A morning with Manthey Kula

          After checking out their website, we gathered that their work was deeply theoretical, experimental and academically refined. We walked into Manthey Kula’s office on 9th September, 2015, with our notebooks full of questions ready to ask Beate Hølmebakk and Per Tamsen. Our first impression of the office was a delight. As we stepped into the intimate office, we were welcomed with fresh coffee, cinnamon buns and Eddy, a happy dog wagging its tail.

          Once we had settled at the table and had our first sip, the questioning started. Their approach to design was not as systematic as we initially thought. Instead they see every project with a new perspective and constantly search for work that will challenge the office. “When we get a commission we often like to investigate and try something new. We don’t know what we will end up with. The projects differ a lot, we like to work with an idea and work with things that we don’t know that much about,” explains Per.

OfficePhotographs of Manthey Kula’s office

          During the interview we were given the impression that they don’t like to associate themselves with a specific terminology. When asking them about social/-environmental sustainability Beate answered, “We are concerned about the way that architecture can contribute to life and life among people.” This statement is exemplified in the Juvenile Unit at Bjørgvin Prison in Bergen. This project carefully examines how architectural actions can assist the wellbeing of the inmates, however complex their personal issues are in order to prepare them for release into society again.

Bjørgvin PrisonJuvenile unit at Bjørgvin Prison, Bergen.

          Unlike some offices that brand themselves by attempting to make global strides in environmental sustainability and innovative solutions, Manthey Kula is far more focused on each project’s individual strength and potential. Due to the size of their projects, their main focus does not lie in how good their BREEAM ratings are but rather how well their architecture is situated and integrated with site-specific design. This is displayed through their careful choice of materials and form. Differing from other Norwegian offices that use wood widely in their projects, Manthey Kula has great experience with steel and other industrial materials, which offers a light delicacy to their small-scale projects. Beate tells us that, “Because of the size of our projects the plans usually become so small and simple. The plan is not the most complicated thing so we like to work with sections.”

20150929_Manthey Kula photos 2Examples of steel use 

          “We don’t have a specific method in order to make a project.” explains Beate. This really answers our curiosity about how theoretical their practice is. Given that Beate is a teacher at AHO, one could expect the office to have a strict or rigorous academic process during the project. Before meeting them, we thought the couple had devised a set of theoretical principles that they put into practise. Considering that they had been taught by the phenomenologist Christian Norberg-Schulz and that some of their projects are unbuilt, we assumed that their unbuilt projects were intended as pure studies.

          “Although the projects are not intended to be built, they have been dimensioned by engineers. To us that has been important, that what we do is real, that it can be realised. That it deals with reality in 1:1. We think it is very important to explore architecture. We are interested in tectonics, working with function and that they are very realistic.” As we discovered, their association to the University of Architecture in Oslo was not what we had presumed. Much like the ambitions of a student, their sense of being constantly curious and inspired is what allows them to have a charmingly playful approach to their designs.

By Raphaël Fournier & Elin Schnipper