Portrait by Géraldine Dormoy, March 2021
The architect designer Albert Angel signs the fifth Parisian address of Kwerk, a stone’s throw from Paris’s Madeleine, designed as a temple dedicated to wellness in the workplace. Exceptional architecture, priority given to space, therapeutic furniture, five-star hospitality, a unique wellness program, farm to desk dining , diverse community … Seven dimensions have been defined to create the most inspiring professional environment. Portrait of a visionary determined to revolutionize our office lives.
“When we talk about well-being at work, people think of a ping-pong and a foosball. For us, it is a whole other thing, which we call wellworking™”. Hospitality design specialist Albert Angel, 45, is convinced that we are on the cusp of a new relationship with our working environment. “In these times of health crises and the rise of the home office, employees no longer want to travel for hours to sit at an uncomfortable and poorly lit desk,” he said. They want to grow in a soothing and rejuvenating environment. The pandemic has only accelerated a shift in global aspirations: “People no longer want to sacrifice themselves at work for future security. They want to be happy right now, doing what makes sense to them now.”
SPACES DESIGNED FROM A TO Z
While Covid-19 is forcing companies to rethink the layout of their premises, Albert Angel has had a head start: for five years, the architect-designer has had no other goal than to design the most beautiful offices in the world. The company he founded in 2015 with Lawrence Knights is called Kwerk, which is a phonetic transcription of quirk. In English, quirk means different and particular. For the duo, innovation is second nature. «We offer spaces designed from A to Z for the wellbeing of those who will occupy them,» he enthuses. Their new Parisian address, located at 22 boulevard Malesherbes in the 8th Arrondissement, is the best demonstration of this. Supported since the birth of Kwerk by Moïse Mitterrand, president of the BASSAC group (formerly Les Nouveaux Constructeurs), Albert Angel and Lawrence Knights have been able to push their vision even further. The majestic entrance creates a reset that refocuses. The monumental architecture of the lobby evokes a distant temple. The offices are equipped with therapeutic furniture designed to respect and maintain the body. Dedicated areas for wellness allows for relaxion. A ‘farm to desk’ counter offers Ayurvedic coffee and herbal teas. Intended primarily for big account customers, the spaces immediately appeal to groups concerned with the management of their human resources. “Maintenance, wi-fi, air conditioning, digital tools for meeting rooms … our support is total, which guarantees on the one hand the simplification of operational costs and on the other hand the serenity and therefore the efficiency of the employees”, so, affirms Albert Angel. In a black tee-shirt and jeans, as well as in his sneakers, this entrepreneur like no other, a yogi for fifteen years, exudes a rare softness and kindness. After explaining the intent of his latest project, he tells us his story. It allows us to see how what he does today is the culmination of years of research.
A ROMANTIC ATTACHMENT TO AFRICA
Albert Angel was born and raised in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The family moved often. His father worked in the cocoa and coffee business, but it was mainly his taste for interior design that he passed onto his son. From the age of nine, Albert designed houses. His vocation was born there, between a father passionate about decoration and an older sister who would become a sculptor, in a megalopolis which confronted him very early on with poverty. “In the street, I saw injustice around me, starving people, the lack of infrastructure. I am driven by a continual need for redress: I always have the ambition to do better.” At twelve, the family moved to Cape Town, South Africa. He discovered a city of breathtaking architecture, built in harmony with the nearby sea and surrounding mountains. After graduating from college, he flew to New York, learned museum design with Ralph Appelbaum Associates, then the concept of branded environments with designers Bruce Mau and Marc Gobé. These encounters allowed him to refine his tastes: his goal is not to build buildings but to think of places that will mark the memory of those who live there. “Unlike many of his colleagues, Albert puts emotion at the center,” says Lawrence Knights. Passionate about aviation, Albert then spent three years at a brand design powerhouse Landor rethinking the world of Delta Airlines, before turning to hospitality and especially the hotel industry, his obsession.
He created about fifteen establishments in New York City, Miami, Mauritius and especially in Africa – in Dakar, Abidjan, Kigali, Libreville … – for the Onomo hotel chain. His roots are on this continent, where he returns regularly. “Designers based in Africa often look to Europe. Me, I trained there, but I no longer live there. This led me to develop a form of romanticism for it.”
«CREATE PLACES THAT RESEMBLE US»
In 2008, he met Lawrence Knights, to whom he is now married. Their frequent travels lead them to think about a new approach to coworking. “We wanted to create places that resemble us, with an unprecedented priority given to well-being. Back then we spent a lot of time in Bali, where it was possible to do a yoga class straight after a meeting.” They feel light years away from existing models in the industry, in their view more interested in the quest for profitability than in improving the working conditions of their clients.
Kwerk was created in 2015. Far from any model of standardization, their company marks its difference by its desire for customization and quality. “The office has always been the poor relation of design,” observes Albert Angel. There was a lot to do. “Beyond their five addresses, the two entrepreneurs would like to share their experience with as many people as possible. They are considering the creation of a label certifying that a space is wellworking™ and are regularly approached by companies who ask them for help to improve their own premises. Would that mean the end of the open space? “Companies continue to want to maximize their square meters, tempers Albert Angel. They will not therefore always give up the open plan organization, but they are ready to change everything around. They realized that people want to be able to divide their days more freely, to isolate themselves or to meet according to their needs.”
Whereas an architect usually delivers his project and then leaves, Albert Angel has decided, together with Kwerk, to become his own client. “The landlord has long been the king of the building,” he notes. Today, it is the user who has the power. He demands service and attention. “Aware of the paradigm shift, he monitors and continues to make improvements to make spaces ever more pleasant and user-friendly. However, his attachment to Kwerk goes beyond the professional framework. «It’s our baby,» he admits. He is the creative leadership, Lawrence Knights the presidency and management. «Here, I feel there is love,» Cyril Aouizerate, co-founder of Mama Shelter Hotels, once told them. Love and work, what better way to be happy?