Founded by Master Architect Arda Işık in Izmir in 2004, XL Architecture + Engineering is an architectural and engineering office that distinguishes itself with its unique design strategy and discourse and offers a holistic approach to architectural projects through strategic planning, design-oriented thinking and art. Architect Arda Işık, who has carried out many projects in different typologies from school campuses to sports buildings, Office buildings to residences, shopping centers to museums, city squares to public spaces under the roof of XL Architecture + Engineering, is at the Paris-based DNA Paris Design Awards. After the Withco Coworking Space and Irme Electric Headquarters buildings were deemed worthy of two separate awards, we talked with Arda Işık about his award-winning projects, his perspective on architecture, his new solutions for the offices after the pandemic and his thoughts on natural stone materials.
First of all, could we get to know you a little bit? What drew you to pursue architecture?
Arda Işık: I co-founded XL Arch+Eng. I live in Izmir, which also is our central office is also located. I’m married and have one son. Beyond practicing architecture, I’m active in several nongovernmental organizations. Back in high school, I used to be into social studies, science, and math. I also dabbled in various sports and art. It was my father who encouraged me to study architecture at METU. I graduated in 1998 and launched into my career that same year.
When and how did you open XL Arch+Eng? What sorts of projects do you work on?
AI: I set XL Arch+Eng up in Izmir in 2004. As soon as I finished grad school, I took on decoration jobs and even designed a fair kiosk. They wound up being quite successful and even earned me a couple awards. From that point forward, first I began taking on my bosses’ own architecture and interior design projects. When those proved successful as well, I started pursuing architecture, interior design, and visual identity projects – both domestic and international. In 2014, we expanded our firm to include a structural design department with the intent of, respectively, adding the element of structural design to our architecture projects, as well as in the hopes of cutting down how long it took us to design something significantly thanks to enhanced coordination. To date, we’ve tackled residential spaces, headquarters, offices, tech centres, schools, and hotels, as well as have gotten involved in the interior design side of things. What sets us apart as designers is how our discourse, approach, and output result in solutions that are both aesthetically and conceptually unorthodox.
Would you mind sharing with us what your perspective on design is? What traits make set your projects apart?
AI: In my view, architecture isn’t just the art of building buildings. I feel that it also modulates culture and social life… that it is both an investment tool and urbanization in and of itself. We at XL Arch+Eng take the position that behind architecture there needs to be strategic planning, design-oriented thinking, and holism through art. Our ultimate goal is for our projects to create a sense of tangible value for the investor, the user, and the urbanite.
If we could just briefly talk about the Withco Coworking Space and the İrme Electric General Headquarters Building, both of which won at the DNA Paris Design Awards 2020? What was it about these projects do you think that earned them their prizes?
AI: First off, I think that the owners of both, Övünç Emre (Withco) and Mehmet İlhan (İrme), played a major role because it was their visions that we tried our best to remain as faithful to as humanly possible. Moreover, our contest photographs must have done a fabulous job of reflecting both buildings’ interior and exterior idiosyncrasy through the aesthetic value alongside the acupuncture-like effect that they both cast over their urban contexts.
As an architect who has designed award-winning shared Office spaces, how do you think how we work might change following the Coronavirus pandemic? How might office spaces evolve?
AI: Well, come to think of it, the office that we are currently using is a shared space. Thus, we haven’t thought much beyond sterilization, hygiene, and cleanliness. I’m of the belief that we must do everything in our power to strengthen our immune systems in order to fight disease, and that social and -like Withcobiophilic environments are the best two medicines for the soul.
How do you foster your creativity? What inspires you?
AI: Observing, asking questions, reading, and travelling…
What are you currently working on? What are your plans for the future?
This year we are hoping to finish the ARON Nea Vourla Housing Estate. Lined up for next year we’ve got the IAOSB Scada Centre and HYS -both of which we are likely to enter into various contests. In terms of future plans, we simply want to create a distinct name for ourselves on the international stage.
What key reasons drive you to incorporate natural stone into your work?
AI: Natural stone as a structural material sets surfaces apart and adds volume to buildings; what’s more, there is nothing else like it in nature. It lends a holistic sense of continuity to whatever it is apart of, creating not only different textures but also the feeling of timelessness. We feel that the only way that we can bring that feeling out in our own work is to use natural stone -with just the right technical traits, of course- because it adds soul to our designs.