you do the other way around that you work 24/7, because I did for a couple of years. After a while, happiness disappeared and with happiness, creativity also. The other thing would be to get a healthy balance in life, and also let the brain rest a bit from impressions and sometimes also of course, get new impressions.
Andreas: I’m not a big fan of traveling. I think it’s quite boring at airports and struggling with carrying the luggage and spend nights in hotels, where you don’t know if you’re going to sleep well or not. At the same time, I love traveling also, to just see that life is possible in so many different ways and architecture looks so different in different parts of the world. I think it’s important to give time for that.
Mario: Besides travel, what are some other things, maybe even in your day-to-day routine, which is more for you to relax and unwind? Do you have any hobbies, or any other pursuits, besides let’s say, architecture and objects?
Andreas: Many people are asking me that. Since I turned my biggest hobby in life into my profession, I’m still looking for my new hobby. We are a little group of designers and architects here in Stockholm. Five people that do dinners together. Then we have all realized that, or not all of us, but most of us, we like to create a little bit, almost like hobby, re-upholster a little stool, or these crazy things that everybody does and what you actually see in those interior programs, also upholstery stool, but we might do it in a little bit different way. We might have a little bit, a certain twist on it, because we are professionals.
Andreas: Actually, I enjoy a lot. It’s like a medium-sized little project and then paint, or re-upholster or something. I could say that it’s the – we call it [inaudible 00:28:28] and it’s – I think it’s very relaxing, especially when I’m out in the archipelago in my little house to have a framed little work to do and then to do it. It’s sometimes, also including going to these crazy big shops outside by the highway, buying a little bit of screws and a little bit of tape. I don’t know. It’s far away from the design and architecture industry and it’s out there by building material and by tools and it’s very relaxing, I think.
Mario: I’m curious, what do you think is the best investment that you made, so not in your practice, but in yourself and into development of yourself professionally?
Andreas: I like to be in the middle of things and learning about different ways of building and making interiors. I think that has become my strength that I learn new things. I had a terrible incident with the stone installation four years ago when we were doing this very luxurious condominium in the middle of town called Continental Apartments. I think it was the world’s – no, the Stockholm’s most expensive apartments ever sold.
Then the marble arrived in something that I would call it just poor selection. It was both gray marble and white marble in the same delivery. My solution to it was in emergency situation to sort the stone on site in a grayer selection and a whiter selection, so you don’t got that mix on the wall. Then I realized that of course, it was partly my fault, because I’m the architect, so I should know how to order stone and how to get nice stone to the site. Then I realized that I needed to learn more. If I wanted to do good stone installations, I needed to learn more about stone.
Andreas: Then I found a man from Denmark, who said that, “I can learn you about stone.” We started to travel together to quarries, to stone suppliers, to the Marmomac, the world’s biggest stone quarry in Verona and we focused for a period of maybe two years on learning Andreas about stone and how to do installations.
Andreas: Then I came out of that, you think you’re doing architectural education when you’re 20 to 25, but actually you can do new kind of education things much later in life, and then you can use the knowledge to be a better architect. That curiosity, I think is what still makes me like this profession. I’m still using it a lot and for new things all the time, because there is endlessly with things to test. I would say that. I think, some architects stay a little bit too safe behind their computers. If you are not out learning about building methods and crafts, you will not be able to execute those exquisite environments, because it is much, much more hands-on than just being behind a computer.
When a friend who is an architect introduced me to AML’s work, one of the first things she said was that they are behind some of the most affordable and some of the most expensive residential developments in Stockholm. Also, they don’t shy away from the playful and self-initiated projects, including objects and product design.
By looking at their impressive portfolio through the years, it’s wonderful to see how they developed as a practice. It seems that they’ve done a great job positioning themselves to attract discerning clients and to do the relevant and exciting work. I’ve asked Andreas about how they’ve achieved that.
Andreas: It’s maybe one good example how something small turned into something big, because it was a lawyer that called me one day. I think he was married to a woman I knew from another place. I think that was why he called me and he thought it looked a bit ugly in the reception area in the office where he worked, and also that guest had no really good place to hang off their coats.
