Cover French architect Franklin Azzi (Photo: Valerio Geraci)

French architect Franklin Azzi has done it all, from urban planning to interior design. Here, he shares with us his journey in architecture and why philosophy matters more than a signature style

In the architecture world, crafting a distinctive style is seen as the key to making a name for yourself. In the case of French architect Franklin Azzi, however, developing an immediately recognisable style was not his priority. Rather, throughout his career, he has indulged in his various interests to inform his work.

“My desire to cross multiple approaches has always naturally led me towards new encounters and collaborations,” he told Tatler Homes. “The fact that the number of architect-artist, architect-craftsman collaborations is constantly increasing is an excellent thing and beneficial to all, from the designer to the user.”

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Melding cultural influences and different disciplines has resulted in Azzi’s bespoke approach to every undertaking, a unique perspective, as well as a huge sense of fulfilment. Azzi’s projects include the redevelopment of the banks of the Seine in Paris, the transformation of the Saint Sauveur train station in Lille, France, as well as designing stores and special projects for fashion designers like Christophe Lemaire and John Galliano

The architect was selected as Maison & Objet’s Designer of the Year 2020/2021; Azzi was named two years ago but only awarded in 2022 because of the fair’s postponement due to the pandemic. Nominated to Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France’s Ministry of Culture, Azzi has established himself on the global stage by purposefully taking the road less travelled, which still led to great success.

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Describe your first memory of great architecture.

Franklin Azzi (FA): Paul Virilio’s work continues to have a lasting impact on me, and I follow the heritage of the exploratory approach of this thinker and builder. In terms of buildings, two projects come to my mind instinctively: The Fondation Cartier in Paris designed by Jean Nouvel, which is a reference because of its strong conceptual value, great plastic sensitivity and its timeless design and in a completely different register, the Sagrada Familia by Gaudì, because I wouldn’t be able to do it!

You’ve often talked about believing in “hybrid design”. Why do you think this is essential?

FA: I belong to a “sampling” generation that draws and mixes references from various universes in a free and uninhibited way. We have learned to digest, assemble and recompose. I studied at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, a school that, a bit like the Bauhaus, represents all disciplines: industrial car design, pottery, sculpture, cabinet making and more. I went from one workshop to another because I realised that they had other skills and that taught me to see things differently.

I like the mixture of the old and the hyper contemporary. In my work, I develop architecture that’s minimalist in its aesthetics, while maximising its functionalism and environmental quality.

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Tell us more about your design process.

FA: I do a lot of research—all my work begins by trying to understand the particularity of a space. It has always been like that and continues to be so today at the agency, even now that we are a team of 70. This creative process is part of our DNA.

How do you foresee the design world to change in the future with the greater emphasis on biophilic design?

FA: For me, the crucial question is: How can we propose an otherwise constructible horizon? Biophilic design seeks to connect our inherent need for affiliation with nature in the modern built environment. This need is materialised in our agency’s environmental approach, which is based on sensitivity, common sense, and vernacular solutions like natural ventilation, use of recycled materials, exposure to natural light, et cetera.

We know that particular attention must be paid to the superstructure of buildings which, like all design elements, must reflect the notion of sustainability in terms of efficiency, waste reduction, longevity and maintenance. To counterbalance the excessiveness of the era of large works, it seems essential to me today to create at a human scale—to put the body back at the centre of the experience and to reinvent spaces in a global vision, adapted to the new contemporary paradigms.

Name one of the most memorable points in your career thus far. 

It's hard to name a single memorable moment as there are several milestones in my career. First of all, the acquisition of my first office in the heart of Paris, after a few years as a duo in a small maid's room with an old door on tripods as a table. 
In terms of architectural achievements, I immediately think of the Bali Barret boutique, the brutalist “red bunker” located in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. In France, my nomination to the rank of Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the Ministry of Culture and the French State was a moving moment. It was an honour to receive this distinction alongside other talented artists and key figures in the field of contemporary creation. 

Tell us about the future projects you’re excited about. 

FA: The research and development unit that we are creating in my company. By adding a research and innovation laboratory, I’m asserting my desire to invent new paths. We plan to further question and analyse as well as explore contexts, manufacturing methods and materials before giving reality to these spaces. 

Another one I’m excited about is the Daumesnil project currently under construction in a new district of the 12th arrondissement in Paris. Based on an urban plan designed by the Richard Rogers Agency (RSHP) and linked to a one-hectare public park designed by landscape architect Michel Desvigne, this pedestrian district will include housing, offices, local services, and elementary school, and a nursery. This hybrid structure was born from our very strong environmental approach. The higher you go, the lighter the building becomes. 

Lastly, do you have any advice to share to young architects starting their careers? 

AZ: Today, there is a difference between the trade and the profession. Young architects learn a profession in the noble and almost exclusively creative sense of the term, in which they are asked to let go and to free their expressions. And then as soon as they have their first job, they realise that the reality is different because we spend 90 per cent of our time solving really complex constraints.

I often tell the fresh graduates who join my agency that this resolution of constraints will result in a creative path to which each person brings his own approach. As far as I'm concerned, I think there's a lot of creativity in the technique. There is a form of creativity that comes from it that is quite frank and pure.  

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