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“It wasn’t until I began my practice in interior corporate design with COS that I realized I can do something different.”

In our fifth #JUSTbeCOS interview, Colin Lovering had a pleasant discussion with Architect Laura Dragomir, just a few days after her masterpiece project, Stables, won the prize for Best Fitout of 2020, at the anual CIJ Awards Gala. Relocated to Sibiu five yers ago, Laura completed her studies at the “Ion Mincu” Architectural and Urbanistic University, located in Bucharest, studying also a year abroad in Palermo, Italy. During her final year in university she started working at COS and this seems to be the moment that decided her career.

  1. Laura, tell us about you, what made you want to become an architect?

Well, the road to finding inner creativity was and still is a bumpy one, but to be honest I owe it to my parents, who made real efforts to show me how well architecture combines the engineering and the art world. I wanted to change the road many times over the years, from engineering to photography and beyond. And although I started to fall in love with architecture during the university years, it wasn’t until I began my practice in interior corporate design with COS that I realized I can do something different. In a way, I think I always tried to do things differently, or at least to imagine things from a different perspective. Of course, with big dreams come big ambitions so why stop at a single specialization when you can combine them? So soon enough I was studying for a master’s degree in sociology in Sibiu, where I moved 5 years ago. And although an architect’s road in development seems quite clear, I can’t say I felt the same way. The guidance I received in my first years in this company and learning from the mentors I had here helped me even more to gain an out of the box view of the reality we live in. And I believe being just and architect isn’t enough, but combining an artistic way of thinking with psychology, sociology, sales and technical abilities prepares you better for what is out there.

  1. What is your main role supporting the team?

So, that brings us to what a team actually represents. I might have crazy ideas, but without a team to make them come to life, they may all remain ideas. To be honest, I was part of a lot of teams over the years and it’s never been easy to adapt to change. But moving to Sibiu and becoming the main architect for COS in the western part of Romania and having the responsibilities of coordinating a lot of entities/work behind one good project was a big step. These past years made me realize how important it is to have beside you the best team you can possibly create. And finding myself between clients, sales representative, HR and engineers didn’t limit the artistic part of me, but actually enhanced it. Now I like to find myself in situations in which other people don’t really understand or visualize how a space is going to look like, or work, but seeing it finished only makes my mind go nuts. I learned that there is always place in a team for the idealistic and weird person that everybody looks a little suspicious to. And that when the others say a clear “no” there is always place for negotiation.  But we live in a world that changes by the day and so do the projects and teammates. This year is the best example. And although I worked for years with Andrei to define the models used in corporate designs in Romania, everything can be erased now with the pandemic.

  1. What are the key things that clients are looking for and has it changed through Covid-19?

This year all the rules and laws that we learned and created over the last years changed for good, and although we can presume what will come in next months and years, the reality is we cannot. And I don’t believe anybody who says otherwise. I can tell you the only thing that I didn’t change is my ability to listen. Clients come with a variety of needs and desires when it comes to spaces they use. Company representatives talk about having the answers to their employees’ needs. So, we learn to read between the lines and create the best that we can from what it is given to us. Maybe in a way the secret is to make them talk until there is nothing else to say. Covid-19 regulations and restrictions changed the way we look at office design, and it is understandable. We look more for smaller offices, enclosed spaces and other protective measures but the key behind all this is to be flexible. It’s necessary to be able to change the spaces as fast as we can so we can adapt to what comes next. Companies can’t bring everybody to work anymore, so they had to change the technical procedures, to adapt to be present in an online reality that obviously changes the psychology of a person, their workflow and concentration ability. And it’s really easy to tell hundreds of people that this is the way we do it now, but when you stop and ask a bunch of people how they feel, the answer is different. Maybe some of them are really comfortable, maybe some of them cannot work from their living room, maybe some of the suffer from anxiety or depression and nobody even realizes that. Then, the only solution is to adapt. We need to adapt to be present, whether that is in a real life or in a virtual one, we need to embrace technology, but never forget we are humans and most of the time a simple question as “how do you feel?” will change the mood of the day. In an idealistic world, I would hope to see people more …caring…and then all the other first world problems will seem less severe or bad.

