a.gor.a architects was founded in 2012 by Albert Company Olmo, Jan Glasmeier, and Line Ramstad. a.gor.a architects are based in Mae Sot, Thailand, and are working with marginalised groups, community based organisations, and NGO’s along the Thai-Burma Border. Besides working on several school projects, a.gor.a architects have teamed up with a local construction group Gyaw Gyaw and are consulting for the local Mae Tao Clinic, a health centre that provides free healthcare for Burmese refugees and migrants, and to design and build the new Mae Tao Clinic.
Co-founder Albert Company Olmo is working at the Mae Tao Clinic as an architect and is also participating in the construction of the new medical and training facilities. With his experience in construction and design, the clinic is able to keep growing by ensuring building safety and incorporating sustainable and renewable energy functions. Albert designed and coordinated the construction of: New In-patient, Reproductive Health and Counseling Department and other facilities such as the new Medical Training Center, temporary CDC dormitories, Child Recreation Center, etc.
His main goal is to promote sustainability in construction by introducing alternative materials, promoting the importance of mapping the projects, creating networks among architectural organizations and conducting workshops for local staff. Albert graduated with a Technical Architecture degree from the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya in Spain in 2007.
Co-founder Line Ramstad’s previous experience with several architectural firms in Norway brought her to Thailand in 2008 as a co-founder of TYIN to build the well-known Soer Ker Tye Houses (also known as the Butterfly Houses). In 2009, she founded the NGO Gyaw Gyaw. Alongside her group of Karen colleagues, she coordinated and designed the construction of the several schools, water facilities, and houses along the Thai-Burma Border. Line participated as a constructor in building the New Medical Training Center of MTC. Her main goal is to empower the vulnerable Karen community at the border by implementing sustainable methods in terms of ecology, economy, and culture. This also includes focus on functionality and implementation of new techniques that often result in less use of materials and buildings that better answers the needs of the users.
Line graduated with a Landscape Architecture degree from UMB – Norwegian University of Life Sciences in 2003 and also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Geography and Anthropology from NTNU – Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Jan Glasmeier is volunteering in Mae Sot for several community-based organizations such as Mae Tao Clinic, Social Action Woman and Gyaw Gyaw. Jan was a lead architect for Arup Singapore during the construction of the Singapore Sports Hub, and was working for Foster + Partners in London on the Masdar City master plan in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Jan is aware that ecological and economical impacts will influence the way we live drastically today and in the near future, and that we are all committed to finding new and creative ways to react rapidly to these changes.
In Thailand, Jan aims to promote the use of alternative and sustainable materials and participates in the construction of the New Medical Training Center of MTC and temporary CDC dormitories. He has also raised funds for several charity projects by expanding the network of donors among international architectural firms. Jan graduated in 2006 with a Diploma in Architecture from the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany
Left: Jan Glasmeier, Centre: Line Ramstad, Right: Albert Company Olmo
AN: 1. Which of your projects has been the most rewarding and why?
JG: It’s always interesting to see if people accept the buildings or not. I think the most rewarding thing is if they do use the building the way you designed it. The temporary dormitories we build had probably the smallest budget possible but I guess we managed to design a building that fit into the local modus vivendi.
Temporary Dormitories – Image Source.
AN: 2. a.gor.a architects tend to work with marginalised groups, NGO`s and community based organisations, why is this important to your work?
JG: You see the immediate need everywhere along the Thai Burma border but we are not seeing ourselves as educators, we want to share our knowledge or maybe provide a different perspective to things. The support of natural material such as adobe for example is one of our main aims. Everybody loves concrete here, even though it is expensive and not particularly nice to work with. Mae Sot has the perfect climate for Adobe buildings but it took two farrang (Thai term for foreigners) architects to show up and try to build the first adobe building.
AN: 3. How do you think architecture will change in the next 50 years?
JG: We architects need to be careful that we are not falling into lethargy. I would also hope that we would focus again more on social aspects and rediscover the ideals why we were choosing the profession as an architect.
When I was working on the Singapore National Stadium project, it was frustrating to see that how many elements from the original building design were step by step erased, just to save a few Dollars here and there.
Medical Training Center – Image Source.
AN: 4. What changes would you like to see in the architectural profession?
JG: I would like Architects to reassess their own ideals and investigate local and traditional occurrences better. Architects should see themselves more like a universal advisor who should always try to look for the dialogue with the people they are building for.
