Chybik + Kristof Architects founders Ondrej Chybik (left) and Michal Kristof (right). Credit: Vojtěch Veškrna. 

Chybik + Kristof Architects: Open to Breaking the Rules

Czech architecture and urban design practice Chybik + Kristof Architects’ recent projects include the redevelopment of Gregor Mendel’s historic greenhouse and Lahofer Winery. Alex Love speaks to Ondrej Chybik and Michal Kristof to find out how they approach design, their thinking behind recent projects and how they expect architecture to evolve over the next few years

Chybik + Kristof Architects founders Ondrej Chybik (left) and Michal Kristof (right). Credit: Vojtěch Veškrna. 

Chybik + Kristof Architects has built a reputation for innovative, art-led designs that use modern techniques, while also respecting a site’s history and surrounding environment.

The firm was established in 2010 by Ondrej Chybik and Michal Kristof, with offices in Prague and Brno in the Czech Republic, as well as another premises in Bratislava in neighbouring Slovakia. Last year, the firm won the Architectural Record’s 2019 Design Vanguard Prize.

With a team of around 50 people, the practice fosters a collaborative approach to new projects, giving time and consideration to ideas from its 15 architects.

“It's not about one amazing sketch by one leading architect. Our workflow isn't based like this. Our workflow is based on testing and developing options, which are not competing with each other,” says co-founder Ondrej Chybik. “But once we have a topic and when we have a site and client, we're trying to understand the context, the client's needs, and the site’s potential.”

A Czech vineyard surrounds the distinctive wave roof of Lahofer Winery. Credit: Alex Shoots Buildings.

A collaborative design process

The practice has an established design process to approach new projects, yet also sees the importance of flexibility and trying something different, should that be required.

“We found this methodology to work, because we have more and more projects, and it’s good to have some kind of design process – how you start and how you proceed during the design process for every part of the project,” says Michal Kristof, also a co-founder.

“It’s nice for the team leaders to have some kind of standardised process and for the interns to use something that they know from the beginning.

“They know what we expect from several design stages. But on the other hand, sometimes a project needs something else: a totally different approach to design.

“So, we are open to ‘break the rules’ whenever is necessary. And we are open to totally different and opposite design processes as well. So it's really some kind of standardised process, but sometimes if the project needs something else, we are open to it.”

“ We are open to ‘break the rules’ whenever is necessary. And we are open to totally different and opposite design processes as well. 

A core part of the practice’s ethos is in collaboration, listening to many architects’ perspectives in the studio and not imposing ideas on them from the top.

“We really try to be as least hierarchical in the studio as possible. The hierarchy is very flat in here,” adds Ondrej Chybik. “Everybody has a right to design their own option and explain why it’s designed like this. As far as there being no competition and just looking for the qualities, then it's very beneficial for the final design.”

As a practice, the co-founders say they actively avoid becoming formulaic with designs.

“There is no such project that’s not a challenge. Each project is a challenge. We never want to sink into the stereotype,” explains Ondrej Chybik.

“It’s not about the brief itself but it's about some kind of ambition or challenge to the architect. So we can challenge ourselves with every brief,” adds Michal Kristof. “We dislike average and dislike stereotypes. Our clients are the same, because they know that our projects look different.”

They say that overcoming challenges is what ultimately inspires creativity.

“We will never deliver something that we didn’t work through properly. We love to research and ‘break the circle’. We are trying to find the challenge everywhere,” adds Ondrej Chybik.

The roof space of Lahofer Winery will be used to seat audiences for concerts, taking place in the memorable location of a vineyard. Credit: Alex Shoots Buildings.

Lahofer Winery

Lahofer Winery is a perfect example of the firm’s collaborative approach, combining several different concepts in the final design.

“The form was driven by eight or nine options, which were extremely diverse. One of the options was a box, the second was a circle, the third was a wave; the fourth was triangular. We want to find the form, but we try to discover the qualities of the surroundings, the programme, the brief, and the client’s taste,” says Ondrej Chybik.

“Each option had different qualities ... It was a composition of those options. It wasn't a competition of the options, but looking for the qualities through the form.”

Situated in the grounds of a vineyard in the Moravian countryside, the expansion project takes inspiration from its surroundings such as painting the ceiling using the same colours as the cut of the vineyard soil. The building consists of three main areas: a back-office space, a visitor centre, and the wine production facility itself.

