• This article is part of the following channel(s)

100th Edition ARCHITECT@WORK: an interview with Nathalie Sandra

On 9 and 10 May, ARCHITECT@WORK celebrates its 100th edition in Kortrijk, Belgium, and MaterialDistrict will be present with a special anniversary exhibition. This unique and innovative concept is present in 15 countries with 29 editions, with plans to expand. How did it start and where is it going? Today, MaterialDistrict speaks with Nathalie Sandra, Group Exhibition Manager at ARCHITECT@WORK.

MaterialDistrict: Please tell us something about yourself.
Nathalie Sandra: I started working at KORTRIJK XPO in 2003. That was also the year in which the first edition of ARCHITECT@WORK was held, but back then it used a traditional stand concept. I wasn’t involved with that edition. In 2005 was the launch of the new concept, and I did help with the organisation of that edition. Initially, I did the sales of stands in this unique concept, which proved to be quite a challenge. Eventually, I became responsible for all editions of ARCHITECT@WORK.

MD: The ARCHITECT@WORK concept is the first trade fair concept that was thought up entirely by architects. How did this come to be and what was the purpose?
NS: The first edition of ARCHITECT@WORK had a ‘normal’ prefab stand structure, and focused on architects. Four interior architects visited that edition and asked if they could write a proposal for a fair how they as interior architects, as specifiers, would like to visit one. From their proposal, the current concept came into being, derived from the wishes of the target audience. These interior architects proposed squares that lie next to each other and in which the walkway disappears, guiding the visitor into the stands.

The exhibitor has a limited surface area, a triangle of 2.5 by 2.5 metres. Innovation is the basis of the concept. Exhibitors can only present that innovation in the triangle. Especially for the first edition, it was a challenge to convince exhibitors to participate with ARCHITECT@WORK.

The whole concept came into being thanks to feedback from the target audience, the visitors. I think this is the basis of ARCHITECT@WORK’s success.

MD: What has changed in the concept over the years and why?
NS: The stand concept has remained unchanged since the edition of 2005, but we do work on the content. The concept of ARCHITECT@WORK is that every innovation by exhibitors is judged by a committee of architects and interior architects. We have a committee per land, which is important because some products are new in one land, but not in another. By applying this, we work on the content, but the look and feel of the stand concept remains the same. Because that was created by and for the architect, it is important to use that as a base. But we do aim to make the content stronger.

MD: Is there a difference in the demand by architects per land, and if so, what?
NS: There are differences, but that is also the case because the role of architects varies per land. If you look at the differences between Belgium and the Netherlands, for example, you see that being an architect is a protected profession in Belgium. In the Netherlands, on the other hand, there is much more freedom in construction.

In one country the architect has to be affiliated with an order, in others they don’t. The influence of architects also varies per country. In some countries, specified products have to be used, in others, they function more as a guideline. Additionally, the focus differs per land. In some countries, ecological products are all the rage, while in others, the focus may lie more on technical aspects. So it is very clear that role for architects varies a lot.

MD: Is there a difference in the supply of manufacturers per country, and if so what?
NS: The manufacturers adjust themselves to the country. They have to adapt because of rules and laws that may apply in some countries, but not in others. ARCHITECT@WORK is currently active in 15 countries and we have 29 editions. There are exhibitors that follow us everywhere, but cannot participate in a certain country. Perhaps certain rules apply that their product does not meet, or the market is just not ready for it. The largest difference we feel between Scandinavian countries and the southern most countries, because very different products are specified there.

MD: Can you say anything about ambitions to expand to new countries?
In Europe, we already have a strong presence. We will expand further there, starting with countries in which we are already present. We just had a first edition in Bordeaux in France. We’re also expanding in Germany, in Hamburg, which makes six editions in Germany. In Turin will also be an edition held. Aside from that, we also look at expanding to new countries.

MD: Do you visit all editions yourself?
NS: I don’t personally visit all editions, but I do go to as many as possible. Next year, there will be 20 editions. I have visited many of them, but not all. Because I am responsible for all editions and a team of 35 people, it is not always possible for me to visit the edition, but it is also not always necessary.

MD: Since 2006 you work together with MaterialDistrict (formerly Materia). With what purpose can this collaboration to be?
NS: In 2006 was the first edition of ARCHITECT@WORK in the Netherlands, where I met Jeroen van Oostveen, director of MaterialDistrict. At that point, MaterialDistrict was still with Architectenweb (a Dutch architectural platform). We came into contact because Architectenweb is a high-quality platform for architects in the Netherlands. And we immediately noticed MaterialDistrict’s exhibitions are high-quality too.

So we have collaborated since the beginning. From first contact, it felt like a good match, because we both value quality over quantity. I think that makes us both unique in the market. MaterialDistrict has hosted many exhibitions for ARCHITECT@WORK, in the Netherlands, in Belgium, in Scandinavian countries, in Spain, in Turkey, and other countries. In MaterialDistrict, we have a partner that aims for quality and we think that’s very important.

MD: MaterialDistrict will present an anniversary exhibition during the edition in Kortrijk on 9 to 10 May. What other special things can the visitor expect during the 100th edition?
NS: To be honest, the 100th edition is more for the exhibitors than the visitors, because it is thanks to the exhibitors that we can host the 100th edition. It is a bit of a coincidence that this edition takes place in Kortrijk, the place where it all started. Even though we announce the 100th edition on the invitation, we will celebrate it mostly with exhibitors. On Thursday evening, there will be an exhibitors’ drink that will be more special than usual, and we would like to thank them for their support there.

In two years, in 2021, we will host the 10th edition in Kortrijk. That will be an edition that we will celebrate with our visitors.

MD: Is there anything else you would like to add?
NS: We are an international concept. The theme this edition is Future-proof. Especially Dutch architects are welcome. We have a lecture programme with Dutch architects, such as Els Zijlstra, Creative Director of MaterialDistrict, and Thomas Rau from architectural firm RAU and the Madaster passport. In de context of Future-proof, the Netherlands is a little ahead of Belgium, so the exchange will be interesting.

MaterialDistrict Expo: Fantastic Future
At the 100th edition of ARCHITECT@WORK Kortijk celebrating both history and future and the international character that comes with it, MaterialDistrict presents the exhibition Fantastic Future, showing the latest materials that are biobased, made from recycled materials, or waste materials, but that are also beautiful, fascinating, nice, and stimulate all our senses. The exhibition includes beautiful recycled plastic with its own identity from the Netherlands, quirky tiles made from waste material from Spain, acoustic panels of 100% biobased pulp from Sweden, or lightweight panels made with Belgian salt. Find out more about this expo here.

ARCHITECT@WORK Kortrijk takes place from 9 to 10 May in KORTRIJK XPO, Belgium. Want to visit? Click here for a free ticket.