Exceptional architecture, making space a priority, therapeutic furniture, five-star service, wellness programme, food area, an inspiring community… Seven dimensions have been defined to create the most inspiring work environment. Portrait of a visionary determined to transform our working lives.
SPACES DESIGNED FROM A TO Z
As Covid-19 forces companies to rethink the layout of their offices, Albert Angel is one step ahead: for five years now, the architect and designer has been working with the sole aim of designing the finest offices in the world. The company he founded in 2015 with Lawrence Knights is called Kwerk: a phonetic transcription of quirk, reflecting their eccentric, off-beat and fresh approach. Innovation comes naturally to this duo. “We offer spaces carefully crafted from A to Z for the well-being of occupants,” they say with excitement.
Their new Parisian space located at 22 Boulevard Malesherbes in the 8th arrondissement best reflects this approach. Supported since Kwerk’s creation by Moïse Mitterrand (Chairman of the BASSAC Group, formerly known as Les Nouveaux Constructeurs), Albert Angel and Lawrence Knights have been able to take their vision even further. The majestic entrance resets and refocuses the mind. The lobby’s monumental architecture evokes a far-flung temple. The offices are equipped with therapeutic furniture designed to respect and maintain the body. A wellness centre promotes relaxation. A bistro offers Ayurvedic herbal teas and coffee. Aimed primarily at large corporates, the spaces immediately appeal to groups who care about human resource management. “Maintenance, Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, a meeting room management tool, and more. We take care of everything. On the one hand, that guarantees a simplified balance sheet and, on the other, a calm and thus effective workforce,” says Albert Angel.
Wearing a T-shirt, black jeans and comfortable trainers, this one-of-a-kind entrepreneur (and 15-year yogi) exudes a rare kindness and gentleness. After explaining the intention behind his latest project, he told us his story. It shows to what extent his work today is the culmination of years of research.
A ROMANTIC ATTACHMENT TO AFRICA
Albert Angel was born and raised in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His family often moved. His father worked in the cocoa and coffee trade, but it was above all his taste for interior design that he passed on to his son. From the age of nine, Albert liked to draw houses. That is where his vocation was born: somewhere between a father passionate about decoration, and an older sister who became a sculptor, in a major city that brought him face-to-face with poverty at a very early age. “In the street, I saw injustice all around me: people in need, a lack of infrastructure. I am driven by a continuous need for reparation: I always strive to do better.”
When Albert was 12 years old, his family moved to Cape Town, South Africa. There, he discovered a city with breathtaking architecture, built in harmony with the surrounding ocean and mountains. Armed with a university degree, he flew to New York, learned about museum design at Ralph Appelbaum Associates, and then about the concept of brand environment from architect Lyndy Roy and designers Bruce Mau and Marc Gobé. These meetings allowed him to refine his tastes: his goal was not to construct buildings, but to dream up places that would mark the memory of those living there. “Contrary to many of his peers, Albert focuses on emotion,” says Lawrence Knights. An aviation enthusiast, Albert then spent three years at designer Walter Landor to redesign the world of Delta Airlines before turning his attention to catering and especially hotels – his obsession.
He created some 15 establishments in Miami, Mauritius, and especially Africa – in Dakar, Abidjan, Kigali, Libreville – for the Onomo hotel chain. His roots are in this continent, to which he regularly returns. “Designers based in Africa often look towards Europe. I trained down there, but no longer live there. That has led me to develop a kind of romanticism for the continent.”
“CREATING PLACES IN OUR STYLE”
In 2008, Albert met Lawrence Knights, to whom he is now married. Their regular travels led them to consider a new approach to coworking. “We wanted to create places in our style, with an unparalleled focus on wellness. At the time, we spent a lot of time in Bali, where we sometimes did a yoga class after a meeting.” They feel light-years ahead of the other models currently available in the sector, which, in their view, are more interested in turning a profit than in improving their customers’ working conditions.
Kwerk came into being in 2015. Far from an industrialised concept, their company differentiates itself through its drive for customisation and its discerning standards. “The office has always been the poor parent of design,” observes Albert Angel. “There was much to do.” In addition to their five locations, the two entrepreneurs would like to have the greatest number of people benefit from their experience. They are considering creating a label that certifies a space as a wellworking site, and are regularly approached by companies soliciting their help to improve their own offices. Does that mean the end of open space offices? “Companies still want to maximise their square meterage,” says Albert Angel. “They won’t always relinquish an open-space layout, but they are willing to change everything around it. With the rise of slashers, companies have understood that people want to be able to organise their days more freely, to be alone or attend meetings according to their needs.”
Whereas an architect usually delivers a project and then moves on to the next one, Albert Angel decided with Kwerk to become his own client. “The landlord was long considered the king of the building,” he notes. “But today, users are the ones with power. They want service.” Aware of this paradigm shift, Albert monitors the spaces and constantly makes improvements to ensure they are ever more pleasant and welcoming. His attachment to Kwerk is more than a professional one. “It’s our baby,” he admits. He works as creative director, whereas Lawrence Knights is the chairman and heads the company’s management. “I can sense that there is love in this space,” said Cyril Aouizerate, co-founder of Mama Shelter hotels, to them one day. Love and work: what more could one dream of to be happy?
A portrait by Géraldine Dormoy