Andreas: He asked, “Can you select a coat hanger and maybe a new carpet and maybe some curtains for the reception?” I thought, first of all, I’m an architect. I’m not really an interior decorator like that. But then I thought, “Oh, maybe I should.” It’s a commission. You should always say – try to say yes. I chose a carpet and a coat hanger and some curtains for him. In the end, it never happened, because his partners did not agree about this cosmetic upgrades, so there was no commission.
Then he called back a year later and said that, “Oh, now we’re going to move. We need a new office for 70 lawyers.” Then I said, “Oh, shit. That’s a commission.” Started to work on that. Then he called one day again and said, “Oh, sorry to say this, but we’re going to merge with another company and you might lose your commission now, but we need you for some sketches to see how an office for 200 lawyers would look.” Then I did their office. From the coat hanger, I was doing an office for 200 lawyers. Then actually during this secret period when they merged, they needed quite a lot of drawings and they got to learn to know me and I learned to know them. Then in the end, I stayed as the architect for what then become Sweden’s third largest law firm. It became a huge office conversion that only started with a coat hanger.
Andreas: Then after that, had done the transition from being only myself to being maybe office of two architects or something like that. Then I had the luck to meet Oscar Engelbert, who is the founder of Oscar Properties. That is one of the more well-known property developers in Sweden nowadays, but at that time he was just a small, also from the beginning of one kitchen table enterprise, or a one-man enterprise.
Andreas: I worked a little bit with him in the office where I worked before I started. When I finished the law firm, I met him on a art exhibition opening and he said that, “Oh, we’re growing a lot. I have something for you.” Then I got my first project within real big scale conversion. I was trained a little bit doing that in the office where I worked before, so it was not totally new to me. Actually, that commission, I did it well. I think that’s a key thing. Some people get commissions, but some people also get another and the third and the fourth commission from the same client. The only way to do that is to be willing to collaborate rather, than to think that architecture is a one-man show. It’s really about trying to help your clients with their problems and I have always tried to do that.
Andreas: I would say, all architects are not pragmatic. Pragmatic could also be to just do exactly, or some people think that this is to do exactly what the client says. I think pragmatic is to understand the balance between the client’s needs and architecture and find something there in that field between.
Andreas: He came back and I have designed almost, I think I’ve done 10 projects for them now or something like that. Then in 2012, I met some people who wanted to build modular. It all started with that, you know maybe you have seen these lamps that I was doing together with Monocle. They got quite popular. I got a lot of help from Monocle with young Swedish architects doing cool small lamps with Monocle. It became quite a buzz around those lamps.
Andreas: One lady in Stockholm wanted to buy a lamp and she couldn’t pick it up herself, so she sent her husband. Then I met her husband in the city center and I just handed over this lamp into his car. Then I didn’t know at that time that that would become the biggest client ever for my company. It started with just selling a Monocle lamp to him. Later on, he called back and I started to collaborate with this company he had invested in and it was called Junior Living and they wanted to build totally completed one room apartments that you could stuck in.
Andreas: The easiest is to explain it like wine bottles in a wine rack or something like that. I thought it was a bit crazy in the beginning, actually, but we continued to work with them. Now I think it might be the biggest client in the office at the moment. We are doing hotels and we are doing this “snabba hus” residential buildings for young Stockholmers without apartment contract for them. It’s very big projects and it consumes a lot of architect hours.
Andreas: That openness also about those lamps I said, they were very advanced business cards, if you understand, when you give a business cards, you want – the Japanese people, they sometimes have very thick business cards, because you remember maybe the thick business cards. I think, I gave away a lot of lamps and I also sold lamps and they became very efficient advertising, or made the brand a little bit more well-known. At that time it helped a lot.
Andreas: We started a lot of traffic to the office. People came to the office to buy a lamp, then they got to see the architecture business as well. I don’t know, but that’s part of the reason it went so quick from one, two persons to 20 people in the team.
Mario: It does sound like it happened quite organically.
Andreas: It does and it goes quite fast. Ten years is both a very long time. It went quick, but it’s a very long time. During the way, also things I got the architect of the year price and of course, it boosted business and we got a Nordic architecture price for the “snabba hus” on it also. Of course, maybe did not boost so much business, but it confirms that we are on the right track and that we are doing interesting architecture.
