By Phil Butler
Lefteris Tsikandilakis has risen to be one of the most respected architects in Greece. His work is recognized for both the scope of projects he's undertaken, and for the vision, elegance, and functionality of his designs. He and his growing team have managed to distinguish themselves even in the harshest of economic crises. And the functionality of the firm's aesthetic designs are a differentiator in the industry, identify the Tsikandilakis brand in a highly competitive field. I managed to catch up with Tsikandilakis some days ago to get his take on the current state of hospitality design. I approached the architect about his latest project in the tiny tourist Mecca of Agia Pelagia on Crete, SeaScape Luxury Residences. Here is that interview, which turned out to be one of the most fascinating I've ever had the pleasure of conducting.
Phil Butler: Your work at Seascape Luxury Residences are unique by virtue of design and location. Perhaps the first thing new guests will notice is the uniqueness of each residence within the complex. Was this a designed in feature, or a feature necessitated by terrain etc.?
Lefteris Tsikandilakis: Indeed, at Seascape Luxury Residences, we encounter apartments with a distinct design, that follow a unified look and a common direction. It is obvious that every residence is unique, but that wasn't necessarily the principal design purpose. In this particular project, we had to deal with 2 challenging plots with sharp slopes, their integration in an already developed building, and the need for these plots to be configured in the best possible way. The sea view, the orientation and the scope for the internality of the plot, were principal elements that defined the spatial design. Our main concern is the client, as well as the target group of the clients to be expected, in regards to both the functionality of the space provided, and the total construction costs. Driven by the aforementioned conditions, and by studying constantly the spatial characteristics, our purpose is the optimal highlighting and the full usage of their potential. We firmly believe that architecture is a form of poetic expression that allows for a memorable experience, and it is of importance to us to make our clients visions, reality.
Phil Butler: Observing the design of Seascape Residences one cannot help but notice the designed blend of functionality over aesthetics. How much are your designs influenced by geographic atmosphere?
Lefteris Tsikandilakis: The relationship between building and location is of fundamental importance. The integration of the building into the landscape and the local culture, while maintaining its contemporary character, can be the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful project. The architectural composition of Seascape Luxury Residences was clearly based on the notable plot characteristics, its inclined location, the view, orientation, as well as the functional requirements of modern tourist accommodation. Furthermore, other environmental parameters such as the local microclimate, orientation, temperature, wind, humidity, light and the sun, play a primary part in such an undertaking. It should be noted that in a climate such as ours, the intimate relation between interior and exterior provides yet another indispensable tool for the design of a space that will provide the ideal living conditions for the visitor.
Regarding the Seascape Luxury Residences, the aforementioned elements contributed to the shaping of the volumes. At the northern side, the central entrance is revealed in a more limited setting using two monolithic shapes to protect the interior, while allowing a sneak peek into it, with the use of wooden blinds. The purpose was the establishment of distinct volumes which would converse with the environment in harmony.
Through our architectural study we emphasize our respect for local architecture. It is important to maintain proper ratios both in large and small scales. Other important elements are the proper differentiation of volumes and materials, the smooth integration of the complex into the surrounding area and the creation of plasticity. All these compose a complete study which joins the environment without mimicry. Our vision is to create architecture that contributes to culture and converses with the environment.
Phil Butler: Is it fair to say your creative designs are a mix in between Spartan luxury and utilitarian functionality? Can you categorize the influences that drive your creative ideas?
Lefteris Tsikandilakis: It all begins with functionality. A non-functional space does not allow for proper experience, nor does it convey harmony and balance to both clients and staff. By using the term "functionality", however, we not only refer to the pure function of said space, but its integration into the environment. The separation of different functions in every study needs to be clear.
What we seek to emphasize every time is the uniqueness of the space, highlighting a special identity, which maintains our personal stigma along with the client's desires. For us, having a strong idea as well as functionality is the central axis around which our design is shaped.
In spaces of hospitality we follow the latest trends in hotel design, taking into account the visitor's type (design hotels, boutique hotels, business hotels, etc). The combination of the facts stated above, and while using state-of-the-art equipment, we create the desirable atmosphere which refreshes but also surprises, further evolving the human experience. In addition, the feeling of a luxurious space is an element we frequently seek in hospitality installations. By luxury, we don't only mean the use of expensive materials and furnishings that lend a feeling of increased value, but mostly we seek the feeling of luxury that a space can emit, the calm and privacy that is reminds of a familiar place. Our purpose is an architecture that is emotive, architecture with soul, regardless of budget provided.
Phil Butler: Seascape Residences are situated in a unique (challenging) location at the center of Agia Pelagia. What were the main challenges you faced in designing these extraordinary apartments?
