“We’re more focused on the point of view of the resident living inside a space. We tend to approach our work as users rather than viewers”

Tasos Georgantzis

We made a leap into the void, but we spread our arms and managed to fly

Text: Dimitra Kehagia
Tasos Georgantzis

Ever since a child, he wanted to create his own space. At the age of 13-14, he made corrections in the plan view of his parents’ house and argued with the architect in charge. “If you really crave for something, life will lead you there by itself”, is the motto he vows upon. He studied Architecture at Liverpool University and is a holder of two master’s degrees, from City University and UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture. However, the critical turn in his life came at the time of his military service, where he met his colleague, Konstantinos Floros. As he likes to joke about it: “I married Kostas before marrying my wife”. The two friends shared the same dreams, but each possessed a different set of talents. Konstantinos is introverted and with high organizational skills, while Tasos is extroverted and knows how to get through to people.

The two of them built a strong bond that gave birth to the Urban Soul Project architecture studio, recipient of prestigious awards, such as the following: Silver “A” Design Award 2017, German Design Award 2018 and 2021, Best Of Year 2017 and The International Hotel & Property Awards 2018. “We met and made a leap into the void, we jumped with no safety net, but we did not crash and burn. We spread our arms and managed to fly,” he explains. They kicked off in December 2009, amidst the crisis that severely hit both Greece and their sector, the construction-architectural studies business, in particular. “With the naivety of a 28-year-old, I told myself that we’ll stay afloat as long as we’re good at what we do,” recalls Tasos, stressing out their humble beginning. “At first we tried to imagine what it would be like to have 4-5 in the office.” Within a year they reached that goal, over the next 3-4 years the number grew to 15, whereas they are currently employing more than 90 people.

“We had no magic wand, but we remained humble and were always ready to run, chasing down even the smallest project. That’s how we stood on our feet, managing to survive during the crisis, in our early steps.” Tasos Georgantzis adds another ingredient in the recipe of success as defined by the legendary Greek poet Elytis: apart from talent, luck and boldness, one has to be constantly alert, open-eyed and ready to devote to work. “We had a lot of energy, we were bold, we believed in ourselves and trusted one another.” At first the constructions carried them through, backing up the architectural studies branch of their work, where they gradually intended to place emphasis on. “It was a personal bet we made with ourselves that we would succeed in balancing scales between constructions and architectural studies.

Nowadays, 90% of the projects we take on consist of studies.” At first, they were assigned to build single-family houses, even though he has never lived in one, nor would he ever wish to in the future. As for the house of his dreams, a hotel offering the bare necessities would be the most truthful answer. “We’re more focused on the point of view of the resident living inside a space. We tend to approach our work as users rather than viewers. No matter how fancy the shell looks, the inside needs to be functional. The internal part of a house must serve as a refuge for the people living in it”. The intimacy experienced by the user in the spaces they design is their drawing card. “The way I see it, the main component of success in all arts is to make something look intimate, without ever revealing the secret of that intimacy. This attribute is their first and foremost priority, whether it is a house, a working place or a food store, a field in which they have grown to become pundits over the recent years.

“Our teaming up with ERGON was of pivotal importance in our career. We invested all our energy and ideas, and coupled with the owners’ vision we managed to turn a series of stores into iconic points of reference.” Many of the hotels and offices they undertake are located in listed buildings. “In my view, our cities are riddled with buildings that must be saved. The challenge is to endow these buildings with today’s technology, to meet our times’ needs and demands, without vandalizing them. It is a difficult and costly process that requires the owner’s persistence, a good understanding with the competent authorities and incentives granted by the state,” points out Tasos Georgantzis.

The groundwork of architectural study is his favorite part of the whole story. The ideas and the setting up. “The process of finding an initial solution, of coming up with clever ideas and a functional plan,” he explains. From his standpoint, the main criteria for evaluating an architectural work is its technical and functional efficiency, its aesthetics, its financial viability, in the stages of the construction and the maintenance. Last but not least, the ability to last in time.

He considers Barcelona a role-model city, in terms of buildings and public architecture. On the contrary, he regrets that Thessaloniki has not evolved architecture-wise so as to acquire a form of added value. Could such a goal be deemed realistic? “Of course,” he replies. “Barcelona was transformed into a modernized city on the occasion of the 1992 Olympic Games. The same with Athens that made a giant step forward thanks to the 2004 Olympic Games, now bearing the fruit of the work conceived and carried out 20 years ago”.

Even though the biggest part of the works undertaken by Urban Soul Project are found in Thessaloniki, they also have many ongoing projects in Athens – where they have set up an office, as well -, in London – where they have many associates and partners – , and in other European countries such as France, Belgium, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands. However, their wildest dream is no other than to design an airport. “An airport is one of the key features of a country’s or a city’s identity. Its gate of entrance and departure, reflecting its quality and culture”.

He is fervent about his work (“I spend more time in the office and on the road than at home”) as he stresses out. Nevertheless, he could easily see himself trying out something entirely new in the future. And his choice of a career shift would be no other than cooking. “When I’m through with this work, I would like to open a restaurant with just five tables. I’d rather be a chef than an architect. Cooking overwhelms me, maybe that’s why I am fond of food stores and dining places.”

Cooking is a form of sublime art according to Tasos Georgantzis, as it needs the proper ingredients and the proper dosage in all stages of the process. It always seeks a particular palette of colors or materials, matching everything altogether. “Cooking involves a greater deal of instinct and produces results more promptly. It is really hard to correct mistakes in architecture, while in cooking sometimes all you need to set things straight is a pinch of salt…”