“ It was a very dramatic change because we changed the concept during the construction process. The wood was already on its way to construction. 

The building’s wave roof design and concrete construction has created an amphitheatre-like space, which will be used for outdoor events such as concerts. However, it wasn’t until construction was already underway that plans were changed for the ceiling and interior. Wood was ditched at the last-minute in favour of concrete.

“Because of the acoustics we designed a wooden ceiling, but after we saw the beauty of the concrete itself, we were amazed by that and the power of the space. And we changed it together with an artist and we created the very specific space,” explains Michal Kristof.

“It was a very dramatic change because we changed the concept during the construction process. The wood was already on its way to construction, and we said: ‘no wood interior, and no wood on the ceiling’. Because it’s much stronger if we keep it concrete,” says Ondrej Chybik.

“The client had courage. And you need courage to create something different,” he adds.

Lahofer Winery features plenty of indoor space for all important wine tastings. Credit: Alex Shoots Buildings. 

Mendel’s historic greenhouse

One of Chybik + Kristof Architects’ current projects is a revived version of the 19th century greenhouse used for scientific experiments by Gregor Mendel, recognised as having discovered modern genetics during his time there from 1856-1863.

The project is in the gardens of St Thomas's Abbey, a 14th century-built monastery in Brno. Designing a structure in such a historically significant site was not without its challenges and the clients needed some persuading about the merits of a more contemporary design.

“The original idea was to repeat the original design; you know, copy it,” explains Michal Kristof. “To convince them that modern architecture can represent something like a super old greenhouse was kind of a challenge; but in the end, the client was very open-minded.”

The architects also worked closely with local authorities throughout, which helped them gain approval.

“ To convince them that modern architecture can represent something like a super old greenhouse was kind of a challenge; but in the end, the client was very open-minded. 

“The guys from the municipality, responsible for heritage protection, were involved in the project from the very beginning,” adds Ondrej Chybik. “They were part of the design process, they understood step-by-step why we are going this or that way. And we got the approval very smoothly. So, it was quite a fast and successful process.

“We explained to them that we are not designing a completely new shape, we will follow the existing shape but in a modern way.”

The final design respects the historical importance of the site, while creating something fresh and also incorporating elements of Mendel’s work on genetics. For example, while the new greenhouse’s trapezoidal volume is the same as the original building, the modern steel support structure has been designed in a way that pays homage to Mendel’s three laws of genetic inheritance.

Meanwhile, Mendel’s law of segregation and inherited traits are represented by the pitched roof that features a vast array of glass panels. Underground heating and shade systems will enable temperature control.

The flexible space will also be used for events such as exhibitions and conferences. The project is due for completion in 2022.

The new Mendel’s Greenhouse is on the same site of the original structure and pays homage to the renowned scientist’s research into genetics. Credit: monolot.

Changing cities and sustainability

While technology could change the buildings of the future, the impact of the coronavirus could dramatically alter the entire make up of cities as we know them. With increasing numbers of people regularly working from home, city centres could become vacated by a large percentage of full-time office workers.

“One interesting topic we are working on is the versatility of typology. That's something that was seen during Covid-19. People started working from home. Sometimes the home is very suitable for work, sometimes less so,” says Ondrej Chybik.

“It could completely change the paradigm of the zoning and functional schemes of entire cities. Because you have financial conditions to work at home, or to share some common spaces in your neighbourhood, you do not need to travel that much. And all those aspects could affect our cities in the very-near future.”

“ In our opinion, ‘sustainability’ is becoming a big cliché. 

In addition, while environmental considerations are an integral part of contemporary design and only likely to increase in the future, the duo believe that the term ‘sustainability’ has become a buzzword that is used by some developers for promotional purposes.

“In our opinion, ‘sustainability’ is becoming a big cliché,” comments Ondrej Chybik. “Absolutely it's necessary to build sustainably, but everybody's calling everything sustainable.

”Sustainability is something which should be very natural and normal to a responsible architect who's doing his job and building in a sustainable way.

“It's very proclamative. And I think we have to start to call it differently, because sustainability is just a claim. And many times, it's just for marketing than for something real.”

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Images courtesy of 2N