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#Architecture

He Designs the Nation’s Best Offices – But He Lives Among the Hills

Article April 10, 2019  |  Text by Markéta Miková Text by Markéta Miková

Jan Kurz and his wife Zuzana founded KURZ Architects studio three years ago, after finishing their degrees. They design houses and commercial spaces that have won awards in competitions assessing the leading edge in Czech office design. The pair themselves, meanwhile, have “escaped” the city and live in solitude among the Novohradské hills.

Your studio has only done three office projects so far, but a full two of them have won major awards. What’s your take on this? What makes your office designs unique?

What’s unique are the people and companies we work for. We merely materialize that which characterizes them. It’s up to us how strong a shape we find for it and how we join it all into a functional whole.

What’s your advice to companies that would like to have a new headquarters designed and built? What principles should they follow?

They should materialize that which characterizes them. Provide space for employees, seek out and hire an architect of quality, and cooperate with them closely. What you get then is something that’s easy to understand and remember, something that, in itself, becomes a part of the company’s visuals and brand.

Interior by Kurz architects for the company called SinnerSchrader, awarded during the Meeting Room of the Year 2018 competition.

Looking at your portfolio, we see that most of your orders are from Prague, but you live on a farm right near the Austrian border. How does your architectural studio actually work, and how often do you head into the capital?

There are three of us architects at the studio – myself, my wife Zuzana, and our colleague Elena. Zuzana and I live in the Novohradské hills, Elena lives in Prague, and our project architects – with whom we cooperate closely – live in the northwest of the country. We all know each other from back during our studies. We work as a remotely linked team, but for the final execution, we’re always physically present.

I’m on the road up to two days a week, and I spend the rest of the week at my home in the south, where my wife and I prepare architectural designs for clients, but we’re also living out our family life and attending to our six-month-old son, our farm, and our livestock – and helping to start up a bio-bakery, restore a nearby hotel, and last but not least, care for the nature here, which is our home.

Why did you choose the Novohradské hills specifically?

We live in a village nearby Benešov nad Černou in the former Sudetenland, one that previously hadn’t had any permanent residents at all since World War II – just cottagers. In the 1990s my parents bought a dilapidated farm out here and gradually restored it, and then a few years ago, we moved in.

We connect two opposites – solitude in the mountains, where there’s relative peace and where we’re in complete harmony with nature around us, and then the buzz and energy of the big city, which we visit for our work and social lives. Through this we try to maintain a balance and a “bird’s eye view” for both parts of our lives.

Would you recommend to other people that they move from the city to a village? Is it a change for the better for everyone?

I was born and raised in Prague, and my wife Zuzana in the city of Ostrava, and we studied together in the city of Liberec. We needed time to get used to the rhythm of rural life. It’s an endless circle of caring for the farm, the soil, the orchard, and the animals. Even though we produce a lot of what we need ourselves, we have to import a number of things, and we have to commute for our work, education, and entertainment.

But life in a clean natural environment where we can freely think and create – that’s highly valuable for the both of us. It always depends on your reason for moving to the country and your vision for your life out there.  You have to be convinced that you really want it, because it’s more comfortable and far cheaper to live in an apartment building in the city.

Is your lived experience reflected in your architectural designs in any way?

I think that for an architect – someone in a role whose core lies in creativity and unconventional thinking – the largest threat is routine. There are a lot of things you could say about how Zuzana and I work and live, but you couldn’t say that it’s homogeneous, or routine. The environment that we two live in gets just the right creative juices flowing in our brains, and thanks to this, we manage to find pure and basic shapes better than we would in the overstuffed city. On the other hand, the best projects always come from a team, and because of this, we need to be in nonstop contact with the client and our team and talk over individual topics with them.

Czech Promotion agency and its new office designed by Kurz architects. It was selected as the best design in Office of the Year 2017 competition

Isn’t it a disadvantage for you to some extent that you live outside the city and that you thus aren’t in daily contact with the “city folk” for whom you’re designing office spaces?

Precisely the opposite. An architect’s task is to be a bit of a moderator, who has to keep a certain distance and view things from above. And the fact that we’re living in a place where we’re the only inhabitants is precisely what enables us to make our considerations in this way.