Headquartered in Graz, Austria and commanding a global presence, INNOCAD is one of the world’s foremost architecture firms. At the core of INNOCAD’s philosophy lies a commitment to purposeful and meaningful solutions, achieved through an analytical, pragmatic and unconventional approach. Driven by a pioneering spirit and relentless pursuit of perfection, the firm approaches each project with a sense of responsibility to transform spaces into something truly remarkable.
The creative force and CEO of INNOCAD, Martin Lesjak, is rightfully held in high regard by the international design community, receiving the prestigious “Designer of the Year 2015” award from Contract Magazine in the United States, followed by the title of “Architect of the Year 2016” by BUILD Magazine in the United Kingdom. Such accolades serve as a testament to the firm’s dedication to excellence and innovation.
INNOCAD’s portfolio features a diverse range of signature works, spanning residential, office, hospitality, healthcare, mixed-use, educational, public and retail projects, showcasing its team’s wide-ranging skillset and impressive adaptability. Among their current projects are an international school in King Abdullah Economic City (SAU), a Competence Centre for MAM Health & Innovation, and Vienna’s first Radisson RED hotel, alongside a groundbreaking new housing concept that harmoniously blends serviced living and co-living.
The firm’s ethos, guided by its enduring vision of “work with your brain, act from your heart”, is encapsulated in its name, IN_NO_CA_D, standing for interdisciplinary, nonconformist, caring and distinctive. Over the years, INNOCAD has garnered widespread acclaim through numerous awards, honours and nominations in both the fields of architecture and interior design, solidifying its position as a front-runner in the industry.
FOUR sits down with Martin Lesjak, CEO, Co-Founder and Design Director of INNOCAD architecture, to learn more about the firm, its philosophy and its latest projects.
Tell us about your background and how you got into the design/architecture world…
When I was young, I had a lot of interests. Music, art, and, most of all, soccer. At the age of eighteen, I started my architecture studies, besides playing soccer in a professional team. At one point, I had to decide which way to go, a professional sports career or architecture. Architecture won…
Can you tell us about the founding of INNOCAD and the vision behind it? How has that vision evolved over time?
After some time at university, a few colleagues and I had the strong urge to learn more about the reality of architecture and started to do projects as a team for other companies. A few years later, we founded INNOCAD with the help of a retired architect who was the official licence holder. So, before we even finished university, we had our own business. Our vision was “learning by doing” and building.
INNOCAD is known for its “out of the box” thinking and unconventional approach. Could you provide examples of projects where this mindset was particularly evident?
As the beginning of our career was already quite unconventional, we were always questioning the “given” when starting a project. This nonconformism has remained in our DNA to this day and is still very often the basis for making difficult projects successful. For example, our home base, the “Golden Nugget”, is a very narrow site in a former bad area of the city. It was considered to be unfit for development, but with a clever layout and its iconic “rich” design, we were able to find investors, and it was a starting point for the gentrification of the neighbourhood. For the Radisson RED in Vienna, we were able to receive an exemption permit for the cantilevering rooftop and glass houses, which is highly unusual for Vienna because of its exceptional architectural quality. This was the key element for the ongoing success of the hotel.
With a wide range of project types, how does INNOCAD maintain a consistent vision and standard of service while catering to diverse client needs?
We work in teams with different specialisations under the umbrella of our common vision, stated in our design philosophy called “New Holism”, a roadmap for human-centred design.
The firm’s motto is “work with your brain, act from your heart”. How does this philosophy influence the decision-making process and the overall design approach at INNOCAD?
Our approach is always based on strong research and analysis, but then transformed intuitively, in an emotion-driven process, to something unexpected and new. A decision feels right when both levels, the analytics and feelings, are synchronised.
INNOCAD has received various awards and honours. Can you highlight a few projects that have been particularly recognised and explain what made them stand out?
The first awards we got were for the “Golden Nugget” in 2006, which was also nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Award. Internationally, it is still seen as a role model in integrating contemporary architecture in a historical context. The Microsoft Headquarters in Vienna in 2010 became a leading example for what is called “New Work” today. The recent MAM Competence Center is considered one of the most innovative projects in the field of well-being and biophilic design.
In your personal capacity, you’ve been lauded as “Designer of the Year” and “Architect of the Year”. How does your leadership influence the firm’s design direction and overall success?
My job is similar to a movie director. I am responsible for the creative direction, the major decisions and dramaturgy – at the same time, putting together the right team for each project and bringing out the best of it.
In recent years, the concept of co-living has gained popularity. Could you provide more details about the new housing product that combines serviced living and co-living, and how it reflects INNOCAD’s design philosophy?
Over the last few years, we have done intensive research in the field of future living and how to find answers for the challenges of our time, like urbanisation, digitalisation, social inequality and the pollution of the environment. The result is a product called “The Port”, which targets all generations, races, life choreographies and backgrounds. The goal is to create a new form of living with strong social connectivity and a focus on sustainability. In other words, putting basic human needs back at the centre.
Can you share some details on any other ongoing projects at INNOCAD? What unique design elements or challenges do these projects present?
In September, MOSH Bar & Dinner in Bucharest will open its doors. It’s a highly transformative space that smoothly shifts between high cuisine, mixology and club vibes, merging hospitality, art and design in a very distinctive way. In other projects, we focus on what we call “The Multitalented Space”, where people experience added values beyond functional and aesthetic qualities. In collaboration with 13&9 Design, a company that I founded together with my wife Anastasija, we are able to provide science-based design solutions that demonstrably enhance the health and well-being of users of the space.
How does INNOCAD foster an interdisciplinary and collaborative work environment? How does this contribute to the success of projects?
We work in an environment of a transdisciplinary lab. In both firms, INNOCAD architecture and 13&9 Design, we form a team with various backgrounds like architecture, interior design, product design, sound design and fashion. For each individual project, we combine several skill sets. This multidisciplinary approach, in our experience, fosters innovation.
INNOCAD is described as caring and innovative. How does the firm prioritize client satisfaction while attaining its goal of enhancing, expanding and improving quality of life?
As creatives, especially in the A+D industry, we need to find a balance between individual client needs, society and the environment. Sometimes when you reach this holistic goal, the client is not only satisfied but also excited, and the project experiences sustainable success.
How does INNOCAD stay updated with the latest design trends and technological advancements in the field of architecture and interior design?
As mentioned before, we have a strong ongoing research focus and collaborate continuously with external partners like scientists, artists and several universities. In combination with the diverse background of our team members, we can make the magic happen. [laughs]
Can you talk about any future goals or aspirations for INNOCAD? Are there any specific types of projects or collaborations the firm is looking forward to?
Our goal is to create relevant work, stay curious and brave, and be able to help make the world a better place – enjoyable for future generations.
Finally, what do you believe sets INNOCAD apart from other architecture firms? What is the firm’s unique value proposition in the industry?
Our multidisciplinary way of thinking and working is still not standard in our industry; our approach is quite uncommon. What really sets us apart from many others is the courage to say no if something does not feel right in a holistic way.
To find out more about INNOCAD, visit the links below…