From Spain to Berlin

An interview with the accomplished Architect Paola Bagna. Designer of the first German home featured on Never Too Small. We sit down with her to understand how a Spanish-born architect ended up designing tiny homes in Berlin, her favourite things to do and places to go in her downtime, and where she draws her inspiration.

Never Too Small: Hi Paola! We loved featuring your episode on Never Too Small recently, for those who might have missed it, please introduce yourself to us again. 

Paola Bagna: Hi, thank you very much again for featuring one of my projects on your platform. Feeling very honoured!

I am a Spanish architect originally from a village on the northeast coast of Spain, called Empuriabrava. I studied Architecture in Barcelona and I did an exchange student year in Berlin back in 2005. I loved the city back then.

NTS: So, how did a Spanish-born architect end up designing tiny homes in Berlin? 

PB: It was a bit of a coincidence. As I mentioned before, I came to Berlin as a student for a year, and after that, I went back to Barcelona to finish my studies knowing that I wanted to go abroad again afterwards.

So in 2007 after graduating, I moved to London, where I worked in an architecture office and in 2009 I moved back to Berlin, where I have been since then (with a couple of periods abroad in Paris and Abidjan for two projects).

From 2009 to 2012 I was working for different architectural offices in Berlin and it was around 2012 when a friend approached me to design a small apartment (30sqm) she bought in the neighbourhood called Neukölln. I took this project with a lot of motivation and with the idea to experiment a bit (using salvaged materials and designing pieces of furniture that were a bit multifunctional). The project was featured in a few architecture publications and that encouraged me to develop my career in these types of projects.

NTS: When did you know that you wanted to be an architect?

PB: I was debating between studying physics or graphic design and I guess I saw in architecture a nice balance between technical and artistic content.

I had a bit of hesitancy with the discipline while studying though because the world is built enough to build more (when I was studying, Spain was having a construction boom and there was construction everywhere, not especially appealing to me).

I found in the refurbishment of existing spaces of any size my “niche” somehow. To get the best out of existing infrastructure, using salvaged materials, when possible, is very rewarding and aligns more with my person and my understanding of the world. I believe design can improve our lives while respecting natural environments and existing buildings.

NTS: How do you find inspiration for your projects? Who are the artists, and designers from that you draw inspiration?

PB: Inspiration comes from many other architects and designers, but also from nature, fashion or arts. Also, the existing spaces that I have to refurbish, their history and context, as well as the dialogue and exchange with clients are mostly the main source of inspiration. There are clients that come with their own references, such was the case of the client of the project featured in NTS. He proposed the furniture of Donald Judd as a reference for the design of the apartment, who I knew but mostly for his art pieces.

I started to investigate more about his works in furniture and the fact that he experimented with colours, rigorous geometries and industrial materials. He said, “The space surrounding my work is crucial to it”. 

This was the idea behind the apartment: the creation of pieces that were identical in material (MDF) but different in colour and shape and that together were creating a common thread throughout that small space while responding to the functions of the brief.

The use of textiles in the project was important to soften the design while providing other functions (separate bedroom or conceal an Ikea wardrobe, giving it a softer and more welcoming effect while entering the space).

NTS: What is it about Judd’s work that inspires you, what are your favourite pieces? 

PB: I do like his furniture pieces (for example the Backward Slant Chair) and the spaces he designed with them, like his studio in New York. At first, I thought that those pieces were probably very uncomfortable but when I started to research them I admire the fact that they were very reduced, had more to do with sculptures than furniture and therefore they really create an interesting presence in the space. I love the fact that they are designs that, depending on the material and colour, provide a different feel. 

“Frequently, as much thought has gone into the placement of a piece as into the piece itself” Donald Judd

NTS: What are the places you go to in Berlin for inspiration and relaxation? Take us through some of the places that you think other designers, and architects have to see when they’re in Berlin. What would your guided tour look like? 

I live in the neighbourhood of Neukölln for not too long and this area of Berlin really stimulates me with its mixture of cultures, places, events, venues and parks. It is a very vibrant area, day and night.

Tempelhofer Feld (a former airport transformed into a park) is a must-see. It has a very lively atmosphere.  I love some architectures you see walking around the area (in parts like Böhmisches Dorf, Rixdorf, Richardplatz, Schillerkiez). There are also great places for food, coffee and drinks. I also recommend walking by the canal (Kielufer and Maybachufer).

Bagna and Nam (NTS Director) behind the scenes during production of Episode 94