Lefteris Tsikandilakis: The project is about the study of two new plots and their integration into an already existing complex. In addition, the existence of a neighboring fourth plot provides the potential for future expansion, which we took under serious consideration during our study.
One of the greatest challenges was the combination of two new units with the existing construction with the use of a common architectural language. The purpose of the rapprochement was the simplification of the geometry and the elements of the building volumes, ultimately creating a form which is characterized by architectural clarity. The way we decided to use materials such as rock, wood, metal and glass, contributes to the unification of the complex, but also highlights the simplicity of the design coexisting with the element of surprise.
The complex spaces were approached from the inside out, so as both interior and exterior can participate in the housing experience. The road side of the complex was treated as a border which protects the residents from its nuisance, while the side that opens towards the yard functions as an internal meeting point along with a bar and two swimming pools.
Phil Butler:Lefteris Tsikandilakis & Associates has an amazing portfolio of ongoing and completed projects. It would be interesting to know your personal preferences where architectural expression is concerned. Can we say that commercial or touristic residences rate high on your creative index?
Lefteris Tsikandilakis: The primary purpose of our office is to always highlight the utility of a space. Especially in the hospitality department which is governed by complexity, this purpose constitutes a challenge. The tourism department is a crucial area for Greece, and especially for Crete.
As far as architecture is concerned, it is composed by a special flair, because we refer to complex organisms with many distinct functions. Furthermore, in a unit there is the combination of different approaches of the space, the intensity of labor from the employees, the quiet that clients may seek while enjoying their food and wine, even the intense enjoyment that someone visiting the place may seek. We need to keep in mind that in the hospitality department, there is the need to take into account the type of client that we refer to, as it defines a major percentage of our design approach. Furthermore, the location is another element that plays an active part, be it mountain or sea, as it is commonly the reason that the visitor is driven to this particular location.
Another important factor in the hospitality department is the existence or not of existing buildings, as the need for integration of the former with the latter arises, where the new conformations require precision and a display of spatial evolution. In total new studies, as was the case with Seascape Luxury Residences, it is important through the study to point out the positive but also the negative elements of the space, in order to ensure optimization and proper utilization of all the possible opportunities that the complex provides. Different problems that require solutions arise every time and it might be more important to sometimes recede in personal preferences in order to highlight the space in the best possible way, all while making it functional.
Phil Butler: Did you get a "takeaway" experience from the Seascape project? Is there always something to be learned from such projects?
Lefteris Tsikandilakis: Surely, different challenges arise through every new project, and there are always new things to be learned. In the case of Seascape Luxury Residences, the study of two new plots, an already existing state in a third plot, but also the potential expansion into a fourth plot, comprised the key elements of the study. The steep slope of the land was one of the greatest challenges we had to overcome, as the feeling that one experienced while driving on the upper road was that there was a cliff underneath, and that the connection of the plots would be impossible. Challenges though, tend to provide motivation for new and creative ideas. So, as the solution looked impossible both form our clients and our own perspectives, we eventually had a breakthrough. Looking now at the completed project, one can only surmise that it was the ideal solution. The central idea was the union of the plots in a harmonious way, while creating a sense of innerness in the space. The volumes are facing an internal center point where they converse, giving the impression of a neighborhood, or a small village. This feeling is maintained in the external sides of the complex as well, since the sides are walled from the roadside, resulting in the external observer having little ability to perceive the interior, only through the use of small openings and blinds, but by no means being available to fully perceive it. This is an essential characteristic of the traditional Cretan architecture, which provided a source of inspiration for the remodeling of the space. Furthermore, any conformation in the new plots did not affect the existing plot's view of the sea at all.
Finally, the main axis of the project was, as mentioned above, the smooth service of the users of the space, as it is our belief that architecture cannot exist without the human presence. Accounting for and analysis of the human needs and behaviors and the human being as a whole is to be expected, while shaping and organizing the proper spaces which can accommodate the human presence. Thus, in understanding and collaboration between our office and the clients we have achieved the implementation of this profoundly interesting and unique project.
Functionally beautiful meets Spartan luxury, these forward edge ideas are the antecedent of proper hospitality design for the future. At least this is my impression of what designers and architects like Lefteris Tsikandilakis are striving to create. And the theme of such artistic engineers is pervasive from Vladivostok to Sacramento, California. I've had the pleasure of talking with many over the years. Factoring in "place" and the special needs of places like the island of Crete, we can more clearly see the necessity of incorporating green technologies, practicality to go along with aesthetics, and what will be sustainable in the future. Crete is, in a way, a microcosm because of its sensitive ecosystems, and because of its nature as a finite space. I think the interested reader will glean much from Tsikandilakis' comment here. At least this is my hope.