Best known for its residential projects, this architectural firm called NRJA has as their motto the term: No Rules Just Architecture; the firm’s name is also an acronym of it. The studio is currently involved in a high-rise in Riga along with several large-scale multifunctional and mixed-use projects, as well as the development of a new town square and wharf in the seaside town of Pavilosta.
NRJA is always up to participating in competititions and believes in even going beyond what is required by the brief. The team is never short on inspirations, and as the name suggests it is always led by an innovative and fresh approach.
Recently, the existing Riga Passenger Terminal now outdated and situated in an exclusive location – adjacent to the very center of Riga, needed a new identity and urban response. NRJA’s proposal won first prize and envisions the development of the territory and port as a high quality urban environment which offers not only maritime transport, leisure, shopping and business experience but also a public space connection to the city. Intrigued initially by their name, we at Home Review entered into a tête-à-tête with the firm’s principal to unearth the defining spirit of this very eco-aware architectural firm.
What was the genesis of NRJA?
NRJA is a Riga based architectural practice established in 2005 by me, Uldis Luksevics. The name NRJA stands for – no rules just architecture. This is our motto and it is most important for me and my team. Eight years ago, along with a colleague, architect Ivars Lapins I co-founded office F.L.Tadao and later in 2005, NRJA emerged.
Currently, three of my colleagues have architectural masters’ degrees. NRJA hasn’t stopped functioning due to the ongoing economical crisis, we have just reduced the number of our employees. Our attitude towards architecture however remains the same. We have never tried to position ourselves as special, we let our work speak for us. Compared with other practices we probably take part in a lot more competitions.
How much of your work is based on sustainable architecture?
It is not just a trend or a fashionable thing for us at NRJA; it is the way we think about architecture. Project Just Green, a winning proposal for an office building on the peninsula in the river Daugava, was intended to be a self-sufficient, LEED-compliant building. Since there is an absence of the city’s engineering network here a complex use of all available natural energy was created which included – water and ground source heat pumps, wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, rain water collection and use, natural ventilation and thermoset concrete decks.
By the end of 2012 we won the international competition for Riga Passenger Terminal. The terminal building complex was designed using a double facade that would hide the passenger flow, providing natural ventilation. 3D facade elements with built-in photovoltaic panels would provide a lighting system with no additional requirement of electricity.
Another direction in which we are headed is small self-sufficient residential units, that could be built in places where it is not possible to connect to the city facilities. These would be able to function independent of network resource monopolies like the project RED 25. Floating buildings (Floating BARN), with built-in biological treatment systems and water heat pumps and a large floating office building (Floating Waterscraper) are some more projects on our plate.
An exhibition stand we built for Ecologic Vehicles & Renewable Energies International Exhibition in Monaco for OSCAR (the first electric car, built in Latvia, which for the first time in the history completed the Dakar Rally 2012) can also be considered as sustainable, since it is so designed that it can be dismantled and used again several times over in future exhibitions.
How do you manage to adhere to your desired style of architecture in this turbulent environment?
We do what we like, we are glad to do things for someone who needs us and also who thinks like us.
In our opinion there are two very important P’s, which are essential in architecture – a positive attitude and professionalism. The main thing is to feel for and be true to the work at hand.We always like to work with people with whom we are comfortable. In our architectural processes we even have a place for good music, good books, good relations and good meals. The progression itself is like a game for us, between us, our clients and building institutions.
Are you finding yourself increasingly drawn to particular materials-particular types of wood or metal?
Each material has its own characteristics, we have our own preferences based on a variety of conditions, like suitable properties, regional aspects and ultimately the client’s wishes. Having said that, the choice of natural and recyclable materials is almost always a constant.
Do you see the role of the architect changing over the next twenty-five years?
We think that architects are increasingly becoming psychotherapists. You see they have to be sensitive to both public and private clients and try to understand their needs and desires. As skilled designers, architects create a setting that is suitable for the long-term. Right from the designing stage the architect has to be cognizant of how a person or a society feels; he has to be knowledgeable about newer technologies, not only in the field of building materials, but importantly about alternate energy sources and their application to the field. Ideally, an architect must know more about life than anyone else, since ultimately it is he who has to figure out the right buildings where people should live in the future, at least so far as engineered buildings are constructed and used.
Walk us through your plans for the future. Any dream assignment?
Just this, that we would like to keep working for clients who like what we do and to co-create architecture with them such that would provide joy in their lives for a long time to come.