Andreas: Also last year, I was in a TV program, very popular architect, at home with the architect or something. It’s called like that. There is a big public interest in design and architecture today, so these TV programs they get quite big attention. It also helps to establish the brand as straightforward and non-pretentious architect brand that actually people dare to pick up the phone and call me.
Andreas: I think there’s a big gap between people who maybe need a little bit of architecture and architects and some architects you don’t dare to really call. Somehow, I also talked about this, my straightforward approach to architecture in the TV program and that maybe also helps, so people dare to pick up the phone. Say, “Could you design my house?” Nowadays, we have to answer, “Maybe,” because it’s not for sure that we can design everybody’s house.
Andreas: I think that’s part of why it works fine for us for the moment. It’s actually quite tricky times for Swedish architectures in, because we had this strong growth within residential for a couple of years. Then now, that has stopped almost totally. That means it’s not as easy any longer to run an architect office.
Mistakes and failures provide some of the most valuable growth experiences if we are willing to learn from them. Here, Andreas shares some of the difficulties he encountered as a team leader, architect and more personally as a professional while dealing with health issues due to work exhaustion.
Andreas: What is not in your hands should not be in your mind. A little bit. If I lose the control totally, I tell the client goodbye, and then I will not keep it for too long in my mind, because I’ve learned that it’s not worth it. At the end of the day, an architect has not the full responsibility for the building, because it’s on the developer and on the team owning the land, or owning the project. We are only professional advisors. If they don’t listen to us, then it’s time to say goodbye.
Andreas: I have done that a few times and sometimes I have almost told them goodbye and then they listen and then we rescue the situation. That’s I would say, it has happened a few times. In the beginning, I took it very personally. Nowadays, I would maybe try to stay professional in that situation. It also happens not so often nowadays, because when you become a little bit more established and a little bit more well-known, people tend to treat you with a little bit more respect also.
Mario: Exactly. What would you say is a thing that you’re perhaps struggling with the most right now in this phase, because it sounds like there’s – I mean, there’s a lot of things which are going really well and it’s really exciting.
Andreas: I design a lot of buildings, but sometimes you’re not the one who are executing the build, because it might be a new contract with the construction company. If some other architect office gives a lower price on the construction documentation, they happen to construct your design. Sometimes it’s other reasons for doing that shift.
Andreas: I think for me personally, it’s almost impossible to cut after designing, because as I’ve tried to explain before, I think a lot of the design is made quite late when it goes down in details and sometimes these details are developed with the available people on site. If you’re then cut away from that process, your building will never have – that dialogue on the building site, or dialogue – late dialogue about details will never happen and then the building does not get as good as it should be. Maybe also become very un-AML-ish, because that’s my way of working. If I’m not there, then people will not feel that certain feeling that our best projects are able to show.
Mario: Is there maybe anything else, even more personal in a way, either with your schedule, or how you’re running things?
Andreas: At the moment, I just wish that the days were a little bit longer, so I could be a little bit more present. In the big picture is that I have tried in is it two and a half years ago or something. I lost the vision on my left eye and I didn’t know really why. In the end, I understood that it was stress and overwork. I think to find that balance, I was really bad for a while and had to go to the doctor and stop working.
Andreas: I think there is a risk that it’s simply happening too much. When you get stressed and then you also lose your most important skill, to be creative and to find solutions. That was really hard for me to wake up and feel both sad and without the thing that makes you think new. I was a little bit stuck in stress and stuck in solution that we had solutions that we had already tried many times. I could see my team starting to repeat themselves with the solutions and designs. It was good that the economic boom in Stockholm stopped a little bit and I got my vision back on the left eye. Slowly, I also gained back the ability to come up with new ideas. That’s really, really important.
Mario: Would you be willing to expand a bit more on how you went through that period? Were there any specific resources, or things you did during the time when you realized, “Okay. This is too much. I’ve put too much on myself and it’s not good for my body, or my work.” What did you do during that period? How did you resolve that?
Andreas: I did not really resolve it until it was too late. Then I had to take a break and really try to rest. During the most busiest part, it was eating a lot of painkillers and trying to get through the day. It’s tough with architecture, because it’s very periodic. Because you design something and then maybe a year later or two years later if it’s a big project, you go into a construction phase, and then it becomes super busy. Different projects have their different cycles and I think I landed in a situation where we build it up more and more. All of a sudden, many of the projects were in super intense phases and my team and I, we were not strong enough. We had not experienced that before.
