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Lukas Maehr from MWArchitekten talks to us about his creative process & his vision for how we can move sustainable design forward


Today on Meet the creatives we are talking to architect Lukas Maehr from MWArchitekten. Welcome Lukas!

You might remember that we recently published the gorgeous Duplex on a Hill by MWArchitekten. If you missed it, you can read about it here

MWArchitekten is an Austrian architecture firm who, over the last 10 years, have designed future-orientated and sustainable residential buildings.

Thanks for chatting with me today Lukas! Our recent publication of your Duplex on a Hill project was a hugely popular post so firstly, congrats on producing such a well-received and well-resolved design. I think the clarity of the design and the striking exterior form really captured everyones imagination.

We learnt a little about your approach to sustainability when we wrote about that project, but today I’d like to talk to you about your creative practice and to dig a little deeper into what sustainability means to you.

Firstly, what motivates you, inspires you or fuels your fire?

To be honest on the downside, it is the many things that do not run properly but on the other side the many people around, planners, entrepreneurs and responsible parties who want to improve urban planning issues, social issues or the CO2 footprint but also the aesthetic quality of our environment. Of course, the feeling of wanting to change and being able to participate is a driving force. It is nice to have a voice or a tool like architecture to make the world more qualitative. With every process not only a building is created but also a sensitisation of the people involved and you change the environment surrounding the project. One creates a new context for upcoming projects.

Lukas Maehr sitting at desk

Can you give us a little insight into your creative process? How do you start the ideas flowing?

It’s different for every project. There are as many incentives as there are places and people. At the beginning there is always the attempt to understand the context. The context can be found in many things. To be more precise, there are always many influences at the same time. You have to sort the parameters according to their relevance. Influence is taken from the customer, the intention, the environment, built or natural, the technology but also by a lot of higher-level issues. Every project starts with the appeal of the task, which is never easy but most important.

Timber clad home external view
Man sitting at desk sketching

What is your process for integrating sustainability into your process? Where do you start?

As I’ve already mentioned, there are few repetitive processes or tasks. The intention of bringing sustainability into a project must always run in the background but it can also be very obvious. Therefore a sustainable approach can be clear at the very beginning, in the core of the task, but can also be incorporated in more or less painstaking detail work. There are sustainable project intentions, projects that start from the beginning with a sustainable thought, and there are projects that define themselves exclusively through sustainable products and materials.

What area of sustainability are you most passionate about?

As an architect, I am naturally passionate about materials, light and spaces. All of these points can make a project meaningful. Sustainability here also stretches from local materials up to beauty. Beauty creates value. I work as a renovation consultant sometimes. The cost of a renovation is often equal to a new construction. When a client decides to renovate, it’s usually because he relates to the building. He likes it. He thinks it`s beautiful. But, of course, the overriding sustainability issues such as urban planning up to global warming are also of utmost relevance to us. 

Every building is an intervention in our beautiful world and we should make it as ecologically, socially and aesthetically compatible as possible.

Timber clad home external elevation
Lounge room and kitchen with timber floor

What is one thing you think your industry could do better to move sustainability forward?

Our industry does not have the same tasks everywhere. In the region where we practice an ecological building style is standard, we lack dense construction, which has social reasons but also represents a political omission. Other areas are very dense. They need to be dense, but they are not built with sustainable materials or social concepts that make sense in the long term. The CO2 balance or life cycle costs are not taken into account. The control of these mechanisms is rarely in our hands. Politics could intervene much deeper here, but often lacks the competence and commitment. I think we have to face the daily battle with builders, investors and politics and explain and show every day what we should do to create a sustainable environment.

Rear view of timber clad home with double garage
Lounge room with timber flooring

What was the biggest design challenge you’ve faced and how did you solve it?

Apart from planning our own house together with my wife, she’s an architect too, I’d say a project I’m working on right now might fall into this category. It is a conversion and addition to an older house. A multi-generation house is to be created from a single-family house in a very beautifully grown village structure. The technical and aesthetic demands are very high. The project is sustainable on an incredible number of levels. It improves the village structure, it creates densification, there are social approaches and it is implemented at the highest ecological level. And it’s going to be beautiful. It complements an already beautiful village. We’re solving this, step by step.

External black clad timber wall on factory floor under construction

What is your favourite project designed by you or your practice?

I think our recently completed duplex is aesthetically, technically but also in terms of content well done. The appearance of the place, like the segmentation of the plots, often limits the density that can be implemented. The semi-detached house is a financially feasible and resource-efficient solution for private individuals for dense housing without dependencies. It makes more sense to save a few square meters in exchange for high quality and ecological housing. Unfortunately, a lot of areas are wasted with cheap, imprudent buildings that do not contribute to the local context and are not built sustainably in several respects. Also, the social aspect of dense construction should not be forgotten.

Exterior view of black clad home with peaked roof

What is your favourite sustainable project by other people and why?

The school in Bangladesh by Ann Heringer comes to mind. This project has a very simple, almost lovely architectural language and is at the same time extremely consistent, almost radically sustainable. Built from local materials (clay and wood), the local people were involved in the building process. No resources were wasted, no transportation, social context was strengthened and knowledge was imparted. There was not even any noise pollution because building with clay does not require equipment and the woodwork was bound and plugged.

I know her work well! We published a post about her Anandaloy Community Centre a little while back, and I couldn’t agree more with your beautiful description of her work. Her projects contribute on so many levels to the local communities.

METI School in Bangladesh by Anna Heringer
View of bamboo structure at METI School in Bangladesh by Anna Heringer

How do you predict that the covid pandemic will affect your industry? Has it affected your designs in any way?

It is difficult to say what to expect. There will certainly be more regulations for places where many people meet. At the moment, the trend toward more space requirements and an increased movement toward the countryside can also be seen on the basis of market demand. It seems that spatial and social demarcation will continue to increase.

Close up detail of timber cladding around external window

And finally – a couple of quick questions about you. What is your favourite book, website and podcast?

I think it’s a sign of our times that there isn’t one favorite book, one movie, but rather depending on the topic, time of day, free time or work, you change the medium. Privately, I love books about nature in every way. Travel, landscape, horticulture, landscape architecture, but even cookbooks are high on my list. My workday often starts with blogs about the latest developments in architecture, such as yours.

Who inspires you?

I have the great fortune to work in a region where quality and ecology in construction has a long tradition and is highly appreciated. Accordingly, there is a lot of inspiration here, ranging from craftsmen with an affinity for detail to highly specialized timber engineers and high-class architect colleagues.

Thanks Lukas! I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today. It’s been very inspiring to learn about your approach to sustainable design, particularly your insights into the social value of design. I look forward to checking out how your current project turns out, and how it takes its place within the existing village. Thank you

Images courtesy of MWArchitekten
Photography – Duplex on a Hill by Adolf Bereuter.
Photography – Anna Heringer project by B.K.S. Inan and Benjamin Staehli

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