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Interview with Nicolas Ziesel of KOZ Architectes:

“Wood, always in our hearts, and if possible, in our projects! »

"1. Hello Nicholas!

Good morning !

2. Ready to tell us the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth?

I promise to try!

Nicolas Ziesel is an architect driven by one ambition: to build in wood. From his beginnings in the 90s to the management of his agency of about thirty collaborators, we exchanged with him, from his first memories of architecture to his vision of the future. »

3. Let's go back to your first steps in architecture...

With my partner, we met during our studies, at Paris Belleville school of architecture, In the 90s.

Very early on, we started working together. More than twenty years later, we have to admit something: we have never been so rich as when we were students! (Laughter) No one had explained to us that the VAT had to be repaid.

At that time, some agencies subcontracted part of the competitions to us and we were paid in cash. It was wonderful.

4. KOZ, your agency, was born at that time?

The desire to group together in an agency yes, but it was not formally materialized only in 1998. Things happened quite naturally, going from a student workshop to an agency.

5. KOZ … Why this name?

We were 3 partners originally, and it corresponded to our initials.

6. So you were the Z...

Absolutely, and the K is gone.

7. And you didn't want to rename the OZ agency!

Originally, as is often the case, we didn't have a lot of resources. Proud to have found the name of the agency, we had presentation brochures made allowing us to approach new projects. When we received the 500 printed brochures, the third partner told us that he wanted to return to his home region.

The dilemma was then whole: to use them despite the name KOZ present on each page, or to throw them away.

8. The founding act of the agency is therefore anti-waste...

A little yes !

9. Tell us about the work of the agency.

We started with public competitions, mostly in the regions. Quickly, after the delivery of our first building, the agency turned to wood construction.

It must be said: the market was not mature at the time. Cities and clients were cautious, and when we managed to win a competition, there was always a good reason not to do it in wood. We've lost 30 contests in a row like this.

See all KOZ projects:

http://koz.fr/projects

10. You were a forerunner on this material… 20 years later it is particularly in the spotlight.

Indeed ! And there is still a lot of research to be done on the material and on the ecology of forests, it's exciting.

 » Iere is still a lot of research to be done on the material and on the ecology of forests, it's exciting.

11. How is the start of the new school year going in the current context?

She is very, very... speed ! We have not experienced a stoppage and the confinement has been occupied by several projects under study.  

We are in a somewhat strange situation, with the impression that everything is going very quickly, while facing a severe lack of visibility over the coming months.

12. What verdict for teleworking in agencies?

The chance of the calendar helped us. When the confinement was announced, part of the agency was packing up to settle in at the heart of one of our current major projects, in order to facilitate its management: the athletes' village for the Olympic Games in Paris 2024. 

In this sense, we deployed all the tools needed for remote work, with dispatched teams. It definitely helped us get over the hurdle.  

It is nonetheless true that at a distance, we lose the fluidity of the spontaneous exchanges that make a project move forward. Telecommuting clearly has its limits.

13. Will this period have changed things in your organization?

The biggest change comes from meetings. One thing seems almost certain: we will not return to the 2-hour face-to-face meetings, at the other end of France, which mobilize a day's work for the employees who have to go there.  

Today at the agency, we all shoot at least 2 visios a day.

“We lose the fluidity of the spontaneous exchanges that make a project move forward. Telecommuting clearly has its limits. »

14. Is this perhaps the origin of this feeling of acceleration that you told us about at the start of the interview…?

Undeniably. The meetings follow one another more quickly, the requests from the project owners too… Like any novelty, it must stabilize. However, the benefits are already visible.

Now, it becomes complicated to justify the presence of ten people in a room for 1 hour to move forward on a project.

15. In a remote configuration, the management tools make life easier?

They even turned out to be indispensable. With OOTI, we have available a very interesting collaborative support, allowing to update the state of progress of the projects while offering a overview to all agency employees.

This coupled with a live exchange solution like Basecamp, provides a nice management alternative in a remote setup.

16. In its modalities, the architecture will evolve. But in his practice?

Holy question that one! Inevitably things are called to evolve but it seems premature to me to know how they will do so. We are still in the midst of this period of uncertainty. The priority of the agencies is to say to themselves "we must hold on".

It is when this course will be passed that it will be necessary to discuss it again

17. Without transition, if you had not been an architect, what could you have become?

Before becoming an architect, I wanted to be an archaeologist.

The question of people's lives questions me. These two professions go in opposite directions, but are interested in the same thing: the archaeologist is interested in the way people lived before, the architect as for him questions the way in which people will live tomorrow.

18. What is your first memory of architecture?

I had the chance to spend a year in the United States when I was younger. Among the memories I have of this episode of my life, the visit to Yale University in New Haven, and in particular the building housing the Gutenberg Bible remains a very strong moment.  

By discovering this building, it was the first time that I was impressed by an architectural achievement. In white alabaster, massive, the realization imposes its weight under which it is necessary to pass to discover a grandiose interior, made of volumes bathed in an amber light, with a staging presenting the Bible of Gutenberg.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Yale University, New Haven

19. And then you said to yourself: I want to become an architect.

Absolutely not ! It came to me later, the year of the baccalaureate. By chance, I attended a cart. I loved the way they worked, the exchanges, the creative freedom, the speculation on the project… I liked this intellectual reflection, which focused on a concrete, useful object.

20. What do you think makes a good architect?

Curiosity, being interested in everything, being constantly on the lookout, being obstinate while being open, opportunistic to seize good opportunities...

To this must be added a great dose of optimism …!

21. The most beautiful architectural achievement according to you?

Not an easy question either!

 I don't know if it's the most beautiful, but the architectural achievement that had the strongest effect on me, which allowed me to live the intensity of a mystical experience without spirituality, is the Teshima Art Museum by architect Ryue Nishizawa, Japan.

It is an achievement that houses a work of art, while being inseparable from it, with an inscription in the site, an emotion... Just talking about it sends shivers down my spine!

Teshima Art Museum in Japan.

Architect Ryue Nishizawa 

22. Your greatest pride in the job?

When'we are architects, we always tend to ask ourselves how to do better, otherwise. My greatest pride in the job nt is therefore not to be sought on the side of an achievement, but rather in the commitment around wood construction and what we aim to develop around it.  

I am thinking in particular of what we are trying to put in place with tropical countries, in order to respond to real problems of'habitats and social. We are working on the development of projects around the structuring of a branchère local wood. They'acts both to meet a need for economic dynamism, while solving the problemème of bad housing, by updating a vernacular architecture. 

We started in Gabon, now we are also in Cameroon and Martinique. Each time, the roads to the'outcome of this kind of projects are long, winding and incredibly rich humanly …

FEELINGS

146 housing units and shops – Port du Rhin block in Strasbourg (67)

23. Your next delivery?

A sports complex, in wood, of course, which will be delivered to Joinville-en-Champagne (52). Wood, always in our hearts, and if possible, in our projects !

"

Some Projects of KOZ Architects:

Abidjan

Workshop in Abidjan

Abidjan

Workshop in Abidjan

The Forest of Dreams

Pavilion 100% wood in Bordeaux (33)

Douala

Family house in Douala, Cameroon

The Astrolarbre

12 social housing units – Paris 15th

Paris 2024 Games

Athletes' village, Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine (93)