Here at The List, we’re ever-curious about the culture of design, so who better to survey about the field’s current state than those currently working at the top of it? In Need to Know, we pick the brains of best-in-class creatives to find out how they got to where they are today—and to share an insider’s perspective on the challenges and highlights of their particular perches in the design world.
Vincent Eschalier, architect and founder of Studio Vincent Eschalier, got his architectural bearings by diving headfirst into an industry notorious for its exclusivity.
Buoyed by government grants and a supportive network, Eschalier managed to ride the waves. The immersive experience is something he suggests up-and-comers emulate, encouraging like-minded individuals to start their firms early on as he did.
Since 2009, when SVE was established, the studio has become known for its masterful projects—including reuse and new builds alike—that feature clean lines, allow for maximum natural sunlight, and exploit the bones of the existing spaces they inhabit. Surface spoke with Eschalier about his design beginnings, his dream projects, and optimizing spaces.
I was lucky to live and work abroad at a young age. Architecture and design came to me naturally. I loved art and the sciences. After my secondary education in England, I took nearly two years off to see if architecture was really for me. I decided to try to work abroad in architecture firms before my studies. First in Washington, D.C. for a year then Barcelona for several months before coming back to France to study architecture in Versailles.
After graduating, my first mission was on the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris for Studios Architecture and Gehry Partners, [which was a] great and complex project! Then I met Sébastien Segers, an architect based in Paris who worked with Marc Newson. I worked with them for nearly three years on many projects abroad. I never thought I would be able practice architecture and travel so early on. Those years were very intensive, but I learned so much.
You established SVE in 2009. What was that process like? Has the firm changed since then?
Starting the firm came from an opportunity rather than longtime dream, so I think I felt less pressure. I had government funding at the beginning, which helped me have the time find ambitious and respectful clients right from the start.
Even though we now have 20 architects and designers at the firm, I don’t feel the studio has changed much. The general vibe is the same as when it started. A very close-knit team of strong, dedicated people. The projects have become larger, as have the clients, but we are always trying to improve everything all the time. I hope it lasts!
What SVE project are you most proud of?
I’d say my first new build building, Richard Lenoir project in central Paris. It’s the first time I felt I fully expressed my design; timeless and modern architecture. It was the foundation for coming works.
I’m wondering if your upbringing influenced the way you design, experience design, or think about design?
That’s a difficult question!
My family environment didn’t have a direct influence on my design, but my parents always respected and encouraged my decisions and let me be free, which I’m sure as had a huge influence on the way I approach everything in life.
Traveling all over definitely helped train my eye and body. The impact it has today is difficult to quantify, but I certainly try to travel as much as possible. It helps to see and understand how others solve things.
How, if at all, does Parisian influence manifest in your designs?
The Parisian architecture only has an influence on the way we design in Paris, but not on our other projects. In Paris, we have to be very respectful of the context, which means we have to be extra creative for our building to have its own personality. Due to the urban density, the clients tend to push for the maximum density in their projects, which is an important restriction for us. We’ve become very good at optimizing the spaces [as a result]!
What advice do you have for young professionals in the field?
Try to learn and understand rather than just apply. Once you have understood, it stays with you for life and you become stronger and more confident. If your ambition is to start an architecture studio, do it as early as possible in your career!
Any new projects we should know about?
We are currently working on a new build office building in Lyon. It will be our first new building outside of Paris. We are also drawing two huge, luxurious “James Bond” chalets in the French Alps, [designing both] the architecture and the interiors. We going to make it really high tech, inside and out. We will soon release the design for a tower in central Paris and the design of a collection of office furniture.
Do you have a dream project you’d love to work on, but haven’t yet?
Definitely a tower in New York City and a Premier League soccer stadium!