Andreas: It was just a little bit being out on a very stormy waters. I think it was not like, I can only see it from my side, but I guess other people in the studio were maybe not feeling so well either. What do we try to do? We plan a little bit more. We do for costs and try to see on a computer screen and in a Excel file whether we’re going to feel well or not in March in 2021 or something.
Andreas: No, because you get a little bit more respect for this too. If computers say you were fully booked eight hours every day for the last three months, then maybe you have a more clear message to tell new clients that no, there is no possibility of taking on that commission. Five years ago, I would just say yes, of course we help you. It’s a little bit more mature way of running a company maybe. That’s things that happened after you turned 40 that I did two years ago.
Mario: I’m really glad that you shared that story, because I think that’s important. Often, we just hear, or especially if you look at Instagram or something, we just see the highlights and the nice images, but yeah, there’s a lot of background things which are going on.
Andreas: It was also a strange feeling, because for the whole life, I had longed for that moment when you feel like, “Now I’m a real architect. Now I’m in charge of important projects.” People came up to me and say, “Oh, well. Congratulations you’re fun that you’re doing so great and so big projects and so much and your name is all over town.” I felt nothing. I was not happy. I was not sad. I was just – I couldn’t take in the situation. And especially that I was not happy, I was just tired. That was not a nice feeling.
Mario: Was that classified as like a burnout?
Andreas: Yeah, I think it was very close to, or a little bit. I got medication for that and then I had to rest. Then actually, my doctor – I have a very good doctor at the hospitality, because when I was just starting architectural school, I had a brain tumor on the left part of the brain. I was very bad between 20 and 23. Then I’ve done, always done these scans afterwards. Today I’m feeling well.
Andreas: The good thing is that I’ve always have had very good contact with my doctors then. In the beginning, we did scans every six months, and then then we did scans every 12 months. Today, maybe a scan every 18 month. This was actually my brain doctors who saw also my well-being in a more broader sense, because they could see on me that I was not really feeling well.
Andreas: One day, she told me what happens to men that are not listening to their bodies. When you pass 40, 45, really dangerous things can happen to your body if you don’t listen. She also came with a suggestion that I should do a reorganization of the company structure, that so I was not in the middle of everything, like more a little bit on side of it. That is what I have tried to do the last two years.
Mario: Thank you for sharing that.
Andreas: Yeah. Also, I like it to be a little bit on side of it, because then you can see it a little bit with a better distance and think about the future of things also, not only the present.
Mario: While we’re on this topic of challenges and struggles, another related topic is failures, or mistakes. I mean, I’m curious, how do you approach that? Or is there something that you wish you avoided, or was there something that was really hard to go through in that sense?
Andreas: What can you do? You can fail within the architecture. You can fail within your leadership in the studio and you can fail with doing business, like doing bad business. Since I’ve been active for more than 10 years now, I’m sure I have failed on all those three partially, but we have never totally failed, I think. You learn from that, so I try to be more relaxed boss. I try to be a more precise and accurate architect and I try to write better contracts with my clients to avoid these three. That’s a very overview answer on your question. Do you mean any more specific?
Mario: Yeah, if you have any example, or a story which stuck to mind.
Andreas: I remember for example, if we take – in Sweden, you should have this talk with your employees. I think the first or second year when we started with the talks, I got some formula from some friend who had this worked at the big company and they had this talk and I did the formula and I think, at least one of my three architects handed in his resignation after that, because it was just so boring and so not me.
Andreas: Since that day, I’ve never used a formula. When I talk with colleagues, I would just talk to them and see how they are, because that is more Andreas and that is also more suitable for a small company. It doesn’t have to be so formal. That’s about relation with colleagues that I think should be.
Mario: What talk is it? Is it the yearly check-in?
Andreas: It should be normally two talks, one talk about how do you feel and how do you want to develop? One is about salary, of course. The talk about how do you feel and how do you want to develop, could of course be done very formula with written down things and asking certain questions, or it could just be done by heart. Then I think those talks are better to just do than to follow some formula.