  1. Tell us about Stables, what was your brief and did that change through the project?

Talking about Stables…well…where do I ever begin? When Marius and Christophe first presented the concept, it seemed like a paradox to me: at the same time everything and nothing, a blanc page and a finished one. They knew clearly what they wanted, they created the business model, looked through all the numbers, so it didn’t seem there was much to do at that point. I will admit I had a few months of setbacks regarding this project, there were other really important projects and all of them needed attention, you can’t really leave clients aside to take care of internal projects. Marius was pushing me from every angle to find a concept and a design to fit the idea. Along with Ioana, we were meeting weekly to talk about the functional issues, the logistics, the branding and marketing and we had most of them in place, but I couldn’t explain to them what it was going to look like. Luckily, I am a nomadic worker, I travel all over the country to see places and people and find inspiration from the weirdest places. I remember it was one evening, quite late, walking alone on one boulevard in Bucharest (of course it seemed new to me after leaving this city for some years) and I took a photo that brought me to the main idea for the project. So I wrote a message to Marius and told him now we can start working on the design. I wanted everything to be different from all the other projects we worked on, no more showroom ideas, no more standard lighting, or points of view. The art deco approach was something that I never worked with and I fell in love with it with each day passing. While Valentin was working on the renders, I was spending days with Oana to find the perfect furniture and decorations, colors and textures. Ioana was working with a team on the branding and marketing part, Adrian was coordinating the work on site…from ideas, everything started to move so quickly that we found ourselves taking decisions if not every day, at least every week. And with the pandemic going ballistic in the middle of the works, we had to adapt decisions about delivery times, resources and workforce.

The element of surprise was always important in the process of launching a project, so a few days before the opening I asked only Dorin and Ioana to help me with the final touches so it will remain a surprise for the other team members. Of course, after seeing it finished, we couldn’t have the official opening because of new covid-19 regulations, so we had our fair share of setbacks. But winning the award for Best fit-out of the year really proved to us we did a great job! Preparing for an online opening requires more attention to detail and working with Dan on the angles of the photographs, and making sure every composition was close to perfection really made my life easier. Not having the possibility to visit a place, but only to live it through frames and settings can be hard, but also rewarding when the images bring justice to the way the space looks Looking back, I can remember a lot of times when we argued about technical details, whether it is mandatory to include some decorations, but I think this was part of the success of the project. It’s important to have people with different opinions to take you out of the bubble you find yourself in sometimes. I remember Marius saying “it’s not special enough, make it better” or “let’s not include that, it won’t change anything”. A good project is a back and forth of ideas, a negotiation of terms. Clearly, I must say that the most important thing was that the whole team trusted me, and that really made a difference. I felt like I had all the freedom to create whatever my mind can produce.

  1. From your experiences what advice would you give to anyone thinking of opening a co-working project?

Freedom in creativity means being able to think out of the box, finding solutions in places where normally there should be none. I am a very intuitive person, and I think the teams with which I worked can confirm this, sometimes I cannot find a valuable argument and still want to do it my way. Co-working spaces are a very difficult design theme…you don’t have a brand book of the company to read, you have to create values to resonate with the user of the space, you have to make a profitable business out of it, there are so many variables you have to consider it may never seem a good time to open a co-working space. But trying to understand the market in which you develop it, the users’ needs and expectations, the best location and accessibility and the impact you want that place to have might give you a few ideas to where to start. We are working now based on flexibility, adaptability and individual freedom to outline how co-working spaces will work best in the near future. Of course, I will always recommend that having someone in the team that would be able to combine design, branding and marketing, and all the other features in a business case, is necessary, even if he’s there just to listen.

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