Architect, Varda Studio
“TO DESIGN, YOU NEED KNOWLEDGE… WE MUST BE AWARE OF WHAT HAS BEEN DONE BEFORE.”
Andreas Vardas is one of Cyprus’ leading architects and has recently completed the major courthouse construction in central Paphos. He is a father of three and lives in Geroskipou in Paphos, with his wife Birute Vardas, who is also an architect.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME AN ARCHITECT?
I have enjoyed drawing in detail from a very young age, and I have always been fascinated by buildings. It is an interest that has stayed with me throughout my life. There were no universities in Cyprus when I left school, so if you wanted to further your studies, you had to go abroad. I went to the University of Birmingham to start my degree in architecture. I then went onto University College London (UCL) to study at the prestigious Bartlett School of Architecture. I was very lucky to study under some of the best architectural professors in the world.
After graduation, I decided to stay in London and worked for different architectural practices. I am a member of RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and also ETEK (The Cyprus Scientific and Technical Chamber). For me, designing is my passion and I do not see it as work. One of my greatest joys is having time to concentrate on a project.
AS A YOUNG ARCHITECT, WHO WERE YOU INFLUENCED BY?
For a long time, I have admired the work of the Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier. As an architect though, he did so much more, including writing, designing and painting. His main aim was to provide better living conditions for the populations in overcrowded cities. My wife and I recently visited his chapel in Ronchamp. It is a Roman Catholic chapel built in 1955, a working religious building and goes by the name of ‘Notre Dame du Haut’. It is considered worldwide to be one of Le Corbusier’s finest works of architecture, and one of the most important buildings of the twentieth century.
I also like the work of the lesser known Italian architect, Carlo Scarpa. He was heavily influenced by the materials he used, which is something I relate to.
WHY DID YOU RETURN TO CYPRUS?
My sister asked me to design a house for her. When it was originally finished, I believe that people saw it as being from another planet, due to the ultra-modern design. However, today it has been accepted. I felt that I had spent long enough in London and decided to return to Paphos where I established my practice in 1997, under the name of Varda Studio. Since then, I have worked on many commissions, both in the public and private sectors.
WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY AT VARDA STUDIO?
The studio’s design agenda is focused on two points:
- a clear architectural response to the site we are working on
- listening to the client’s requirements
The entire design and building process is as much about providing an exciting and pleasing spatial experience, as it is about delivering quality functional spaces and accommodation. In every profession, if you are good at what you do, you need to understand the essence of what your client requires.
HOW DID YOU ENJOY DESIGNING YOUR HOME?
The soul of the building is very important. Every building has a soul. Designing our own home gave us a certain freedom, which led us to use concrete tube pipes and metal sheets to create a totally unique design. In the construction, 360 concrete pipes were used. We really like using concrete and other raw materials as they are primal. It gave us the opportunity to experiment, and the finished building is clean, minimal and technologically advanced. Our home is for our family, but it also houses our art collection in our AB Gallery.
EXPLAIN THE DESIGN OF THE COURTHOUSE IN PAPHOS.
It is the first correctly designed courthouse in Cyprus. It is designed to ensure that the judges never come into contact with other people on entering and leaving the building. The building was finished in 2018 and is over 4,100 square metres in size. The design aims to create a continuation of the steel elevation between the two buildings, an abstract form, which maintains the general scale of the street and the area.
The building extends lengthwise to the plot and uses atriums to allow natural light to enter the structure. The external wall shades the initial space from the sun and consists of openings, which form interesting light patterns and a feeling of clarity.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF CYPRIOT ARCHITECTURE?
On the whole it is good. The positive news is that whilst we have been enjoying an economic boom, this has led to more opportunities to build. My work is mainly in Limassol, Nicosia and Paphos, but we have worked on a number of projects overseas in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON HOW LIMASSOL IS DEVELOPING ARCHITECTURALLY AS A CITY?
I know that a lot of people are complaining about the skyscrapers in Limassol, but to be honest, I don’t actually think that they are high enough. If you are going to make the decision to develop as a truly international city, you either have to go for it or not. You are either in or out. Limassol is a vibrant city and the lights on top of the towers all add to the character.
WHO ARE YOUR HEROES?
I am a big fan of Diego Maradona, the Argentine footballer. He has a real passion for football. He states that, “When people succeed, it is because of hard work. Luck has nothing to do with success”. As a young man, it was my dream to be a professional footballer.
Maradona is a winner. He is a genius in his time and can be compared to Mozart. They only come along every couple of hundred years. I also admire the music of Led Zeppelin whom I have seen in concert. You can find life’s meanings in their songs.
Last year, my wife and I went to Amsterdam to see a concert by Wim Mertens playing the soundtracks from the production, ‘Belly of an Architect’. The film drama was originally written and directed by Peter Greenaway, about an architect who is commissioned to construct an exhibition in Rome, dedicated to the French architect, Étienne-Louis Boullée. The music was by the avant-garde composers, Glenn Branca and Wim Mertens.
IS THERE AN ETHOS BEHIND YOUR DESIGNS?
I firmly believe that if you design how people want to live, the form will come. The difference between art and architecture is quite simple. Art is simply the object and the viewer. In architecture, we have the object, the viewer and the user.
Painting and designing are two very different languages. You have to make the effort to study and learn. You don’t just go to bed and have ideas. You have to make the ideas happen. My wife, who is also an architect, and I, enjoy nothing more than travelling abroad to important architectural works and absorbing them. It gives us inspiration.
As mentioned before, a building must have a soul and get away from the aesthetics. It is not all about ideas though, it is also about knowledge. To design, you need knowledge. Before we design, we must be aware of what has been done before.
In every profession – if you want to be good at it – you need to understand the true essence of what your client needs. Also, you should always take into consideration the constraints of a client’s budget.
I am unusual, these days, as an architect, because I still use models in our studio for the initial design of any project. Yes, of course we use the latest technology as well, but this is the way I like to bring my building to life.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE BUILDING?
Not one specific building. There has been a vast amount of evolution in architecture. Of course, some are stronger than others and different buildings have different strengths. We need to keep doing new things and experimenting.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST HONOUR?
I was humbled, earlier this year, to be invited to a conference in Romania, where I was invited to speak with four other leading architects from across the world. I was also invited to be a member of the grand judging jury for The Romanian Building Awards.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?
Currently, we are working on a number of projects in the private and commercial sectors in Cyprus and overseas. We are also very pleased to be working on the new theatre for The International School of Paphos. I have just finished designing the boarding house at the school and the theatre is an extension to their facilities. The design needs to expand, in order to not just encompass the role of the theatre in the school’s life, but also in the wider community.
For the future of the world we live in, it is important to me that we always design and incorporate eco-friendly features into our designs.
I have been invited to lecture at an architectural symposium on 26th November, organised by ‘Share-Architects’ in Benaki Museum in Athens.
For more information about Varda Studio, visit their webiste at VardaStudio.com
Written by Sarah Coyne