Andreas: I try to be a little bit more relaxed boss nowadays. When I have done, exercised this boss thing for 10 years. With architecture, it’s just the construction process is even if architecture is a creative profession, the construction process is a very technical thing. A lot of things can go wrong there and you really have to be trained within how to produce building components and how to produce buildings to be able to get the most out of your ideas and out of the project budget.
Andreas: Of course, we have failed many times there, putting the wrong too cold light on too low-quality marble. Once you have done those mistakes and you see how bad the environment gets, you learn from it. Next time, you will have more high-quality warmer light shining on a nicer marble with the right, not too glossy and all those things. So many things can go wrong. The only thing that can heal this thing is to try to find a way of getting your knowledge to also go through the rest of the organization, because it would be sad if everybody that getting charged with a project makes the same mistake, because it’s sad that all these things should be mistaken so many times.
Mario: Yeah, exactly.
Andreas: Never go right. Always a bit wrong.
I find the work that Andreas stands behind beautiful, relevant and inspiring. There seems to be a great balance of intent and play, past and present, and a genuine dedication to the craft. In one-to-one, the first book on Andreas Martin-Löf Arkitekter, which marked the firm’s 10th anniversary, Hugo McDonald remarked, “Andreas speaks of respect and responsibility. He acknowledges that evolution and improvement are more appropriate qualities to strive for the novelty-for-novelty sake. This makes for coherent architecture that can be simultaneously rigorous and playful, robust and refined.”
In some ways, they are doing architecture differently from a usual architecture firm, so I wanted to get Andreas’s perspective on that. Here, we dug into the topics of architecture and design and began the discussion with Andreas’s portrayal of what makes a good interior.
Andreas: I hope that the ideas for the space are somehow rooted in the building, or something that make things in the room feel that they make a little bit sense there. Then I would recommend – this is very traditional, but I’m very traditional. I would say, use real materials. Don’t use too many. Maybe three things could be enough. For example, wood, a nice color on the wall and metal, or wood color in stone, or just don’t use too many things. Even if it’s a big apartment, maybe choose three, four, maximum five things and work with them and leave the rest of your ideas to next space, or to next project. That’s good advice.
Andreas: Then I would say, learn about light and how to use light. Because it’s both daylight and electrical light, because it could enhance, or destroy any space if it’s used right or wrongly. It sounds so easy these things that I say, but somehow when you go out and see what’s being built today, you realize that it’s not so easy, because somehow all these fake materials, all these bad installations and all these strange lighting solutions are being done all the time. There is nothing wrong with being very clear about what creates a good space.
Andreas: I think it’s also – I’ve heard a lot of people trying to say that architecture is like frozen music, or whatever we were learned in school. Yeah, maybe I understand what they mean, but I would put it much more simple, like architecture is a little bit like cooking. A bad chef could have very expensive ingredients and really make a bad meal anyway. A good chef could make a fantastic meal also with quite simple ingredients, if you understand. Architecture is a little bit like cooking. You have to have a good chef and you could have both expensive, or simple ingredients, but you have to have the knowledge how to use it. That is what I see a lot in environments today, that the recipe for the environment, or the chef that has created it has used too much strain things, too many bad ingredients. Less ingredients and better ingredients and more thoughts to the space.
Mario: I love that. I would like to hear your thoughts on another dimension of architecture. That’s in a way, what’s called the “genius loci”, or respecting the spirit of the space in a way. I think it’s in a way before in the past, that that was in a lot of ways given, because we weren’t that globalized and it would be – you would basically build with what was there and basically build in a way that you saw other things being built. Today, I mean, that’s not the case. It’s so easy, or even promoted to do all kinds of things in all kinds of ways. I’m curious, how do you approach that as a architect working in a 21st century?
Andreas: I think good architecture should both be rooted in place, but you also have to accept time and trends. Even if you look at the Swedish architect Ragnar Östberg, he went to Venice to get inspiration for his city hall here in Stockholm, and Frank Lloyd Wright studied Japanese architecture before designing falling waters. Architecture like this has always been floating around the globe. That’s opposite to “genius loci”. That’s global thinking even in the past.
