Why did this Paraguay project win Small Office of the Year? Because of its humanity

Asunción – ‘Work needs to be redefined, anyways,’ mused Sevil Peach as she and her fellow jury members picked the winning small office of the year at this year’s Frame Awards.

The small office is a key battlefield when it comes to reshaping our collective perception of where a working day should take place. As a Goldilocks zone halfway between the transitory nature of the co-working space and the sense of self-knowledge that comes with successfully growing into a large facility, this is one of the most experimental breeding grounds for renewed office typologies. On top of that, a shorter list of people to please and usually limited budgets frequently produce some flexible and creative responses. But with designers around the globe exploring how technology can fix our working woes, Equipo de Arquitectura went strongly in the opposite direction: the team members wanted to make fundamental dignity a seductive tenet.

Instead of securing a spot in a business district for their first office, the founders decided to put down roots in a lush plot located in Mariscal López, a mostly residential neighbourhood. This would have the double purpose of cutting down commutes and enveloping them in green surroundings, even in the middle of Asunción.

It is, above all, a human space

But then the architects decided to return the favour to nature, by enveloping it back: Horacio Cherniavsky and Viviana Pozzoli built their 45-sq-m workspace around a guavirá tree, surrounding it with rammed-earth walls and wooden elements made with upcycled material from other projects. Earthbox, in other words, takes biophilic design to a different level.

Paraguay’s benign weather provides year-round natural light, while the shared table and the carpets on the floor eliminate the need for height-adjustable desks. ‘It is, above all, a human space,’ concluded Peach during the judging session.

This isn’t a romanticisation of the urbanatural environment in a developing country, but a contextually responsible ode to workplace wellness

After leaving behind a dark period of extended dictatorship and its bureaucratic aftermath, Paraguay is now one of the fastest-growing economies in the Americas. It is also, nevertheless, one of the most unequal – despite a double-digit boom it has been for decades the poorest country in South America. Rethinking uses for leftover residential space, reusing materials and hiring local artisans for the walls was, thus, not an aesthetic and narrative gimmick; instead, it speaks of financial and social responsibility. ‘Paraguay doesn’t have a lot of industrial development, but what we do have is artisanal handiwork – and we worked the way we did because we were thinking of the local economy,’ Pozzoli explained. This isn’t a romanticisation of the urbanatural environment in a developing country, but a contextually responsible ode to workplace wellness.

Cherniavsky and Pozzoli funded the admittedly slow construction – one year in the making – with their first projects. They therefore challenged themselves to create a space that would be worth the time, dedication and emotional investment of the 15-strong team of architects that work with them, a place where they could feel comfortable, healthy and welcome. As a certain recycled-PET blue brick from Amsterdam now sits next to the guavirá tree, we can safely say those were guaranís well spent.

equipodearquitectura.com.py

This is a preview of Frame 128, our upcoming May/June print issue, which will feature detailed insights from the judging sessions at the 2019 Frame Awards.

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