The world cup stadia in Qatar are a good example of how architects become slaves of their clients and the money, instead of question the tournament itself. Every Architect knows that this world cup tournament is under no circumstances feasible and more importantly sustainable, but obviously nobody want to lose their job. Objectivity and honesty is something I would like to rediscover in the Architectural profession.
AN: 5.Do you think that architecture tends to be trendy today?
JG: It looks like it. The huge number of architecture online platforms and magazines have definitely changed the public view on contemporary architecture. I have to admit that I am a big fan of brutalism and I love architectuul.com as an online architecture platform a lot.
AN: 6. What would students learn from reviewing the body of projects you have completed?
JG: It is very important to understand the social impact your project might have. We have a lot organisations coming to Mae Sot, building schools or shelters without interrogating the local communities and leaving town without monitoring the later use of the building. It could easily happen that the community would abandon the building for no obvious reason.
I would give architecture students the advice to be patient and to examine all the different opportunities that the profession as an architects has within. I would never recommend rushing through university education. Take your time, see what’s out there and you will be fine.
AN: 7. What are you most proud of in your career or any aspect of life?
JG: Sorry, but this is not a question I feel confortable to answer myself. I am not particularly proud of anything I have done. I guess I am just a normal guy with a quiet liberal education. Maybe I should say that I am proud of my parents.
AN: 8. Who do you think is the most overrated architect, and who do you think deserves more credit/recognition?
JG: I am not a big fan of Zaha Hadid’s architecture. It is really hard for people to understand why she made certain choices and why the building looks the way it does.
There is always a certain feeling of megalomania in her designs.
I love the architecture of John Pawson for his comprehensible solutions, which sometimes escalate in the purest form of minimalism.
I also really like Geoffrey Bawa for his playful integration of nature in his architecture.
AN: 9. What aspect of Architecture do you find most important?
JG: I grew up in a family of architects and I was always fascinated of the social housing designs that my grandfather did in his architecture firm. I think for an architect it should be essential to be able to develop a small family house without any wasted spaces.
I love to optimize, sometimes even minimize space without losing the quality of living.
And to answer your question, it is fundamental to our practice that we are asking ourselves these questions every day. Is our design efficient and ecological and did we really understand the “clients” needs.
Maw Kwee School – Image Source.
AN: 10. What inspired you to become involved in Architecture?
JG: I guess my grandfather, who is, with his now 92 years still drawing architectural plans, inspired me.
AN: 11. What other interests do you have?
JG: My favourite place in the world is probably the smallest of the Canary Islands called El Hierro. It’s volcanic and just stunningly beautiful.
I am really into the crime-thriller series about Department Q by Danish writer Jussi-Adler Olson. I can highly recommend getting a copy and giving it a go.
I am really into Cloud Nothings and Tame Impala at the moment. Are they not from Australia? Besides those two band I guess I have a very eclectic music taste that varies between Old school Hardcore like Quicksand and Youth of today via Hip Hoppers like Kayne West, Kendrick Lamar and Aesop Rock to the electronic music of Pretty Lights and Gramatik
AN: 12. What is your favourite time of the day, and why?
JG: Interesting question. I think I would like the nights the most, because it sometimes feels very peaceful to work at night.
AN: 13. What would be your ultimate design project?
JG: Hahaha… we were joking about that in the office the other day. The first adobe/ bamboo skyscraper. Maybe a feasibility study could convince somebody in Melbourne? ;–)
AN: 14. What are you doing at the moment?
JG: We are designing the in-patient departments (reproductive health, children and medical/surgical department) for the new Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot Thailand.
The clinic was founded 1989 by well know Dr. Cynthia Maung. The clinic is a health service provider and training centre, established to contribute and promote accessible quality health care among displaced Burmese and ethnic people along the Thai-Burma border. In addition to the comprehensive services provided at its onsite facilities, MTC also promotes general health through partnerships with other community based organisations. The clinic has to move to a new land due to the fact that the current location is along side the Asian highway 1 which will soon become an important connection between Yangoon and Bangkok.
Noh Bo Academy School – Image Source.
AN: 15. Who would you most like to work with on a project?
JG: As I mentioned in the previous question, we are currently building a new clinic campus and therefore looking for a civil engineer who can design the drainage system for the clinic. If there is anybody out there who wants to spend some time at the Thai-Burma border, please get in touch.
I’d like to thank Jan and a.gor.a architects for participating in the interview, it was a pleasure. If you’re interested in getting in touch or finding out more about a.gor.a architects, visit their website. You can also checkout their facebook page.
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