Andreas: Then of course, it has to be also rooted. It has to make sense where it’s placed. I think both. Today, you could maybe translate it into that if you look for example on my work for Oscar Properties, it has been considered super trendy. The designed department at Oscar Properties, they have had that “fingerspitzengefühl” for trends and I have been very rooted in the buildings. Together, we have done something that is both feels new and that works super good in the environment. I think that’s why we have succeeded in many of those projects.
Andreas: Then you see somebody taking our ideas and use it the same ideas in the wrong building and then it doesn’t work, because it was maybe the right trend, but it was the wrong place to do it. For me, architecture is it has to be rooted where it’s applied, but in the same time you also need to influence from around the world, because otherwise, you become a building conservation specialist and that’s something else. That’s not to be an architect. Conservation is about to conserve what’s there. To be an architect is to adapt sites and buildings for future use and that’s something else. Sometimes, we call it preservation. It’s both preservation and preservation.
Mario: How would you describe your approach and what perhaps makes it different from other architects?
Andreas: Even if my company, we have a lot of commissions here in Stockholm and we are also sometimes quite commercial commissions. I still have a little bit different approach to architecture than many other Swedish architects. I’m more hands-on. I’m more straightforward. I’m more in the middle of everything. I’m very interested in craft and I’m not shy about speaking out about that I’m quite childish, also how I work with things. Sometimes very un-theoretical, very hands-on. Some people might call it a bit stupid. I would say, it’s quite brave to be childish, like to pack a box with a little clamp lamp and sell it via Monocle.
Andreas: It’s so stupid and childish, so many people would not even do it. I did it and it went to a small commercial success and helped my company to grow. The question is is it childish, or is it brave to be very open about your weaker sides and that you do not have so big thoughts about architecture that you try to just manage everyday work? I think it’s like, why not? Why should with this architecture will be so pretentious all the time and complicated? I don’t feel it is that. I feel it’s much, it’s about communication and about learning to know people that are skilled with things and make them do the best possible.
Andreas: I think this old word about, I can’t remember, but isn’t architect, it means the first builder, the one who is leading the job and having the big vision. I think it’s a perfect conclusion about the world, the everyday life of an architect. You need to find that big picture and then you have to communicate with people to live up to this bigger goal, and that you’re doing that with knowledge and with communication. Then hopefully, you create something beautiful together.
Mario: I love that.
Andreas: I think maybe, architecture is quite far away from that nowadays. It’s sitting behind a computer, delivering black and white lines on A3 papers for a bidding that maybe takes a year, until somebody else get it in their hands. Then five years later, you might see a building that hopefully looks like you draw it. There is too long distance between mind and hand.
We’ve come to the last topic I’ve discussed with Andreas. As I aim to wrap up every episode with parting takeaways from my guests, I’ve asked him to highlight final pieces of advice based on what he learned so far on his professional journey.
Andreas: I would say, don’t stress too much and let the ideas come to you. They only come to you if you feel balanced.
Then my way of doing architecture is to look around. There’s so much great architecture and ordinary, nice ordinary buildings around you. Most of the answers for an architect is to find already there in the built environment.
Then also, let ideas – give it a little bit of time. One thing I actually like with architecture is that it sometimes – it has a different face. Design goes quite fast, like designing objects and stuff, but buildings take a little bit longer time. That process of doing a bit on a project and then rest a bit and then come back and look at it with new eyes, I think that’s at least for me, it’s very important, because it gives the product a chance to grow with you.
Andreas: For example, the project that we did, colosseum in this old university building, where I lived before. It was a process over six years to create those 70 apartments. I think I’m very fortunate to sometimes be in those long projects, and that if you are there during those six years and follow, it helps the project forward. Long time just to give away drawings and wait for five years, that’s not the same thing. To really be there with the project for a long time, I think it’s good with architecture, because it’s also going to stay hopefully there for a very long time, so there is no rush.
Hey, everyone. That’s it for this episode. I hope you find it useful. If you like this podcast, tell a friend. I want to thank Andreas for coming onto the show. I find his work and approach tremendously inspiring and I’m grateful for the honest insights he shared with me.
Links to Andreas’s work and some other things mentioned during the conversation can be found in the show notes at creative.voyage/podcast. Also, you can follow @creative.voyage on Instagram, join The Monthly Edit newsletter, and if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe. Until next time my friends. Take care.
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