In every new project, what we are most interested in is the purity and clarity of the concept, and how it is reflected in the form, shapes, function, space, construction, materials, and textures of the building.
Kapsimalis Architects is a young architectural firm based in Santorini, Greece, run by Alexandros Kapsimalis and Marianna Kapsimali. Living in one of the most renowned islands of the Mediterranean they are specialised in holiday houses and hotel complexes, as well as retail and cultural spaces. We spoke to Alexandros and Marianna to discuss their approach to architecture, the importance of living in Santorini, sustainability, and their inspirations in relation to classic Cycladic architecture.
Your headquarters are in Santorini. What drew you to this island? How inspired do you feel by the classic Cycladic architecture?
Although we come from Athens and Ancient Delphi, we have grown up and lived most of our years on the island of Santorini. Considering that this island is steadily an important pole of attraction for high quality tourism, we decided to keep our office on it. Santorini is an example of classical Cycladic architecture while incorporating the characteristics of its remarkable volcanic landscape. The truth, the purity, the austerity, but also the dynamics of the structures, forms, and materiality that define it are the source of inspiration for our architecture.
We think that of all traditional architecture, the Cycladic one comes closest to the principles of minimalism. Clean, simple, and timeless. How do you approach a project on an island?
The main target of a new architectural composition on an island is the analysis of the individual characteristics of its natural landscape or its residential spatial and cultural environment in order to succeed a balanced integration of our proposal in them, but also to highlight them in the light of the new architectural forms, functions, and technologies. Each new proposal is treated as a separate one and verified at all phases of the design to the basic principles of minimalism, including purity, simplicity, and timelessness.
What do you like most about working in Greece?
Greece, although as a country still faces several issues in its organisation and administration, is a unique place of natural beauty, favourable Mediterranean climate, and great history and tradition—an endless source of inspiration and creativity.
Do you consider your architecture as Minimal? If so, in what sense?
In every new project, what we are most interested in is the purity and clarity of the concept, and how it is reflected in the form, shapes, function, space, construction, materials, and textures of the building. We do not seek Minimal from the beginning, but if the truth and the austerity of the elements that make up the whole building lead to it, then we can say that our architecture is minimal. We certainly avoid imitations, waste of materials, scenography, and unnecessary decoration but strive for creating strong emotions through the forms of volumes, spaces, and natural light.
How important is sustainability to you? Can you talk to us about how you approach this issue with your work?
The concept of sustainability is an integral part of our architectural design, not only because we build mainly in the protected Cycladic natural environment of Santorini but also due to the general need of global climate protection and the environment’s natural resources preservation. In this context, we aim for the harmonious integration of our buildings in the landscape, their optimal placement on the plot relating to their orientation in order to reduce energy consumption, the utilisation of natural resources, such as rainwater, geothermal energy, and so on, the use of local and reusable materials in the construction, and the integration of modern technology in energy sustainable systems of heating, cooling, ventilation, and so on.
What is your favourite material to work with?
We do not have a particular preference for a certain building material. We are fascinated by the natural materials of each place, such as the stone, marble, cement mortar, ceramics, and so on, but we are also particularly interested in the use of modern materials and techniques that evolve the construction and operation of the building. The white or earthy colour plaster may be one of our favourite materials, as it completes the plasticity and geometry of our buildings’ volumes and spaces; a material that bridges our architecture with the traditional paradigms.
Browsing your portfolio, I was struck by House in Vourvoulos. It appears to be in perfect harmony with its surrounding environment. Can you tell us more about this project?
The House in Vourvoulos belongs to a series of houses—monoliths that have been designed by our office, including the Vineyard House, the House in Finikia, the House in Pyrgos, and the House on the edge of the Caldera, which are in complete harmony with their volcanic natural environment, while forming a dynamic presence on it. Specifically, the concept of House in Vourvoulos proposes to cut a piece of the hillside and move it forward, intimating the natural erosion, cracks, and slip of solid rock masses due to natural causes found on the volcanic surface of the island. The artificial piece of land in its new position forms a covered passage under it, through which residents enter the house. This also leaves a crevasse at the rear of the building, where a small parking lot and secondary entrance can be found with the cut of the natural rock as a backdrop. The new rock is then carved to form the living spaces and openings to the outside and the view beyond.
How does the theme of the light affect your architecture? Does it play an essential role in how you want spaces to function?
The element of natural light is a very important parameter in our architectural design. When placing the building, except for the achievement of the appropriate view, we pay great attention to the orientation of the building, in order to introduce natural light in the depth of the interior and outdoor spaces, or on the contrary to shade them to achieve their natural cooling. In addition to the energy benefits of that natural light contributes, we see the gradations of its tonality and the warmth of its colours, highlighting shapes of the interior space, as well as the detail of textures, which really stimulate the human senses.
You are from Athens, a city of strong architectural contrasts, between the Parthenon emblem of classicism and the confused architecture of the last decades at its feet. What do you think of this duality?
Although Athens is the birthplace of the Parthenon and the classical architecture, in the last century it has experienced unregulated development without a clear architectural identity. The model of the “Athens urban block” has basically defined the form and the function of the city-matrix, consisting its shell in a period of an intense urbanisation, after the early 1900s. The political, economical, and social needs of this period led to its massive production. Today, the city of Athens has been transformed into sets of apartment blocks in which almost half of the country’s population is concentrated. The deficiency of free spaces and public infrastructure, the high partition of the urban land resulted by the tendency for the maximisation of the built surfaces, the random distribution of mixed uses due to the loose observance of the general urban plan, and the significant alteration of the social composition of the people in the level of the neighbourhood are the main characteristics of the inner-city image.
Are you inspired by any architectural greats of the past?
We are inspired by the great architects of the past and present such as Mies Van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Richard Neutra, Oscar Niemeyer, Tadao Ando, Alvaro Siza, Souto de Moura, David Chipperfield, and Peter Zumthor.
Except Santorini, is there another island you feel particularly connected to?
Alexandros: I especially like Tinos, a Cycladic Island, which combines a very interesting rocky rural landscape with a variety of traditional settlements of unique architecture and numerous sandy beaches. The route in the south-eastern part of the island, at the top of the hill slope, overlooking the endless blue of the Aegean, crossing the villages of Kardiani, Isternia and ending at the marble village of Pyrgos is breath-taking.
What music do you listen to while designing?
Alexandros: I do not always listen to music when designing, but I generally prefer electronic and techno music. My favourite artists are Moderat, Sebastien Schuller, Paradis, Nicolas Jaar, Nina Kraviz, and so on.
What do you like to do when you are not working? What is your sense of escapism?
Alexandros: On a daily basis during non-working hours, I enjoy exercising, reading, and meeting friends. During holidays I seek to travel to various parts of Greece and the world, aiming to discover unique natural landscapes, residential complexes and buildings, learn the history, culture and modern trends of each place as well to enjoy its gastronomy and entertainment. In the summer I like to visit, among other places, isolated small Greek island-escapes for the purpose of absolute relaxation and tranquility.